You’d be hard-pressed to find a dog that doesn’t enjoy gobbling up treats whenever they can. Treats are full of flavor and a welcome break from standard dog kibble. They can be used as a reward for good behavior as well as an enticing motivator during training. However, not all treats are made the same. The market is flooded with sub-par treats that can do more harm than good. You invest in high-quality dog food, so why not put that same thought into treats? The best dog treats for your pooch will have some nutritional value that benefits your pup while having a taste they can’t get enough of.
Why Do Dogs Need Treats?
One of the main reasons that pets need treats is for training. These small morsels of delicious food can be a great tool for fixing bad behavior and developing important skills. They’re seen as a reward. As they start to learn, dogs will associate the treats with their training, ultimately allowing you to communicate with your dog better and show praise for success.
Bite-sized treats are also a much better alternative to leftover food scraps. Dogs are notorious for begging. While many owners give into their longing puppy-dog eyes, it’s important to stand firm and stick with treats. Human food can be very unhealthy for dogs. It can lead to weight gain, stomach issues, and a bevy of other problems. Treats, on the other hand, are typically made with a dog’s body composition and health in mind. By rewarding dogs with treats instead of leftovers, you can put a stop to begging and instill training techniques instead.
Low and High Value Treats
The dilemma of choosing between low-value treats and high-value treats should really come down to the task you’re rewarding. Low-value treats, while still delicious to your pup, aren’t as satisfying as high-value options. Some studies have shown that dogs respond very well to high-value treats, resulting in less time needed to learn training. So which option should you use?
It’s a good idea to use a healthy mix of both. For simpler tasks, give your dog a low-value treat. This is great for rewarding your pooch after they’ve done something that’s not as important or retaining behavioral training throughout their lives. It can reinforce their training while preventing an abundance of calories. High-value treats should be used when you need a better response. They can be used for important training tasks like when your dog is first getting housebroken or learning to recall better.
What to Look For
- Ingredients – The first thing you should be looking at is the ingredients list. Like with dog food, the ingredients of treats are labeled based on percentage. Typically, the first five ingredients will indicate what the bulk of the treat contains. It’s always best to go with whole natural ingredients. Look for fresh and organic ingredients that are free of additives and chemicals. High-quality protein is the best ingredient to look for. Whether it’s lamb or chicken, meat is very beneficial for your dog. It’s high in calories and can help with muscle development. Other high-quality ingredients include fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Taste – A treat is only effective if your dog loves to eat it. Go with options that have enticing ingredients. For the most part, any meat-based ingredient is enjoyable. Also, healthy fats are a great way to add flavor. While too much fat should be avoided, there are healthier alternatives. Fish and flaxseed oil can add richness to the treat while also introducing beneficial Omega fatty acids into your dog’s diet.
- Size – When it comes to size, make sure to go with a serving that caters to your dog. Smaller pups will do fine with small bite-sized treats while bigger dogs will need something a bit heftier. Regardless of your dog’s size, it’s important to go with an option that’s small enough to not replace their normal kibble and large enough to prevent choking.
- Convenience – Treats should be easy to carry around and serve at a moment’s notice. Pay attention to the shape, size, and consistency. Is the treat covered in grease? Is it large and bulky? Make sure that treats are easy to keep in an accessible container for whenever you need to reward your canine companion.
What to Avoid
- Anything too salty – Dogs react to salt much like humans do. It’s fine in moderation, but too much of it can lead to a host of health issues. These include dehydration, increased heart rate, and so much more. It’s best to avoid treats that have excess salt. In the ingredients list, it’s often listed at sodium chloride, iodized salt, or sea salt.
- Added sugar – Sugar should be avoided as much as possible. It’s often listed as sucrose. Pay attention to the ingredients list and avoid any ingredient that contains anything sweet like corn syrup or caramel. Regular consumption can lead to dental problems, allergies, arthritis, and weight gain.
- Hard Treats – It’s best to go with softer treats that can be chewed up without issues. While a little resistance is great for keeping the teeth clean, too much firmness can damage the teeth. A hard baked treat or bone can cause the teeth to crack or chip.
- Unhealthy Fillers – Fillers like corn, soy, and grain are often included on cheaper treats to keep the costs down. However, they can do more harm than good. Corn is known to cause muscle deterioration while soy is a common allergen. Furthermore, consuming grains can lead to an upset stomach.
The Top 7 Best Dog Treats
1. Zuke’s Mini Naturals Dog Treats
This option from Zuke’s is one of the best dog treats around because of its high-quality ingredients and low calorie count. Each tiny morsel contains less than four calories. However, the treats are packed full of nutrients, protein, and antioxidants. There are a number of different flavor options but the protein source is always the main ingredient. The formula is also free of corn, wheat, and soy. At approximately $15 for a 1-pound bag, you’re getting a lot of treats. Many have noted that even large dogs love the treat’s taste despite the smaller size.
