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Go to any pet store and you’ll be greeted with so many dog training treats, all stating they are the best or healthiest. So how do you decide? While different dogs will be motivated by different types of food, there are some types of training treats that are almost universally effective with all dogs.
Hands down, my dogs’ favorite treat is carrots. I don’t know why but they love them. I go through about four pounds of carrots per week for five medium-large dogs. I call the dogs inside and stand in the floor slicing up two or three carrots for them into small bite size pieces. Every one of my dogs loves them. So, for what it’s worth, you might try them as training treats.
Of course, my dogs like more typical treats, too. When we were going to clicker training classes the dogs loved tiny hotdog bits either uncooked or nuked in the microwave. Sometimes I would slice them and baked them in the oven. The dogs would do anything for them.
They are also great fans of cheese. Any kind of cheese! For some reason I usually buy Cheddar for the dogs and cut it up in small cubes but any kind of cheese would work. The nice thing about cheese is that even lactose-intolerant dogs can eat it. Cheddar has no lactose in it and Swiss and American have very very little.
Hotdog bits and cheese cubes also fit well in a training pouch. They don’t get very messy so when you reach your hand inside to get some it’s not too gross.
When it comes to dog shows, liver is always popular but you really need to bake it to make it easy to handle. Otherwise it’s very messy. You also have to take into consideration that you might have to stick it in your mouth at some point while you’re juggling your lead, a comb, and other dog paraphernalia, so it needs to be halfway edible for humans. At dog shows we call treats “bait” – kind of funny, really, since it’s the people who end up swallowing so much of it. Anyway, here’s a recipe for liver bait:
- Boil the liver for 10-15 minutes (any kind of liver you like – chicken, beef, etc.) in water with garlic added (Some people add some bourbon)
- Remove and place the liver on a cookie sheet
- Bake in your oven at 200 degrees for 1 hour
- Turn and bake other side for an hour (Yes, your house will smell like liver for days)
- Let the liver cool and you can slice it into pieces
That will give you some premium liver bait for training treats. If you don’t like liver this still probably won’t taste good to you but your dogs will love it.
In addition, you can buy freeze dried liver treats as well. These come in little cubes are are a very healthy option. Non-freeze dried liver treats are also commercially produced, but most of them are high in sodium and aren’t as healthy as homemade or freeze dried liver treats.
Chicken, Steak, French Fries, And Cheese
Dog show people also use baked chicken, steak, french fries, cheese, and other tasty things as bait. Anything their dog likes. It’s all about making the dog happy, especially if it tastes good. Of course, the healthiest option you can find is always best.
One thing I learned about from the rally and agility people was braunschweiger. This is a kind of liverwurst made from pork liver. And it’s great. I love it myself and dogs go wild for it. I live in the South and nobody here eats much liverwurst. This was something alien to me but I think it’s wonderful. Dogs will do anything for it. It is kind of soft and messy so if you put it in a training pouch it’s going to get yucky. It’s a good idea to put it in a baggy and then put it in your pouch. Or maybe freeze some slices or cubes of it. It’s smelly and has a strong flavor and taste but your dogs will really pay attention when you use it. You can find it at a lot of grocery stores. You just have to look for it with the bologna and other cold cuts.
Popcorn also makes a great training treat if your dog is okay with corn. Unbuttered popcorn is low in calories so it makes a good treat for dogs that are watching their weight.
Fruits And Vegetables
You can use fruits and vegetables, too. Apple slices make a good treat and some dogs like bananas and other fruits. My dog Billie is crazy for blueberries. They’re a little expensive to use for training treats but you could use them if you wanted. You can use anything that your dog likes.
Some people use pieces of kibble as training treats since the pieces are small. You can do this if your dog really like the food. There are even people who use pieces of dry cat food as training treats, knowing how much some dogs love to eat cat food. From a nutritional standpoint this is probably questionable but if you use the cat food as a high value reward when your dog does something really great it’s probably okay, as long as you don’t feed him lots of cat food at every training session. The purpose of training treats is both to reward your dog and to give him some motivation to work so if he really loves cat food, I can understand why some people might use it. Just go easy on it so it doesn’t interfere with your dog’s overall nutrition.
Of course, there are lots and lots of treats and snacks made by the same dog food companies that make commercial dog foods. One that I like is Old Mother Hubbard’s classic oven-baked dog biscuits in the small size. I like the mini or small size because they’re just right as training treats. I can give multiple treats and the dogs don’t get filled up.
Dog treats and snacks don’t have to meet AAFCO approval since they are not meant to be fed as meals but you can read the ingredients on the boxes or bags to see what’s in them. I looked at some treats on sale today that sounded good but passed on them when I read the ingredients. You can learn to make informed decisions when you look at treats and snacks just as you do when you buy your dog’s food (check out our article on how to choose dog food). Many of the ingredients are the same though treats and snacks tend to have more carbs in them, especially if you buy biscuits. Some of them have a lot of junk ingredients so you have to decide if you’re willing to let your dog have some doggy junk food as a treat. Even some of the best known dog treats and snacks are the equivalent of doggy junk food but, well, sometimes it’s hard to resist spoiling our dogs a little. Remember – everything in moderation.
So, that’s what we like in terms of training treats. I mostly reach for things in my own refrigerator or cabinet or buy dog treats I trust but I confess that sometimes I do buy some doggy junk food for treats, too.