Choosing a Dog Treat
With so many options out there, it can be hard to choose which treat to get. Go to any pet supply store and there is an entire aisle dedicated to treats. Training treats, dental treats, dehydrated treats, bones, treats to fill toys, and the list goes on and on. It can be overwhelming! So this post is to help you narrow down your choices a little bit. But at the end of the day, the most important thing in choosing a treat is one that your dog loves!
Does the quality and nutrition matter?
Yes, but it's not as critical as feeding a nutritious food. Treats are not meant to be a large part of your dog's diet, so it isn't a big deal if their treats are more "junk food" than nutritious snack. That being said, I personally choose treats with quality ingredients to give my dog. A healthy treat is a win-win in my opinion. If you are interested about learning more about nutrition check out my Dog Nutrition Series on the blog.
Are you using them for training?
Good training treats come down to two main considerations: are they tiny and are they smelly? When you are using treats for training, you want them to be small enough for your dog to eat quickly without having to take the time to chew. If your dog has to chew every time you give them a treat, they are going to stop focusing on you and what you are asking them to do to focus on the treat. It also makes it difficult to give a jackpot or give several treats in a row when you are introducing a new skill. So when looking for training treats, I look for about the size of my littlest fingernail, or even smaller for little dogs. I also look for a treat that has a pretty strong smell. This tends to motivate the dog more and helps to keep them focused. And while I may not think they smell tasty, the dogs sure do. If you have a dog that doesn't work for treats, try a smellier treat before you give up. My favorite training treats are Happy Howie's Soft Meat Roll Treats. They come in a roll and you cut them to the appropriate size for each dog. They don't crumble, have good ingredients and have a strong smell. Most dogs I've trained love these treats. As a back-up, I also like Zuke's Mini Naturals as they are small, smelly, have good ingredients and are easy to find.
Are you looking for a chew?
A chew could be a bone, rawhide, bully stick or similar. The idea is that they will chew on it for a while and slowly eat it down. These are great for mental stimulation and enrichment. Make sure you are supervising at least the first few times you give your dog one of these, as some dogs will skip the chewing and go strait to swallowing, which could be potentially dangerous. I generally recommend against rawhide as they do not break down very well in the stomach, so if your dog chews off big pieces and swallows it, they may have trouble passing it. My favorite chews are frozen beef bones and Earth Animal No-Hide chews.
Are you giving them for your dogs health?
Maybe you are looking for a good dental chew, a treat with supplements for joints or skin or a treat to hide a pill in. When looking for a treat for your dogs health, the most important consideration is that it is going to do the thing that you want out of it. So for dental chews, you will want one that has been independently tested to actually help your dog's oral health. You will want one that has a Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. Also make sure you get the appropriate size for your dog so that they will actually clean your dog's teeth. My favorite brand for dental chews is Whimzees since they have good ingredients, are sustainably made and are approved by the VOHC. There are so many different treats that include supplements, ones for skin health, joint health, allergies, gut health calming treats, CBD treats, eye health, etc. When looking for one of these, the most important thing is to do your own research so you know what active ingredients are actually going to help your pet. For example, if you are looking for a supplement for joint health, they will probably include glucosamine and/or omega 3 oil. There are way to many to cover, so talk to your veterinarian and do your research so that you know you are making a good choice. As far as treats to hide pills in, you could go with a commercially produced one like Greenies Pill Pockets which has a little pocket to put the pill in. Personally, I have the most success getting dogs to take their pills by putting it in a little bit of peanut butter.
Are you giving it as a snack?
When you are giving a treat just as a little snack, or a quick reward as you are going about your day, there are really no rules. You can give just about anything, a training treat, a dental chew or supplement treat or a chew. Really as long as your dog likes it, and it is safe for them to eat, go for it. I really like giving my dog a simple jerky. There are plenty of options out there and I prefer the ones that only have one ingredient. So dried chicken, salmon skins, or a dehydrated pig snout, which is my dogs favorite. If you are looking for something a little lower calorie, you could try dehydrated sweet potato, carrots or green beans.
How do you know which is your dog's favorite?
I mentioned that the most important thing is that your dog loves the treats that you give them. It is easy to tell if your dog likes a treat because they will show interest, take the treat as soon as it is offered and won't spit it back out. For most treats, that is enough. If you are using training treats, you may want to identify a hierarchy of their favorite treats to help with their training. The tastiest treat is going to give the biggest reward, so you may want to save that for a jackpot or when you are training your dog in a high distraction environment where you will want a higher value treat to reward your dog for paying attention to you. You may also want to use a lower value treat if you have a dog that is very motivated by food. Some dogs will get overstimulated by their favorite food and have trouble paying attention to what you are telling them to do rather than the food. To find your dog's favorite treat, lay out a few options on the floor about a foot apart. Let your dog loose and take note in what order they go to the treats. Repeat, but put the treats in a different order to make sure there isn't a pattern, like always going to the one on the left first. If your dog does stick to a pattern, you may need to go two at a time holding them in your hands, letting your dog sniff each one through your closed fist, and then opening your hands right next to each other. This way will take a little longer since you are only comparing two treats at a time. Repeat rounds for both as many times as you need until you have a clear picture of your dog's favorite and least favorite treats.
Every pet parent wants to give their dog lots of love and lets be honest, one of the ways we do that is will treats. Hopefully this article will help you out the next time you are browsing the treat isle, looking for something to spoil your pup with. All of the treats that I mentioned are ones that I actually give to my dog and dogs that I train. But remember, the most important thing when picking out a treat, is that your dog will eat it and they will love it.