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- Less than four calories per piece
- Protein makes up most of the formula
- Natural ingredients
- Can become crumbly over time
- Can get hard if not in sealed container
2. PEDIGREE Dentastix Dog Treats
At around $10 for 32 sticks, these treats from Pedigree are a bit more affordable than the previous option. These treats also have the added benefit of helping your dog’s overall dental health. They’re quite large and have a unique “X” design that’s made for polishing teeth. It’s also textured. Many dog owners have seen success when used daily. In fact, some use it in lieu of brushing to get rid of bad breath and tartar buildup. The original formula has a strong chicken flavor so that it’s tasty to dogs. The only downside is that it doesn’t contain natural ingredients.
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- Available in multiple sizes
- Designed to keep the teeth clean
- Strong flavor
- Contains a significant amount of salt
- Doesn’t utilize natural ingredients
- Contains fillers
3. Milk-Bone MaroSnacks Dog Treats for All Sizes Dogs
These marrow treats from Milk-Bone are very convenient and affordably priced. They cost around $9 for 40 ounces. The treats are packaged in a very convenient container. Unlike the previous treats that used bags, these treats allow you to get an air-tight seal for maximum freshness. In terms of flavor, these treats are very appetizing for dogs. They contain real bone marrow surrounded by a crunchy biscuit. Some buyers have praised this unique design because it makes giving their dog medications much simpler. While the ingredients list leaves much to be desired, it’s a great low-value snack that can be used for reinforcing training.
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- Comes in convenient container
- Low-value formula that tastes great
- Unique shell design is great for medicine
- Contains sugar
- Utilizes fillers and byproducts
4. Old Mother Hubbard Crunchy Classic Natural Dog Treat
This option from Old Mother is one of the most affordable treats on this least at approximately $5 for a 20-ounce bag. One thing that makes these treats stand out is that the formula utilizes all natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives. Some of these ingredients include chicken fat, peanut butter, and a collection of fruits and vegetables. There’s also a number of different delicious flavors available. One thing that many dog owners like about the treats is their shape and size. They come in a crunchy bone shape that’s easy enough to break apart if you want to change up the portion size.
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- Available in a number of tasty flavors
- Crunchy baked texture that has a long shelf life
- Natural ingredients and no artifical preservatives
- Contains wheat
- Contains sugar
5. Wilderness Blue Buffalo Dog Treats
From BLUE Wilderness is this high-value baked treat. This option is loved by many dog owners because of its high-quality ingredients. It’s completely grain free and doesn’t use poultry by-products or meals. Instead, it uses real meat as the main ingredient. For this particular formula, it’s salmon, which contains beneficial Omega fatty acids. The biscuits themselves are crunchy and delicious for dogs. They’re square in shape for easy handling. They don’t come in multiple sizes like other treats. However, the pieces are small enough to be enjoyed by any breed at roughly a square inch in size. In terms of price, the biscuits are very affordable at less than $4 for a 10-ounce bag.
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- 100% grain free
- Protein is the main ingredient
- Natural formula makes it very tasty for dogs
- Small universal size
- Can become cumby fairly easy
- Must feed sparingly due to high calorie count
6. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dog Treats
These dog treats are unique in the fact that the ingredients list is limited and easy to understand. There’s no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. It’s completely natural and contains ingredients like salmon and sweet potatoes. Because of the inclusion of salmon, many happy dog owners have pointed out that the biscuits can help to achieve healthy skin and a shiny coat. Others have also praised its effectiveness for dogs with allergies. The treats come in the form of baked biscuits. They come in a single small size for convenience and a wide variety of different flavors. They are approximate $5 for a 14-ounce bag, making them comparable to other options on this list in terms of price.
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- Limited ingredients
- No artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
- Hard texture may be difficult to chew
- Contains sugar
7. Fruitables Crunchy Dog Treats
This option from Fruitables is a unique low-value treat with less than nine calories per piece. Each treat is very small in size and shaped to look like a flower. Buyers have praised the simple and nutritional ingredients. Everything is wholesome and easy to understand. Unlike every other treat on this list that uses meat as the main protein source, these treats go with plant-based alternatives. The formula is full of ingredients like pumpkin, blueberries, bananas, and more. The treats come in a resealable bag to keep the freshness in. At around $4 for a small 7-ounce package, they’re a bit more expensive than other options. However, many positive reviews show that the luxury treats are well-liked by dogs.
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- Contains many fruits and vegetables
- Less than nine calories per piece
- All natural ingredients
- More expensive
- Small size is easier to choke on
Don’t Forget a Treat Bag
Mighty Paw Dog Treat Bag
Keep your dog’s treats on hand wherever you go with this tote from Mighty Paw. It features a sizable drawstring pouch that can hold up to two cups of treats. It also has a discrete bag dispenser to ensure that you can always pick up your pooch’s messes. There’s also a zippered pocket on the front and a pouch on the back for carrying your essentials. Buyers have praised the bag’s versatility and usefulness. They appreciate the various clips, rings, and loops for attaching gear. The quality of the bag has also been praised. It’s made from durable synthetic material and has reflective elements for safety on walks.
