Training treats need to be bite-sized, convenient, and easy to carry and handle. They should also be healthy and nutritious — and not contribute to weight gain.
Training your dog requires the use of treats. You reward wanted behaviors with something the dog values highly – usually a tasty tidbit of some kind – so he’ll learn to associate that behavior with a positive outcome and do it more often. This means that whenever you’re training your dog to do something, whether to come when called or roll over on command, you need the right training treats ready to hand.
“The role of a training treat calls for repetitive and intense usage,” says Michael Rosenstock of Finest Fetch. “It’s not unusual when training a new behavior, particularly with puppies, to reward 50 or more times in a 30-minute period.” Because you’re going to be giving you dog so many treats during the training process, you need to make sure they’re healthy and nutritious, as well as palatable, and that they won’t lead to weight gain. The treats should be small, and convenient to carry and handle.
“The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a training treat is the size,” concurs Allison Arcos of Red Barn Pet Products. “An ideal training treat is small (somewhere from a pea to a penny) and is low-calorie. You should expect to give your pet several training treats per session, so pick a treat that won’t offset his diet and will help him maintain a healthy weight. The other thing to keep in mind is your dog’s interest in the treat. Choosing a highly desirable treat offers a greater incentive.”
You can easily make your own training treats at home. If you prefer to buy them, be sure to steer clear of cheap commercial products that may look and smell tasty, but which have next to no food value and are usually filled with additives, artificial colors and flavors, by-products, and other questionable and harmful ingredients, often from China. The fillers and bad carbs in these treats also contribute to obesity, dental problems and other health issues.
Lots of companies specialize in premium quality treats that are safe, natural, healthy and highly palatable. Many make small or bite-sized treats that are ideal for training purposes, and which come in small bags or boxes that are easy to pack and carry anywhere you go.
- Coconut flour is low in carbs and fat, so it’s an ideal ingredient for training treats. CocoTherapy’s Five Star Organic Coconut Training Treats are tiny star-shaped goodies made from all-organic ingredients, including coconut flour, ground peas, banana puree, coconut oil and eggs. Given their small size and healthful ingredients, you can treat your dog as often as you want during training sessions.
- Moisture content is an important factor in training treats, says Michael. “Treats in the 13% to 30% moisture range almost always contain a humectant to keep the moisture level elevated, releasing more aroma and reducing dry mouth during training. Finest Fetch uses an organic vegetable glycerin as a humectant to keep moisture levels at 15% to 19% and calories at just 1.8 to 2.8 each.” The company makes wheat- and preservative-free baked training treats with the natural flavors of bacon, liver, beef, and other dog-friendly tastes. The treats are made in the US from all-natural ingredients such as oat flour, eggs, coconut oil, salmon and cheeses. “. Our treats are small in size and hold up well in pants pockets, so they are available when you need them,” says Michael.
- Dogs enjoy meat-based treats. “Redbarn Rolled Food is a semi-moist roll that can be fed as a complete meal, but one of its most popular uses is to be cubed and used as a training treat,” says Allison. “The cubes are firm and don’t easily crumble in your hand. Another favorite are Redbarn Bully Nuggets, bite-sized pieces of beef lung coated in a bully gravy. They’re low in calories, high in protein and have superfood ingredients that help support canine joint health.”
- Jerky is popular for dog treats, but a lot of commercial jerky comes from China and can make your dog sick. For high quality domestically-produced jerky treats for training, The Real Meat Company is a good source. Their all-natural Jerky Bitz for Dogs are made from free range, grass fed meats, such as venison, lamb and beef, and contain no added hormones or antibiotics.
- The smaller, healthier and tastier the treat, the more often you can reward your dog. Mini Naturals from Zuke’s are bite-sized moist treats made from all-natural ingredients such as chicken, duck, peanut butter, wild rabbit and salmon. “Dog trainers and pet parents appreciate them for their small size, healthy nutrition, and simple convenience,” says Director of Innovations, Chris Meiering. A new addition to the line, Tiny Naturals have less than 1½ calories per treat, which makes them “perfect for delivering rewards frequently when training”. The treats are made in the US and are free of additives, preservatives, and common allergens such as wheat, corn and soy.
Treat rewards form an integral part of the positive training process. Because it usually takes numerous tries before the dog catches on to what you want him to do, the treats you give him need to contribute to his well-being, not detract from it. Healthy, natural, good-tasting products made from whole foods will have him doing whatever you ask in record time!
Treats from your kitchen
Many common foods can be cut up and used as training treats, and carried in a Ziploc bag. You’ll need to experiment to find which ones your dog likes best. The more he loves the treat being offered, the more eager he’ll be about his lessons, and the faster he’ll learn.
Small chunks of raw fruit and vegetables such as apples, carrots, broccoli and green beans are good examples — but not grapes or raisins, which are toxic to dogs. Berries are also an ideal choice – and you don’t have to cut them up! Many fruits and veggies are good for your dog, and won’t contribute weight-inducing calories to his diet.
Bite-sized pieces of cooked lean meat or poultry are very popular as training treats. You can use chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, etc., all of which are highly coveted by most dogs.
Bits of cheese are another training treat favorite with many people, and dogs love it. But too much cheese can cause digestive upsets, so don’t make it a habitual treat.
Home-baked dog biscuits and cookies are a great choice for those who love to cook. You have control over the ingredients, and over the size and shape of the treats. The Animal Wellness Natural Cookbook for Dogs includes healthy treat recipes that can be easily used for training purposes.