Fuelling your dog’s focus: how nutrition impacts your dog’s training

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Dr Matthew Muir
man shaking golden retriever's paw in park

Training is a vital part of dog parenting; from basic skills at puppy school to advanced techniques in obedience training, it guides their behaviour, stimulates their minds, and keeps them safe.  

Successful training requires clear cues, consistency and a lot of patience from you or your pup’s trainer. This, along with a composed and receptive demeanour, and an agile mind creates a solid training foundation for your dog. 

If your dog isn’t responding well to training, has inconsistent moods or fluctuating energy levels, it may be a sign they’re not absorbing enough nutrients, or their diet is sub-optimal. Cognitive development and calm behaviour rely on first-rate nutrition to fuel your pup’s mind as well as their body.  

It’s the same principle when we need to be ultra-focused: we eat brain-boosting food like fresh fish, fruit and vegetables and we avoid junk food that gives us brain fog and makes us feel sluggish. 

Explore the connection between training and nutrition so you can choose the best food to improve your pup’s engagement, learning and memory and set them up for success.  

1. Improve cognitive and emotional wellbeing for training that sticks 

Like us, dogs have a vagus nerve that connects their brain to their digestive tract and activates the parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous systems — this relationship is pivotal in their cognitive and emotional health. 

The digestive tract also includes the enteric nervous system (ENS), also known as the ‘second brain’, containing a large concentration of nervous tissue, second only to the brain and spinal cord.   

Another key factor in their intricate gut-brain axis is your dog’s gut microbiome: essential to the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.  

An imbalanced or dysfunctional microbiome can have a significant impact on your dog’s neurotransmitters. Research has discovered aggressive and phobic dogs have a different, imbalanced microbiome structure to dogs without behavioural challenges.  

If your dog’s microbiome is balanced and robust, they’re likely to have a healthy gut-brain connection enabling them to be more focused, learn faster and be more receptive to training. 

Next steps: Natural dietary fibre and prebiotics like pumpkin, broccoli and mushrooms support the vital gut-brain communication link.  

Lyka recipes contain the perfect balance of these real food ingredients to promote a balanced gut microbiome and improve their cognitive and emotional wellbeing 

2. Stabilise moods with high-quality proteins 

Amino acids from digested protein are used to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleep. If your dog has mood swings or hyperactivity, they may be lacking in amino acids. 

Dogs deficient in tryptophan, one of the nine essential amino acids, can be more restless than those who are receiving the correct balance of amino acids. 

When your dog has a stable mood, they respond more positively to cues and commands, making training sessions more productive. 

Next steps:  Look for tryptophan-rich protein sources, like barn-raised turkey or free-range chicken and eggs, instead of unspecified ‘meat’ in the ingredients list.  

Protein sources from animals given a hormone and antibiotic-free diet are even better: they’re less likely to pass through the food chain and affect your dog’s hormonal balance and microbiome.  

Lyka’s Chow Chompin’ Chicken recipe uses hormone and antibiotic-free, free-range chicken and eggs from ethical suppliers to ensure your pup gets the mood-stabilising amino acids they need. 

3. Heighten alertness with bioavailable foods 

The signs of an engaged dog include eye contact, a loose body posture and pricked ears.  

When your dog is nourished from within, they’re likely to have heightened alertness and be more responsive to your commands.  

Gently cooked, real food diets contain bioavailable nutrients that are more easily absorbed into your dog’s system than ultra-processed diets, like kibble, that often contain sub-optimal ingredients and additives. 

Next steps: Choose gently cooked, fresh food meals that are easy to digest and full of highly absorbable nutrients from wholefood ingredients.  

Each of our wholefood ingredients has been chosen for their bioavailable benefits by Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionists together with our in-house Integrative Veterinarian and co-founder, Dr. Matthew Muir.   

4. Maintain steady energy levels with low-glycemic index (GI) ingredients 

If you’ve ever tried to train a hyperactive dog, you’ll know it’s like herding cats! On the flipside, if they’re tired and sluggish it’s hard to motivate them. Consistent energy levels are key to your dog’s active engagement and training recall.  

Dry food usually contains high-GI carbohydrates like wheat, rice and potatoes, thought to cause sugar spikes and crashes that play havoc with your dog’s equilibrium. 

Dogs don’t have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates because they make energy from protein. But they can benefit from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in low-GI carbohydrates. 

Next steps: Incorporate low-GI carbohydrate ingredients like purple sweet potato and butternut squash to provide a steady energy supply and support tryptophan absorption on higher protein diets.  

 Find nutritious low-GI ingredients in each of our recipes for moderated energy and optimal focus to support your dog’s lifelong learning.  

5. Encourage an even temperament with human-grade food 

The shocking thing about the Australian pet food industry is that it’s largely unregulated. Anyone can make dog food and they can use ingredients of unspecified quality, including 4D meat (from dead, dying, diseased or down animals). 

Human-grade ingredients mean they’re fit for human consumption, ensuring dogs receive nutrients in their purest form. This includes human-grade single proteins, like chicken breast or beef mince, that have been processed to highly regulated standards. 

This quality assurance not only leads to better overall health but also to more stable temperaments and predictable behaviour.  

Next steps: Look for human-grade ingredients in dog food to be assured of their quality. 

Avoid food made from ‘meat meal’ or ‘meat by-products' that can include blood, skin, hair and hooves from unspecified animals or 4D sources.  

6. Improve memory function with essential fatty acids (EFAs) 

Training isn’t a one-time action, it’s an ongoing commitment to your dog that strengthens what you’ve taught through repetition and challenges them with different skills. Their capacity to remember verbal and non-verbal cues and skills with a quick and agile mind is central to training.   

Omega-3 EFAs eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been linked to improved learning and memory. It’s why omega-3-rich fish like sardines and salmon are highly regarded as brain food. 

Next steps: Look for EPA and DHA-containing ingredients including fish, fish oils and mussels. 

The Lyka meal lineup contains significantly higher levels of omega-3 than the minimum requirements, and minerals for brain health like magnesium and vitamin B12. 

Best behaviour begins with the best food 

Does your dog keep missing the mark during training sessions or struggle to recall what they’ve learned? Their diet could be the issue. 

Set them up for success with a fresh, gently cooked diet that promotes physical and mental health and wellbeing.  

Lyka’s meals have been designed by our in-house Integrative Veterinarian, Dr. Matthew Muir and a team of Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionists. Each real food recipe contains bioavailable ingredients to elevate your pup’s cognitive development.  

Well-nourished dogs on a complete, wholefood diet have balanced emotions and energy levels, and are more receptive to learning — creating happier pups that nail their training every time.  

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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