Training with Treats & Your Dog's Health

11/16/2016
by Joseph Granitz

By Jess Rollins
Copyright Info

Have you ever fed your dog a whole lot of treats when training? With the increased popularity of positive dog training, people are feeding their dogs more treats. While the dogs are quite happy with this arrangement, and their people generally find it pretty fun too, some caution is necessary. It may seem completely harmless to feed your dog a piece of chicken, but if your dog is eating lots of chicken and not so much of his dog food, he will not be getting the nutrition that he needs to be healthy.

It's important to be aware that the vast majority of dog treats are not nutritionally balanced at all. The most common nutritional problems with treats are that they do not have the correct amount of fat (sometimes too high, like in all-meat treats) and they do not have the correct balance of calcium and phosphorous.

With treats that are too high in fat, the consequences can be quite serious if the dog eats too much of them. When my little dog Ollie got pancreatitis, I learned a lesson in dog nutrition that I won't forget! Dog's are actually more sensitive to having too much fat in their diets that people are. If a dog ingests to much fat, their bodies can have an extreme reaction requiring hospitalization. It is not necessary to be hyper vigilant, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on what you are feeding your dog to make sure you don't overdo the richer treats, especially with small dogs. In Ollie's case, the culprit was a raw beef marrow bone that had too much fat left on it (a topic for another article!).

Most dog treats, including ones with 100% meat and other healthy treats, have unbalanced calcium-phosphorous ratios. It's important to make sure your dog does not get too many of these treats for proper growth and maintenance of bones.

So, how can you make sure to keep your dog healthy while training with treats?

  1. Feed healthy treats that are free of corn, wheat, soy, by-products and anything artificial. That means just say "No!" to dog treats that are full of junk, like Beggin' Strips!
  2. When you feed your dog treats, make sure to reduce your dog's next meal accordingly, so that your dog stays at a healthy weight.
  3. Don't feed more than 10% of your dog's total diet in treats that are not nutritionally balanced (and most treats are not*).
  4. Concerned that you might go over the 10% guideline when feeding treats? Here are some ways to reduce the amount of "treats" you feed your dog while still rewarding good behavior:
    • Feed treats that are very small or "pea sized". Try feeding low calorie veggies like carrot slices.
    • Use a low-calorie liquid dog treat. A little goes a long way!
    • Use high-quality dog food as your dog's training treats. Here are some ideas on how to make dog food more enticing for use as treats:
      • Amp up the taste of your dog's kibble some cheese or yeast powder.
      • Mix it up!: Add a small amount of something ultra-tasty, like hotdog bits, in a bag with your kibble. Some of the flavor from the hotdog will pass to the kibble to make it more tasty and your dog will enjoy getting a piece of hotdog as a treat once in awhile.
      • Bake canned dog food in a thin sheet and cut it up. (You can also use the microwave to cook canned food. Microwave in 30 second intervals to dry it out).
      • Use canned dog food in a Food Tube.
    • Use a non-food reward such as an opportunity to sniff on a walk, a ball toss or anything else your dog loves.

*Wondering if your dog's favorite treat is nutritionally balanced? Most of them are not, but one way to check is to see if they have calcium and phosphorous ratios that are approximately 1.2 to 1.

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