We rarely use store bought treats with young puppies, but we do keep some on hand for older dogs and have several favorite brands that I’ll discuss at the end of this article. We reward (or treat) our puppies so often that they’d have an unbalanced diet if what we mostly treated with wasn’t plain old dog food. We measure out a day’s ration of dog food first thing every morning putting part of it in a treat bag and leaving the rest for regular meals. My reward is simply 4-6 pieces of dog food. If we’re raising several puppies at one time, we have a separate bag for each puppy. In addition to rewarding basic obedience commands, we periodically throw a few pieces in crates every 5 or 10 minutes while crate training. We treat puppies every time they pee or poop, every time they come when called, every time they sit for attention instead of jumping on a pen (or on a person). I keep treat bags on me all day. In fact, I’ve accidentally gone to Walmart with one on! Puppies need lots of rewards to develop good habits and to be conditioned to do those things that help them to fit in with their human families. Store-bought treats are not meant to be fed in the quantities that I dole out rewards.
Even with adult dogs, I treat mostly with dog food. When training for competition, I’ll often have my dogs work for all their food, having 2 training sessions a day and giving them a
jackpot of reward (lots of food in a bowl) randomly while we are training. (Once dogs have mastered any behavior, rewards need to come randomly instead of continuously). Dogs really LOVE working for food. I’ll sometimes get dogs to take medicine that they normally would turn their noses up at by doing a trick. Something about working for it makes it more worthwhile!
There are certain situations when I use more high value food for rewards than dog food. These high value foods can be especially helpful if I’m wanting to reward so much in a day that I’d over-feed my dog. Boiled chicken is my
go to for those times. Real chicken, unlike dry food, still has the moisture in it, so it’s not as calorically dense. When eating chicken pieces, the dog feels like he’s getting more plus it tastes better so I can actually give less. It’s also healthy. I boil a whole pack of chicken breasts, cut it up in small bite sized pieces and freeze it up in 4 ounce rubbermade containers. A four ounce container full of chicken makes for a good long training session with an adult.
I prefer real meat to store bought treats but when going places to train where the chicken could spoil, I use store-bought treats. I like Zuke’s mini naturals, Tricky Trainers Chewy treats, and Off-leash treats. All of these brands come in a variety of flavors. These treats are all soft and chewy. For inside training the soft treats don’t crumble and fall on the floor as easily which can be a distraction. I have on occasion used a very healthy treat called
crunchy training treats for variety if I’m working my dog away from home and outside where crumbs on the ground won’t matter so much.
I’ve heard people say that dogs should learn to work only for love. I disagree. A dog who works for random treat rewards (or for play sessions of tug if he likes it) will be more dependable even when there are no treats. These dogs will continue working for long periods of time hoping that the next
jackpot of treats will come after the next performance (or the next or the next or the next…….). They will continue thinking that there will be a payoff for their efforts any time! Dogs need to be heavily rewarded when learning a new behavior and the rewards need to randomly continue for life.
Often, people will say that a dog or puppy doesn’t like particular foods or treats. I’ve never had a dog that wouldn’t work for any treat I offered. Most people keep their dogs too fat. Many people overfeed puppies which results in them growing too fast. (Unlike people, the amount of food dogs eat affects their growth rate. Puppies will grow too fast before they grow fat). Food bags often have feeding charts that suggest too much food. (Dog food companies are trying to sell more dog food!) Overfeeding not only causes puppies to not be hungry and to become picky eaters, it increases chances of joint problems later in life. If your puppy or dog is picky about his food or treats, consider whether you might be over-feeding him.