I have been a dog owner for the past 40 years. Back in the day we didn’t use dog treats. We surely didn’t use them to train and other than Milk Bone dog biscuits you didn’t find a whole aisle of dog treats in any stores. Today the dog treat aisle looks like the chip aisle of a grocery store. So the big question is: do dogs even need dog treats and are the treats in the dog food aisle any better for your dog than the chip aisle is for us. To go one step further are the treats really a treat at all? Are they even safe for your dog?
In my obedience classes I always take time to discuss what dog foods are being fed to the dog and refer my students to www.dogfoodadvisor.com to check on the rating of the food they are choosing to feed. Many of the students are all ready feeding a good quality food and it shows in their dog’s shiny coats and good weight and energy levels. But when I look over to see what treats they have brought to class to reinforce the behaviors we are teaching they might as well have brought a bag of potato chips.
So how does a consumer know if a dog treat is both safe and non allergenic for their dog. First check with the FDA recall list to be sure that the treat you are planning to buy is not listed. You can also sign up for alerts at www.dogfoodadviser.com. I have rules I automatically apply to treats. They must be made in the USA or Canada from USA or Canadian meats. If the treat is made in China throw it out. That easily cuts down on your selection. I personally feed my dog grain free food so I only buy grain free treats.
If your dog has allergies and you have found a food that works see if they make a matching treat or check the ingredients in the food and find a treat that has the same protein source. For example I feed my dog a Fish based food so I feed fish based treats like Plato’s Salmon Strips or Natural Balance’s limited ingredients Sweet Potato and Fish. I slowly tried to add a single ingredient such as Pure Bite freeze dried Beef Liver which she tolerated well. So then I tried Ziwi Peak Venison and Fish Recipe also with great success. All of the above treats have limited ingredients and except for Ziwi Peak are made in the USA. You will find these types of treats at specialty stores like Sophies Touch or Green Cottage Pets or Mud Bay Granary.
I will admit that the treats I use to train and do Nosework are pricey. If you are on a limited budget and your dog can tolerate grain Charlie Bear Dog Treats with Beef Liver is a reasonable choice. I buy mine at Trader Joes. They are made in the USA with USA product. The Natural Balance L.I.T. small dog treats also an inexpensive choice.
When training my dog at home I frequently use their own kibble so I train right before I plan to feed the dog and I remove a handful of kibble from their bowl. It is important to remember that training treats are added calories. If you are working your dog on a regular basis and are not using kibble from your dog’s bowl then decrease the amount of food you are feeding each day.
Another item found in the dog treat aisle are different types of chew treats. While chewing is a fun activity for the dog many of the chew treats available actually have the potential to either make you and your dog sick or require expensive surgery to remove the chewed treat from your dog’s stomach. Pigs Ears have been responsible for Salmonella infections. Chew Hoofs and Raw Hide and Greenies have had to be removed from dog’s stomach. Large Raw knuckle bones give a dog a good outlet for chewing. But remember to supervise the dog and remove the bone after your dog looses interest and discard so that it doesn’t sit around growing bacteria.
Lastly let your dog earn their treats. Reward behaviors that you like and the dog will repeat them.