Renowned physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously showed how a dog could be conditioned to salivate with the ringing of a bell, but the good news for you is your pet can be conditioned to perform many tricks — simply with the help of a treat!
Positive reinforcement training is pretty simple — all you need to do is reward your dog when they do what you want them to do. Whether you’re training your puppy to sit, lie down, stay, or even more complicated tricks such as rolling over, waving, or shaking your hand — positive reinforcement can help them to learn.
While this is widely established as an ideal way to train your pet, there are some risks involved. Treats are often used to reward dogs, but these treats can be high in calories and may even unbalance your pet’s diet. That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure your pet’s training treats are healthy. So, want to get training but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry — we’ve got some ideas for you.
Training your pet
Whether you have a young puppy or an old-timer, teaching your dog new tricks using rewards is worth the effort. It improves their mood, boosts self-confidence, and strengthens the human-animal bond. Some dogs can even be professionally trained to do different jobs such as finding lost people and animals or being service or therapy dogs who help their owners and other humans.
Before you begin training it is worth knowing a few things. While dogs aren’t the fussiest of eaters, it’s important to reward them with treats they actually like. Likewise, this food should be in an easily digestible shape and caloric intake should be monitored.
At first, a dog should be rewarded every time they choose to do the right thing. This is called continuous reinforcement. Once they are up-to-speed and performing the correct behavior at least 80% of the time you can switch to intermittent reinforcement — rewarding your dog just some of the time. Don’t worry, your pet will still perform in the hope of “hitting the jackpot” with a tasty treat. You can even use a clicker to help reinforce the idea your pet has been a good boy or girl.
And remember, always keep your dog’s training sessions short and fun!
Do I have to use treats to train my dog?
Some owners worry that giving their dogs treats is a form of bribery. Could simply petting the dog be good enough motivation for it to do what we ask? To put it simply, no. Think of it like this… Would you do your job without being paid? Probably not. While our pets do love it when we pet them, it is not immediately obvious that it is a reward for the behavior they have just exhibited. Immediate, obvious reinforcement is necessary, and the simplest way to provide this is in the form of a treat.
All dogs love treats, but how do you know which one is most appropriate for your pet? Different dogs have different diets, so let's jump in and take a look at how you can choose the right food for your dog's next delicious reward.
Should I be using dog food as treats?
Kibble — sometimes referred to as dry food — is a popular choice as a training treat. If your dog eats one cup of kibble a day, why not use half of that for training? It’s in small pieces, so it’s easy to take with you on walks and there’s no risk of it unbalancing your pet’s diet.
If your dog is on a special diet (such as a limited ingredient diet or grain-free diet for allergies, or a prescription diet for a medical condition) using their regular food as treats is less risky than introducing something new.
What foods should I avoid giving to my dog?
Dry food is not the only option when it comes to training treats. However, it is incredibly important to make sure your dog isn’t eating anything harmful. Some human foods can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or even pancreatitis in pets. Fatty meats can also cause similar problems. If your pet has allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients, make sure to thoroughly read ingredient lists.
It’s also vital to avoid too many calories — if your pet eats too many calories a day, they will become overweight and suffer from the associated health problems.
While many owners are aware that chocolate can be poisonous for dogs, there are a lot of other foods that can be toxic. Grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and raw meats are just a few of these.
What are good puppy training treats?
Thankfully there are plenty of healthy options you can reward your puppy with. Some examples include:
- Cooked carrots, green beans, green peas, miniature cherry tomatoes
- Blueberries, raspberries, slices of apple with the seed removed, banana
- Cheese and yogurt
- Lean chicken or turkey
- Popcorn or mini rice cakes
If you go this route, and your pet enjoys the food enough for it to be an effective treat, make sure to check the calories! Likewise, make sure the food is in small, bite-sized pieces and if your dog has any pre-existing conditions please speak with your vet.
Can I make homemade dog treats?
If you love to cook or bake then why not give the food processor a whirl, get out the cookie sheets and bake your pet a tasty treat? You could even go the extra mile and arrange them into bone shapes, but remember to make sure they are bite-sized.
Simpler is generally better with dogs, so a 3 ingredient dog treat is a good option. You could use oats or oat flour, peanut butter and banana (or any other soft fruit, including pumpkin puree). If you do opt to make peanut butter dog treats, make sure the peanut butter you use is free from artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, as these can be harmful.
Whether you’re giving your pet small pieces of food you usually eat yourself, or you’re baking 3-ingredient dog treats, always check with your veterinarian before changing your dog's diet. Just because you find a dog treat recipe on the internet doesn’t mean it’s one hundred percent safe for your pet.
And keep a firm eye on calories… a general rule of thumb is that treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of a dog's daily caloric intake.
If you choose to use dry food to train your dog, CANIDAE® has got you covered. Our high-quality Grain Free Pure Heaven Biscuits are made with delicious salmon and sweet potato for a great-tasting yet healthy reward. They are easy to snap and pocket-sized so you’re able to treat your dog with just the right amount when you’re on the go — all helping make those training sessions go even smoother.
Or if you want to reward them with a delicious yet nutritionally balanced dry food which can also be used as a training treat, we’ve got a whole host of options in our Sustain, PURE and Goodness lines.
For dog food that’s special enough to make your pet do any trick, discuss transitioning your dog to Canidae’s delicious recipes today.