If you’ve recently adopted a puppy, one thing you’ll want to get started with as soon as possible is training. When your pup is trained properly from a young age, he or she grows up into a politely mannered and well-adjusted adult dog.
Puppies learn through positive reinforcement. That means giving your pup verbal and physical praise and attention when they’ve exhibited good behavior. It also means giving your puppy tasty treats — it’s simply the best way to show them that when they behave well, they get a reward.
But how do you know which treats to choose? There are countless options out there, and you want to choose puppy treats that are not only effective but are relatively healthy. After all, you’ll be giving your young dog a lot of them, so you don’t want to give your puppy a lot of added calories or harmful by-products.
Let’s take a closer look at what kind of puppy training treats are the most effective and how to go about choosing a healthy variety. We’ll also offer a few recommendations on the very best puppy treats for your growing companion.
Choosing Training Treats
When you visit the grocery store or a local pet store and make your way to the pet supply aisle, it won’t take you long to realize something: There are puppy treats in every conceivable size, shape, and flavor.
Blue Buffalo’s Blue Bits salmon dog treats, Old Mother Hubbard mini puppy biscuits, Zuke’s mini naturals, Wellness soft puppy bites, and Wellness beef jerky bites are just a few examples of some of the most popular dog treats out there. But are one of these treats what’s best for your pet? With so many to choose from, how do you know what the best dog treats are for your puppy’s needs?
There are a few considerations you’ll want to take into account when choosing puppy treats, including the size, softness, smell, and how fast or slow your pup will gobble them up.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to choose small treats for your puppy’s training sessions. In fact, the smaller the better. Even for a larger puppy that weighs 25 pounds or more, a pea-sized treat will work just fine.
There are many reasons to choose small treats. First of all, they’re easy for your dog to gobble up and don’t present any risk of choking. They’re also very easy for you to carry around in a pocket or pouch.
Plus, smaller treats mean that your pup is consuming fewer excess calories — that’s important when he or she may be eating multiple handfuls of treats during training sessions. And it’s also less likely that your puppy will get full before you’re done with training.
Even if you can’t find tiny, bite-sized puppy treats, you can purchase larger treats and cut or break them into smaller chunks. Your puppy won’t mind because they’re getting a delicious morsel either way.
Soft, chewy treats are better for puppy training than hard, crunchy ones. Again, the softer the treat, the less likely it is that your dog will choke.
Soft treats are just easier for your pup to eat, which means that he will gobble it down and quickly refocus on you for the next one. Crunchy treats, on the other hand, can break apart and distract your dog thanks to all the chunks scattered over the floor.
Do your best to choose soft treats that also have a potent smell. These are more enticing to your puppy and will keep his or her attention for longer, which can be especially important when you’re training in a distracting location with lots of exciting smells — like the backyard. Treats with ingredients like bacon, cheese, or peanut butter tend to be the smelliest.
Fast-Eating vs. Slow-Eating Treats
Keep in mind that while small, soft treats that can be eaten fast are appropriate most of the time, there are also occasions when your puppy might be better served by treats that get consumed a little slower.
Fast-eating treats keep your dog motivated and interested because he or she is getting a lot of them in a short time period. This is useful when teaching your dog basic commands or tricks.
Other times, you’ll want a treat that lasts. For instance, when you’re crate training your puppy or teaching them how to stay at home alone when you’re out, you’ll want to give them something that they’ll focus on for an extended period of time. Larger treats, like bully sticks or Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter, work well for this purpose.
When you’re purchasing dog treats for your puppy’s training sessions, you might want to get two different kinds: Tiny morsels that you can feed your pup in rapid succession, and larger, meatier treats that your dog will have to chew on for an extended period of time. Then you can use whichever type is appropriate for the task at hand.
Choosing Healthy Treats
Many dog owners wonder how they can give their puppy countless treats, day after day, without harming their pet in some way. Surely that many treats can’t be healthy, right?
The concern isn’t unfounded. Puppies do need a lot of extra calories while they’re growing, but it’s still possible to go overboard. That’s why you’ll want to give your puppy the healthiest treats you can.
Do your best to find treats that have natural ingredients and offer some nutritional value. Some dogs might benefit from grain-free treats, as well.
Natural Dog Treats
Choose dog treats that are made with natural ingredients, such as meats like chicken, beef, or pork, and vegetables like sweet potatoes. Check the label to make sure the treats don’t contain artificial colors or preservatives. And make sure there isn’t a lot of added salt or sugar.
Since you’ll be feeding your puppy quite a lot of treats throughout his or her training, you may as well pick something that offers them health benefits. That means choosing a low-calorie treat variety, and one that contains some essential nutrients.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one example that can benefit your dog’s coat quality and improve the health of their skin. In fact, many puppy treats contain docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega–3 fatty acid essential for brain development during puppy-hood. Or you can look for treats with added calcium and phosphorus, which are great for dental health.
Whole-Grain or Grain-Free Treats
Before choosing grain-free puppy treats, ask your vet if they’re a good idea for your dog. If you choose wisely, you can find grain-free treats that contain more protein and fewer carbohydrates than other treats. However, you may also be able to find this combination in other types of healthy dog treats. So whichever you choose, be sure to check the nutrient panel on the treat bag to see the specific protein ratio.
Many grain-free dog treats will contain the same protein to carbohydrate balance as traditional dog treats. So the main difference will be in the type of carbohydrates used. Grain-free treats tend to feature potatoes and legumes in place of grains.
There has been some disagreement about the health benefits and risks of grain-free dog food, and you don’t want to make any major changes to your dog’s diet without consulting your veterinarian. Currently, potatoes and legumes are under investigation by the FDA, so if you do choose grain-free treats, it might be best to avoid these ingredients until the FDA has reached a conclusion.
In the meantime, you may be better off looking for wheat-free treats that feature wholesome, gluten-free grains like rice and oats. Gluten-free whole grains are easier for your dog to digest. High-protein treats are also usually easier on Fido’s tummy while wheat- or gluten-free treats can improve your puppy’s skin and coat quality and give them more energy.
If you have any doubts about how a treat will affect your puppy, always ask your vet first.
Making the Right Choice
When you’re choosing dog training treats for your puppy’s sessions, follow a few simple guidelines. For your main training treats used for obedience training and commands, you’ll want to choose a high-quality, small, soft, and relatively smelly treat that you can easily carry around in your pocket or a small treat bag.
You’ll also want to pick up larger treats of some kind to occupy your pet for a bit longer — these are useful for crate training and other instances where your puppy will need to remain in one place for an extended period of time.
Always check with your veterinarian or a dog trainer to make sure the treats you’re giving your puppy are safe and effective.