Not all dog treats are created equal. Some treats are made for long-term chewing and are good for things like crate training. Others treats clean dog’s teeth or keep them entertained as they chew and lick.
Today, we’re talking specifically about the best treats for training. While pig ears, jerky, and stuffed Kongs are all great, we’re focusing on treats that help you train your dog and teach him to be a class act canine!
What Makes A Good Dog Training Treat?
These treats have a few specific parameters to meet:
1. Size Matters, So Think Small
When it comes to dog training, you’ll want to pick treats that are very, very tiny.
Imagine giving your child a cupcake every time she went to the bathroom, another when she washed her hands, and another whenever she said “please” and “thank you.” Your child would quickly gain weight, get sick, or at the very least fill up with food (and have no room for the meatloaf you slaved over all day)! Instead, you might reward a child with chocolate chips.
Dog training works the same – if you give your dog an entire bully stick every time he sits, you’re not going to have a very effective training session. Using smaller treats will help keep your dog in shape and excited to train, without filling him up or slowing down training.
2. Quick & Easy to Swallow
Stay away from crunchy or chewy treats for training purposes. Waiting for a dog to finish chewing slows down training – instead, stick to soft treats that are easily swallowed.
This is why trainers don’t often recommend training dogs with traditional dog biscuits – they take some time to eat.
3. Super Portable
Yes, your dog might love miniature meatballs. They’re healthy, small, and soft (and insanely tasty).
The downside is that they fall apart in your pocket and stain your jacket, so they might not be the best training treat, especially for walks.
If you wouldn’t put the treat in your pocket and don’t have a treat pouch, it’s not a good option.
4. Health & Nutrition
It should go without saying that nutrition matters for treats, too. Keep an eye out for all-natural ingredients, and aim for treats made in the USA that are USDA-inspected.
If your dog has specific dietary needs, such as needing special hypoallergenic dog treats, talk to your vet about which are the best treats for training your dog.
Finally, be sure to reduce the size of your dog’s dinner if you’re giving a lot of treats! You don’t want to fatten your pooch up too much!
5. Stinkiness – The Smellier, The Better!
Smelly treats often are yummy treats.
When you’re working on difficult tricks or training in distracting situations, you want the treats to be attention-grabbing. While some dogs will work for kibble or Cheerios, save the really good, stinky stuff for training.
What To Avoid: Many commercial dog “cookies” or milk-bone type treats are not appropriate for training. They’re too big, and the crunchiness can even make them a potential choking hazard.
Cookie treats take too long to eat and are cumbersome. Finally, they’re not stinky or tasty enough for high-level training. While they’re a fine treat for hanging at home, we do not recommend using milk-bone type treats for training.
Training Treat Selection Tips: Finding Treats Your Dog Will Adore
Choosing the best dog treat for training your dog will go a long way in transforming your pup into the ideal canine citizen.
- Check Ingredients. Be sure to read through ingredients on your dog’s treats. Try to avoid too many chemical-sounding ingredients, fillers, by-products, meals, grain products, or any allergens for your dog.
- Experiment With Different Treats. Some dogs will do anything for freeze-dried liver. Other dogs prefer tiny apple bits. Get to know your dog’s tastes, and cater your treats to your dog’s personal preferences.
Try making a list of a bunch of your dog’s favorite foods, and rank them. This way, you can really pull out the big guns when you’re working on tough training situations, and use the mediocre treats for easy training sessions.
- Keep It Interesting & Use Treat Variety. If your dog doesn’t know what’s coming out of your hand next, he’ll work harder. Just like slot machines are addicting for humans, offering a variety of different treats keeps your dog addicted to training. I often mix hot dog, kibble, and chicken in my treat bag. It keeps dogs interested and prevents them from getting too sick of any given treat!
- Be Flexible. Believe it or not, dogs can get bored of food. Even if you have a list of your dog’s favorite foods, and regularly switch it up to keep him engaged, preferences can change. If it seems like chicken doesn’t hold the same magic anymore, go back to experimenting with other treats.
