We’ve all had the same dilemma as dog owners: Finding the best and easiest ways to train our dogs. The most common recommendation we’re given is, “Use treats.” While it seems like common sense to do so, there’s some apprehension behind it, right? It can’t be good to give our pups all those treats, can it?
Well, that depends on how you’re looking at it. For example, if you’re using treats that are equivalent to canine junk food, some issues could arise. However, if you pick the right kinds of treats, and make sure to use them when it’s appropriate, then you can avoid upset stomachs and give your dog some good nutrition along the way!
How Should I Use My Treats?
Funny enough, this part is entirely up to your dog! You’re going to want to take some time with various treats and find out what they like the most and what they like the least. Then, you’ll assign some values to these treats. This will help determine which scenarios the treats should be used in and how often they will be used.
These are the treats your pet loves the most. As soon as they see you going for these treats, their mouth starts to water, and their tail starts to wag! It’s the only thing they can focus on in the room. You want to use these treats rarely so that they always maintain how special they are to the dog. Activities that will almost always require high-value treats include:
- New commands: You want them to respond quickly to these and pay attention.
- Group training: These are hard for dogs, especially puppies. Keep their eyes on you using their favorite treats!
Typically, these treats are big and delicious. When using your high-value treats, if you find yourself needing to use them frequently, make sure they aren’t too high in fat. We don’t want them getting upset stomachs!
Medium value treats are still a big draw to your dog, but they get them a little more often than they do their high-value treats. Think of these as the treat that your dog still gets excited about, but isn’t drooling all over your floor for. These aren’t meant for keeping absolute attention, just as a reminder treat. These are mainly going to be used for:
- Maintaining: Your furry friend has already learned the action you’re requesting; this is just to remind them that they’re doing a good job!
- Good behavior: When your dog is put into a challenging situation and acts accordingly, reward it.
Medium value treats should be smaller than the high-value treats and consist of soft cookies or small meaty morsels.
Truthfully, low-value treats are almost not treats. They’re more so used as a reminder and a placeholder where an activity or behavior was once given a treat because we know our pup will be expecting it. They’re low-calorie and normally small. Good uses for low-value treats are:
- Weaning: Eventually, some commands and behaviors shouldn’t require treats. Until then, you can use low-value treats to appease your pup.
- Encouragement: Slightly different from using a medium value treat in an unexpected situation, low-value treats can be used to encourage good behavior before an anticipated situation.
The best option for low-value treats is typically just your dog’s food! It’s a crunchy little morsel that they can enjoy throughout the day. Depending on how your dog feels about vegetables, you could also consider using baby carrots because they’re high in fiber but low in calories.
Healthy Treats for Training
When you’re determining your choices for your training treats, remember to consider the overall nutritional value of your selections. Often you can avoid reading labels altogether by choosing “people treats” that are appropriate for your pup! Always keep in mind the effects that food can have on your dog and balance out treats with their regular meals. That being said, let’s dive in!
1. Wild One Chicken Tenders
At the top of our list is what could be considered a high-value treat; the Wild One Chicken Tenders! They’re a large, protein-rich treat that your pet will love. We always talk about simple ingredients indicating whether or not a food is healthy, and these are prime examples of that. These are made from just one ingredient: chicken. It’s been dehydrated but remains nice and moist, the way a chicken tender should be. If these are a little too big to be a single treat, you can always cut them in half, too. These are fantastic, and your dog will love them!
2. People Food
While you may have been discouraged from feeding your dog table scraps as a kid, you can go ahead and disregard that moving forward. Our pups love being fed what they think is food that’s only meant for people, so using what would typically be hands-off is highly effective as a high-value treat, or if you can portion it well, an outstanding medium value treat. Bite-size fruits and veggies work perfectly for this, like carrots, blueberries, and watermelon chunks. Be sure to check if it’s safe before letting your dog eat it, though!
3. Wild One Organic Baked Treats
These are probably the perfect medium value treat, as they’re simple in their ingredients, pocketable, and dogs love them. Wild One offers a bundle that gives you all three of their distinct flavors in one package, allowing you to sample them with your four-legged companion and pick the flavor (or flavors!) they like the best for their training. All three flavors, PB&J, Fruit Salad, and Veggie Burger, are free of any fillers and are great for your dog.
4. Dog Food
When you need a good low-value treat for weaning your dog off of treats for an activity or in a setting that isn’t high-energy, pieces of your dog’s daily food will work just fine. It’s something they like the flavor of already, and it’s low calorie, meaning it won’t have a significant impact on their intake for the day, allowing you to spoil them with other treats!
5. Wild One GUT Supplement
Not strictly a treat, but something to consider as an occasional low-value treat for your pup. When training with treats, our pups are being given a lot of food throughout the day. While puppies may be able to handle that without a problem, older dogs may have some issues. The Wild One GUT Supplement can help with this tremendously. It is important to keep in mind that these should not be used often, just occasionally to help with digestive health if you find yourself in training-heavy scenarios with an older pup.
A Few More Things
Treat training, due to its highly effective nature, must be appropriately regulated. When training in high-pressure environments or when trying to encourage a specific behavior that requires high-value treats, you must factor the extra calories and nutrition into your dog’s daily feedings if they’re an adult. While a puppy can handle all the food you can throw at it, an adult dog cannot; their metabolism slows down just like ours does.
This requires diligence in knowing what you’re feeding your pet. Picking treats should be just as involved as picking your dog’s food. If you’re purchasing already made treats rather than providing them human food, consider the following:
- Check the ingredients: Simple is always better. Avoid filler, and look for real ingredients, with meats, fruits, or vegetables at the top of the list
- Consider the portion size: If the treat is large, consider breaking it into pieces, which will lessen the nutritional impact.
- Determine the frequency: Is this going to be high value and need to be used often? Is this a low-value treat that won’t be a significant impact? Ask yourselves these questions.
What the Experts Say
When writing about treats for training, Shoshi Parks, Ph.D., a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, said the following:
“Training treats should be of high quality without adding too many calories to your dog’s daily diet... The first ingredient should be meat or fish, rather than a by-product or ‘filler’ such as grain, corn, or rice.”
Always take the time to do your research, read your labels, and of course check with your dog to make sure they like what you’ve picked for them!
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