Dogs love to learn, but that’s not enough to motivate them to develop new skills and break bad habits.
Tasty, highly motivating tidbits, or “high value treats,” are absolutely essential to rewarding your dog for their efforts. In fact, food has been shown to elicit a powerful, positive emotional response – meaning it actually makes your dog happier while you’re training; it can even change the way your dog feels about a scary situation when you use treats to modify fear-based behaviours.
On the other paw, varied sources tell us that between 40 percent and 60 percent of dogs are overweight. Weight is distributed differently on dogs than on humans, and we’re used to seeing dogs that are overweight, so it can be hard for us to gauge when our own animals need help slimming down. Their short lifespan means that they are more quickly affected by weight-related chronic illnesses like diabetes and kidney disease, so it’s vitally important that your high value treats are not putting your dog’s health at risk.
Fortunately, you really can offer your dog high-value treats they love that won’t make them gain too much weight.
What Makes A Treat Unhealthy?
Dogs are easily able to metabolize animal proteins and fats for energy. Though they can digest carbohydrates, carbs are more likely to be the culprit of weight gain. So, it’s best to give your dog single-ingredient, meat-based treats whenever possible.
If your dog eats dry kibble, they’re taking in a lot of carbohydrates already, so you will want to steer clear of cookie-type treats made with flour, lentils, peas, rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes. If your dog eats a fresh, raw diet, it’s not such a big deal if they consume treats that contain starch. That said, most dogs prefer meaty treats over dry biscuits.
Try These Healthy Training Treat Ideas
Making your own dehydrated dog treats is the most cost-effective way to get healthy, single-ingredient rewards that your dog won’t be able to resist. A dehydrator can be purchased for as little as $30, and will save you a ton of money in the long run.
Lean meats are best for dehydrating, as fat tends to make jerky go bad faster. Try dehydrating strips of chicken or turkey breast. Flank steak is popular for making jerky, though London broil is just as good, and much cheaper. You can also roll ground meat into bite-sized meatballs and then dehydrate them.
If you only have a few minutes before your training session, you can use boiled chicken breast, scrambled egg, or even cooked salmon. These treats can be stored in the fridge for up to four days.
Prefer to buy your treats? Look for as few ingredients as possible, with meat at the top of the ingredients list. Meaty treats are more expensive because they do not contain cheap fillers like corn, wheat, rice, peas or lentils, but a little goes a long way. Freeze-dried liver is one of the most popular single-ingredient treats, but it’s high in Vitamin A, which can build up in your dog’s liver and cause joint damage. To be safe, vary it up with other treats.
Watch out for jerky that is made overseas, as regulations may not be as strict. Thousands of dogs have gotten sick from chicken jerky made in China before those products were ever recalled.
Do Fruits And Veggies Make Good Training Treats?
Some dogs go nuts for fruits and veggies, but they’re typically not considered high-value treats. Starchy veggies like peas, carrots and sweet potatoes are okay in moderation, but they can make your dog gain weight. Most fruits and veggies are difficult for dogs to digest, and will show up unchanged in their poop the next day. They’re easier to digest if steamed or pureed.
Kale is a superfood that contains a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, can fight inflammation, and may even prevent cancer, but it’s bitter. You can crisp it up into kale chips in your dehydrator, microwave or oven, but you may need to add a small amount of bacon grease or coconut oil to make it truly high-value.
Remember, it’s only high-value if your dog loves it. Your training treats should stand a chance at getting your dog’s attention over a squirrel.
How Big Should Your Training Treats Be?
The smaller your training treats, the longer you can train. However, a treat the size of a grain of rice may be acceptable for a Chihuahua, not a Great Dane. Big treats are absolutely more motivating than tiny ones.
We recommend making your training treats small so you can give your dog a JACKPOT of 3-5 treats when they’ve done an especially good job – for example, recalled even though a rabbit hopped across the yard.
You don’t have to give your dog a treat every time they do something right. Varying up your rewards will keep your dog’s attention better than giving them the same reward each time. Sometimes, you can just say, “Good!” and scratch them behind the ear. Then you can sometimes give them a jackpot of 5 treats in a row. Keep your dog on their toes, and you’ll be sure to hold their attention.
There’s So Much To Learn With Healthy Houndz!
Healthy, delicious treats are just one component of a powerful training program.
Whether you want to train your dog for competitions, or just want them to go potty outside, you can work with us to learn about timing and communication to set your dog up for success.
We work with dogs and their families in Toronto and North York.