- What Works For Both You & Fido. Picking the right treats is about what your dog likes, but it should also be within your budget and fit your nutritional goals for your dog. I personally train my dogs using hot dog and string cheese (it’s cheap and super effective), but if your dog is normally fed only organic free-range bison, this may make you cringe. Find what works for you and your dog.
Help! My Dog Isn’t Treat Motivated!
What if my dog isn’t treat-motivated? To any owner with a food-obsessed canine, the idea of treats not being able to motivate your dog sounds crazy! However, it does happen. Some dogs just don’t find treats rewarding – and that’s ok.
Does your dog like toys? Praise? Cuddling? Find what your dog likes instead, and give those as rewards for training successes.
You can even teach a dog to like food by giving him food, and then rewarding him with a toy afterwards! He’ll quickly learn that treats are good, because they predict playtime.
Why Should I Use Treats For Dog Training?
Treats make training fun and easy. While it’s totally possible to train dogs without treats, it can be much more difficult. Treats are an easy way to tell your dog, “YES! That’s what I want you to do! Do it again!”
Once your dog learns that all he has to do is sit when you say “sit,” and he earns liver, you’re golden.
Treats and hand-feeding dogs are also useful for bonding. Your dog will come to trust you and enjoy working with you if you’re a constant source of good things.
Finally, giving your puppy treats by hand is a good way to teach your puppy bite inhibition. If your puppy is overly zealous when taking a treat, you can teach him how to be more careful.
It’s extremely important that puppies learn how to be careful with their teeth around humans. Giving your puppy regular treats makes that easy to train!
5 Best Dog Treats For Training: Our Favorites
Ready to get training? We’re detailing the best dog treating for training below – these are four-legged fan favorites, so try these out and see how they work for your pooch!
1. Hot Dogs
About: My personal choice for best dog training treats are plain old hot dogs. I cut them into teeny, tiny bits – smaller than a penny. They’re soft, stinky, tasty, and cheap.
For dogs with specific diets, I’ll chose turkey franks instead. While they may not be the classiest treat available, their cost and effectiveness makes them hard to beat!
2. String Cheese
About: String cheese is another human-food favorite that also works great on dogs! No reason to buy expensive freeze-dried liver for dogs that will go bonkers for string cheese! Like hot dog, it’s soft and can be cut to any size. It’s more transportable but less stinky.
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”180″ identifier=”B00H2ZS5VM” locale=”US” localize=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://www.k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/512P7TFhFL.SL160.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”180″]About: This healthy, natural [easyazon_link identifier=”B00H2ZS5VM” locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ localize=”y”]Rocco & Roxie Gourmet Jerky[/easyazon_link] is definitely more expensive than hot dogs and string cheese. It’s a lot chewier than other options and must be broken into tiny bits. It comes in several flavors, and doesn’t leave stinky residue.
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”160″ identifier=”B00R50QOJ4″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://www.k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/61n3qrOupL.SL160.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”200″]About: These [easyazon_link identifier=”B00R50QOJ4″ locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ localize=”y”]Bil-Jac Liver Dog Treats[/easyazon_link], made with chicken liver, are a big hit with dogs. They’re soft enough to be pinched into smaller pieces for training small dogs or puppies, and dogs love the taste.
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”156″ identifier=”B01F1OP1VW” locale=”US” localize=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://www.k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/514eNRmL2BRL.SL160.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”200″]About: Want to spoil your dog? Look no further than these [easyazon_link identifier=”B01F1OP1VW” locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ localize=”y”]Yum Yum Puppy Freeze-Dried Beef Bites[/easyazon_link]. They’re soft, nutritious, and yummy. The price is a bit high for regular training purposes, but keep them around to really show your dog you love him! While they aren’t cheap, each bag contains about 200 treats, so you’re getting a good amount for your dollar.
What does your dog go bonkers for? Does your dog do backflips for a certain treat? Share your thoughts in the comments!