What's Up Doc?

Improving Puppy Trainability Through Nutrition

By Maury Docton, DVM

Every breeder desires to produce a litter of healthy puppies that grow to exemplify the characteristics of their breed – the perfect litter. There are several factors that influence the outcome of a breeding and numerous factors that ultimately influence the pups produced (non-reproductive factors). Reproductive factors include genetics (breed and selection of the dog and bitch), the age, health and maternal ability of the bitch, the size of the litter, and the bitch’s nutritional status. Non-reproductive factors include the environment in which the litter is born, the level and type of socialization that the puppies receive, the home environment, the ability of the owner to teach (train) expected behaviors, and nutritional support. Although nutrition remains important through out the puppy’s life, it is especially critical during the early developmental windows of puppy growth.

Maternal Nutrition

Numerous factors have been shown to impact the repro ductive process in the canine. Maternal breed, health, age, reproductive history, and nutrition can all impact the outcome of breeding and influence the health and well-being of the offspring.1 Historically, the main emphasis for canine nutrition has focused on growth (puppy diets) and adult maintenance with little attention given to more specialized lifestyles and life stages. The more recent approach to canine nutrition is to determine the nutritional needs of specific events and to design diets that meet those needs. Many advances have been made during the past decade with regards to nutritional evaluation. His torically, nutritional minimum requirements for reproduction were based on physical observations such as changes in body weight, litter size, and puppy growth rate. Newer guidelines consider not only these parameters, but also biological observations including maternal blood parameters and serum chemistry profiles.

Omega-6 fatty acids, specifically linoleic acid, have long been recognized as being essential for the canine. Recent findings have suggested that under specific biological conditions, and perhaps under all conditions, Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential nutrients. Previous findings by P&G Pet Care have clearly demonstrated positive benefits (inflammation regulation, immune function) of supplying the optimal balance of Omega-6:3 fatty acids. While these findings do not support classifying Omega-3 as essential nutrients, a recent series of studies by P&G Pet Care clearly demonstrate the need to include Omega-3 fatty acids in diets formulated for selective canine life stages, such as pregnancy and lactation for the adult and early post-weaning growth in the puppy.

Effect of Reproduction on Maternal Essential Fatty Acid Status

A report by Kelley suggested that bitches maintained on a diet that contained the appropriate ratio level of omega-6:3 fatty acids resulted in increased litter size and decreased stillbirths.2

Genetics and environment are key contributors to the development of the puppy and determine the characteristics of the adult canine. Environment can be modified throughout growth and development while, genetic potential is fixed at the time of breeding. However, nutrition can also significantly impact the achievement of genetic potential in the puppy. Such is the case with increased puppy trainability with appropriate dietary concentrations of DHA. Improving trainability can only help to strengthen the bond between owner and pet both inside and outside of the household. At P&G Pet Care, continuing to expand nutritional horizons and identify opportunities to fulfill the puppy’s genetic potential through optimized nutrition is our primary goal. Through these efforts the puppy will have the greatest opportunity to become the “perfect puppy.”

Consider This


Numerous studies in several species have demonstrated the brain benefits of dietary DHA. However, until a recent study by The Iams Company, little attention had been given to DHA and trainability in the canine. These recent efforts examined the effect of supplying various DHA levels in both the maternal (throughout pregnancy and lactation) and puppy (post-weaning) diets. Thus the impact of the treatment was considered to span the entire development of a puppy though 16 weeks of age. The data demonstrates the importance of fatty acids (dietary lipid sources) on trainability (neurological function) and nutrient status in the canine during the critical developmental periods of puppyhood.


1 Kelley RL. Canine reproductive management: factors influencing litter size, in Proceedings. Annual Conference, Society for Theriogenology; 2001:263-272.
2 Kelley RL. Canine Reproduction: What should we expect? In: Reinhart GA, Carey DP, eds. Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Vol. III: 2000 Iams Nutrition Symposium Proceedings. Wilmington, OH: Orange Frazer Press, 2000; 225-242.
3 Connor WEL, Neuringer M, Reisbick S. Essential fatty acids: the importance of n-3 fatty acids in the retina and brain. Nutr Rev 1992; S0:21-29.
4 Lauritzen L, Hansen HS, Jorgensen MH, Michaelson KF. The essentiality of long chain n-3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Prog Lipid Res 2001; 40:1-94.