Who ever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The truth is, dogs of any age — puppies, adult dogs, and senior companions alike — can be trained. In fact, maintaining your dog’s training is important throughout life. That way, he or she remains a well-mannered dog who is well adjusted around humans and other pets.
If there’s one thing all dogs have in common, it’s a love of food. That’s why training your dog using treats is so effective. Using dog treats during your training sessions helps to keep your dog’s attention and gets you the responses you want.
Take one look around a pet store or the pet section in the grocery store, and you’ll find all sorts of dog treats. There are many varieties — Zuke’s mini naturals, Wellness beef jerky bites, or Blue Bits salmon dog treats are a few popular examples.
But how do you know what kind of dog treat is best for your training purposes? And do those popular treats offer your dog any health benefits?
Read on to find out what to look for in dog training treats and how to choose a high-quality product that can actually be good for your pup.
What Does the Best Treat Look Like?
Generally speaking, there are a few features that the best training treats have in common. These include their size, how convenient they are to use, their flavor and smell, and the health benefits of their ingredients.
The best treats for training dogs are small — the smaller, the better. When the treat is about the size of a pea, your dog gobbles it up in no time at all. That means they don’t get distracted from their training.
Instead, your dog swallows up the treat and re-focuses on you for the next command, hoping to get another morsel. And small-size treats are fine for every size of dog — from small dogs to large breeds.
Another benefit of small treats is that you can give your dog more of them without introducing too many calories into your pup’s system. Even if you can only find larger treats, you can break them into smaller pieces.
It’s also important to consider how convenient the dog treats you choose will be for you. Part of that involves size, as small-size treats are the easiest to carry in your pocket or cart around in a treat bag.
Another factor to consider is how crunchy, crumbly, or greasy the treat is — you don’t want something that breaks apart, scattering chunks and distracting your dog. That’s why soft treats are almost always best.
And if you can find a soft, chewy treat variety that isn’t greasy, you’ll save yourself from having to wipe your hands constantly during training sessions.
Taste and Smell
It sounds obvious, but make sure you select a dog training treat that your pooch actually likes. If your treat isn’t something that excites your dog, training won’t go very well. You should pick something with a strong taste and smell so that your dog really wants to work for the reward.
Last but not least, you’ll want to choose a relatively low-calorie treat, and you might even consider finding one that offers your dog some kind of health benefit. After all, you’ll be feeding your pup a lot of treats during training sessions, and there’s no sense in giving them something that’s bad for them. We’ll take a closer look at choosing healthy dog treats in a moment.
Two Levels of Dog Treats
Sometimes, dog trainers will recommend having two “levels” of treats on hand for training: High-value treats and low-value treats.
A high-value treat is used when you really want or need to capture your dog’s attention or when you want to offer an especially big reward. This might be something like an especially tasty dog treat variety made with bacon, jerky, peanut butter, or cheese.
A low-value treat is more of an everyday morsel, like a bit of your dog’s normal kibble or a scrap of fully-cooked, white-meat chicken. These are used when your dog exhibits good behavior, when they respond appropriately to their normal commands, or when you simply want to give them a little something to brighten their day.
When you’re actively engaging in a training session, you’ll want to use your high-value treats. They’re especially helpful if you’re training in an area where your pooch can get easily distracted like a public park. At home, when you’re not actively training your dog but he or she does something well, you can use the low-value treats.
Choosing Healthy Treats
Even though the treats you’re using are small in size, you’ll likely be using a lot of them. So, you’ll want to choose healthy treats whenever you can, both for Fido’s weight and to benefit their health in other ways. Try looking for:
- Natural dog treats. Choose treats made with natural ingredients and without artificial colors, artificial flavors, or added preservatives. Look for ingredients like chicken, salmon, or beef, as well as healthy veggies like sweet potatoes. It’s a good idea to apply these same guidelines to dog food, as well.
- Nutrient-packed treats. Make sure to look for low-calorie treats that contain some kind of beneficial nutrients. Omega–3 fatty acids are a good example. They benefit your dog’s skin health and improve their coat quality. One particular type of fatty acid called DHA is also important for good brain health.
- Wheat-free treats. There are many varieties of wheat-free or gluten-free treats out there as well, and they can offer plenty of health benefits for your pooch. These kinds of treats can be easier on your dog’s digestive system if your dog has a sensitivity to wheat. In fact, wheat-free treats and wheat-free dog food are sometimes recommended for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
You’ll also find a lot of treats labeled grain-free — there is some debate about the benefits and risks of grain-free dog food. The use of potatoes and legumes in pet food are currently under investigation by the FDA. Both of these ingredients feature heavily in grain-free food and treats. Even if you choose grain-free, you may want to seek out recipes that avoid these ingredients until the FDA has finished their investigation.
When you choose dog training treats that don’t have harmful by-products or additives, contain healthy nutrients, and are made with a natural balance of real ingredients, you’re not just giving your dog something delicious. You’re giving them something that’s actually good for them.
So, What Are the Best Dog Training Treats?
Whether you’re on the hunt for puppy training treats or the best dog treats for training your senior companion, a few simple rules always apply.
Choose small treats that are easy to carry around whenever you might be training your dog. Soft, chewy treats are best, and try to pick healthy treats that have a fairly strong smell and taste.
You can use those treats as your high-value treats, deployed during active training sessions or when you really need to hold your dog’s attention. Consider purchasing a different flavor and type of treat, like a crunchy dog biscuit for example, to use as your low-value treats. These are given to your dog when they exhibit good behavior at home, or when you just want to slip your pet a tasty morsel.
Last but not least, always check with your veterinarian if you’re unsure whether or not the treats you’re feeding your dog are healthy.
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