When we puppy shop, we look for quality genetics that should produce athletic, physically healthy dogs with drive to spare. When it comes to duck dogs, there is always a heavy emphasis on prey drive and the ability to work from dark to dark in the harshest conditions as it pertains to puppy choice.
But what about a dog’s problem-solving skills, or ability to learn?
Canine intelligence is something we think of in blanket terms, like dalmatians are dumb or border collies are smart. When it comes to duck dogs, most of us have the attitude that we’ll take our retrievers how they come intelligence-wise, wherever they may fall on the brainy spectrum.
Here’s the thing, though, in addition to quality training we can foster better brain development and actually enhance our puppy’s intelligence through proper nutrition.
What Is DHA?
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fish oil, but is also sourced from algae. Studies have shown DHA is a crucial element when it comes to nervous tissue and retinal tissue development. In layman’s terms, this means that DHA aids in eyesight and brain development in mammals. This is something you should want for your duck dog.
Additionally, there is quite a bit of research out there that suggests fish oil has therapeutic benefits when it comes to osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, several inflammatory diseases and disorders, and a host of other ailments that might affect your retriever.
Where To Get DHA
I reached out to Raj Naik, DVM, who serves as the Purina Veterinary Communications Manager, to ask where the average person can find quality food sources that are chock full of the good stuff. His response was, “Fish oil and algae oil are the most concentrated sources of DHA. Since mammals are inefficient at converting short-chain polunsaturated fatty acids to DHA, pet food manufacturers supplement puppy food with DHA. For example, all of the Purina Plo Plan FOCUS Puppy Formulas are formulated with DHA from omega-rich fish oil to help nourish brain and vision development in puppies.”
Naik went on to explain several of Purina’s formulas, including a couple of Pro Plan SPORT options, contain both DHA and EPA (another type of omega-3 fatty acid, which supports joint health and mobility). This means that it’s possible to foster not only brain and vision development from the moment you bring your puppy home, but throughout his life as he transitions into a fully mature duck dog.
How Much Does It Matter?
It’s impossible to measure DHA’s effects on individual dogs to see exactly how much their cognitive function increases through proper nutrition, but the research is there to suggest the benefits absolutely exist with an omega-3-free diet. Essentially, if you’re interested in wringing the most potential out of your duck dog, a quality diet that contains DHA is a must.
Not only does this produce healthier dogs, but you’ll also see an improvement in problem solving, which is an asset to time-strapped amateur trainers looking to take their dogs to new skill levels without having to devote countless hours to every step of the process. The ability to suss out dummy-related training mysteries quickly fosters dogs that are confident in meeting new challenges, which is exactly what we want out of our retrievers when we’re in the boat or in the blind.
Nothing tests a dog’s ability to solve a problem quicker than a crippled diver that is hell-bent on swimming into uncharted territory to leave behind his four-legged pursuer. Or the greenhead that lands in the cattails with enough mobility and instinct left to do his best job at hiding from the discriminating noses of the most seasoned duck dogs.
A retriever that has the best brain-power possible and happens to be backed by the physical drive to get the job done is a special thing indeed. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, feed your pup a dog food formula that contains plenty of DHA.