We all want to help our dogs to be the best furry friend they can be, which usually means undergoing a period of training at some stage during their life. Training with treats is one of the most commonly accepted methods of teaching a dog, whether it be a puppy or an older dog. The positive reinforcement created by using treats allows a dog to associate the desired behaviour with a reward, creating a Pavlovian response that manifests in a learned behaviour. Treats also help to develop a great bond between dog and trainer, especially when the trainer is also the owner!
However, what often gets overlooked is the importance of using treats healthily in the training process. Good nutrition is crucial to general canine wellbeing and the longevity of a dog’s life. Check out the tips below to see what you can do to ensure your dog is getting the best training with treats possible:
Tips and advice for healthy treat training
1. Use a proportional reward. A dog learning a new behaviour for the first time deserves a bigger reward than a dog sitting on command for the 20th time. Smaller treats are perfect, as they can be more easily tailored for this purpose. At Bounce & Bella, our treats are practically sized to help prevent over-feeding.
2. Make them earn it. Rewarding a dog when their behaviour isn’t quite right is not only unhelpful for training, it creates an expectation for treats that can lead to overeating. Whilst the pups may be quite happy with this arrangement in the short-term, long-term it is not good for the dog or the trainer.
3. Quality is key. Many dog treats do not contain a good nutritional balance. This is acceptable occasionally, but when treats are given out on the scale that training can require, the consequences can get serious when the ingredients aren’t right. Bounce & Bella treats are made with a blend of 80% freshly produced poultry and 20% potatoes and chicken gravy – that’s it!
4. Use grain-free treats. Grain-free treats aren’t unnecessarily bulked up – your dog is only getting the best nutrients without any of the unhealthy clutter! Dogs are unable to fully digest grain, leading to a number of undesirable health effects including weight gain. Grain-free treats keep your dog fuller for longer, preventing over-eating. Other benefits can include a healthier coat, reduced stool size and less shedding – switching to grain-free is a no-brainer!
4. Try to be consistent with the type of treats you give your dog. Sometimes we can’t resist those big eyes, and a scrap of leftovers or a spare ingredient makes its way to our furry friends. Whilst this is fine on occasion, it’s important to remember not to allow this to become a habit during the training process. Keep the nutrition balanced and both dog and trainer will win.
5. Had a busy day? Have a lighter dinner! If your dog has been working hard all day learning new behaviours, chances are they’ve had a lot of well-deserved treats in the process. Balance that out by reducing the portion size of their next meal, to ensure a healthy weight is maintained.
6. Keep hydrated. As with humans, keeping the fluids coming is really important for dogs. Water not only hydrates a dog but aids with the digestion of all those treats. The water should always be clean, so make sure it is changed daily and give that bowl a rinse out every now and then.
7. Finally, don’t force it. If your dog has clearly had enough and is just looking for more treats rather than working on the training, it’s time to call it a day. Being stubborn can be normal for a dog in training, but it’s something a trainer themselves should avoid! If a dog is no longer motivated, they risk losing the positive reinforcement of training with treats.
Given the sheer volume of treats often required throughout the process, it’s clearly vital that a dog’s health is taken into account when choosing the type of treats to use. Thankfully, Bounce & Bella’s, small grain-free treats are perfect for dogs aged 16 weeks and over, once their adult teeth have developed.