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- Can hold two cups of treats
- Numerous storage options
- Built-in bag dispenser
- Made from durable materials
- Can be attached to a belt
- Has a bulky design
- Drawstring doesn’t provide complete protection
You don’t always have to go out and buy treats for your pup. Some healthy alternatives can be found right in your kitchen or refrigerator.
Fruits and Vegetables
Raw plant-based foods are a great source of nutrients and minerals. They’re also a fat-free option that can keep your dog lean. Not every dog is going to enjoy every fruit or vegetable. It’s all about finding out what works for your pooch. It’s also important to stick with options that are known to be safe. These include:
- Sweet potatoes
Pickles are a great low-calorie treat that’s high in fiber. It’s also chock full of beneficial vitamins. Dogs can eat pickles for treats in moderation. It’s important to avoid excessive consumption to prevent the effects of too much salt. It’s also important to check that the pickling solution doesn’t contain harmful spices like garlic, onion, and white vinegar.
Cheese is a beloved dog treat that’s full of flavor. It can be used as an alternative to traditional treats. However, it’s important to avoid fatty cheeses and those that contain spices.
Dogs are natural carnivores, so why not give them some fresh meat? You can serve your dog small pieces of raw or cooked meat. Just make sure that it’s fresh and free of small bones that they could choke on. Also, avoid serving them raw fish that could have parasites.
Peanut butter can be a great source of healthy fats and nutrients. If you choose to treat them with peanut butter, make sure that it’s natural, not salted, and doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners like Xylitol.
The 10% Rule
In total, your dog’s treats should only make up 10% of their calorie intake per day. Anything over that can result in significant weight gain and a host of health issues. It’s important to keep track of your dog’s calories and activity to make sure that everything balances out. If you plan on rewarding your dog with a lot of treats as you train them, it’s imperative that you decrease their normal food quantity to avoid overfeeding. Most dogs will gobble up their food regardless, so it’s your job to stay on top of things and stick with the 10% rule.
How To Use Treats During Training
1. Train at the Right Time
The best time to train your dog is in between meals. This can help to ensure that your dog is excited for the treat and willing to do the work to earn it. You should never train your dog directly before or after they’ve eaten.
2. Let Your Dog Smell and See the Treat
Dogs have a very large range of smell, but that doesn’t always mean that they know you have a treat. They may assume it’s something that’s not for them. Hold up the treat and let them smell it. If they get excited, wait until they’ve calmed down to proceed.
3. Reward Calm Behavior
Dogs should learn how to stay calm. While the smell of a treat may send them into hyperactive mode, you should never reward them when they’re in this state. Doing so will throw any previous training out the window and show them that it’s acceptable behavior. Use a low-value treat to reward them for staying calm and listening to your commands. This treat will be enough to reinforce good behavior over the long run.
4. Use the Treat as a Lure
Sometimes, you have to show your pooch what they need to do for them to get the hang of things. This is when a treat comes in handy. You can hold the treat in a way that positions their body to do what you’re asking. For example, if you want them to walk through a doggy door, hold the treat on the other side. If you’re wanting them to sit down, hold it above their head and move the treat back so that their nose follows. To follow the treat, they’ll have to sit down.
5. Give the Reward Immediately.
Dogs have a short attention span, so it’s important to reward them quickly and let them know they’ve done a good job. If you’re trying to train them to sit down, give them the treat right when they make contact with the floor.
6. Switch Treats to Regain Attention
If you’re struggling to keep their attention, it may be time to switch to high-value treats. Your dog can get bored after a few minutes of doing the same thing. They may start to get distracted even if you’ve already rewarded them. To make sure that they’re focused, let them smell a high-value treat. They’ll know the difference pretty quickly and let you continue with training.
7. Slowly Pull Back on Rewards
There’s no need to give you dog a treat every time they listen to you effectively. Doing so can lead to a lot of additional calories over time. Once they get the hang of things, switch back to low-value treats to reinforce the training. After that, you can cut back on the rewards and give them treats for a particular command sparingly.
Treats are a must-have for dogs. It’s something that your furry friend will love to eat and can ultimately help to strengthen your bond together. If used correctly, treats are an essential training tool that can be used to keep them safe and well-behaved for many years to come. It’s important to take the time to choose the best treats for your pooch and understand how to use them for maximum efficiency. Treats need to be nutritious and healthy while having a taste your dog will drool over. With the right dog treat in hand, you should have no problem keeping your dog’s attention and providing them with the skills they need to thrive.