Guest Blog written by Lindsay Penvy. Lindsay Pevny is a pet industry copywriter and dog blogger at LittleDogTips.com, where you can find more dog nutrition tips, raw feeding guides and healthy treat recipes.
Reward-based dog training requires lots of motivation - which can mean lots of weight gain if your treats of choice aren’t healthy.
According to the Association For Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2017 clinical survey, an estimated 53 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, possibly because most pet foods are very high in starchy fillers like corn, wheat and legumes, and because many owners simply feed their dogs too much.
Our modern, sedentary lifestyles are also to blame for the pet obesity epidemic. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise to keep them in shape, especially when you give them lots of treats - even if they are healthy.
Healthy training treats are made with few ingredients, and should be low in calories and carbohydrates. You may need to reduce your dog’s meal portions after treat-heavy training sessions to avoid excessive calorie intake, and to prevent digestive upset.
Here’s ten ideas for rewarding your very good dog, without making them a very fat dog:
If your dog eats kibble, their food probably won’t be a high-value treat. However, feeding portions of their meals during training is a great way to keep them motivated without adding extra calories to their diet. To make the kibble more exciting, you can upgrade it by adding crumbled dehydrated liver treats, a few drops of bacon fat, or by mixing in another flavorful treat. Upgraded kibble is good for practicing everyday skills. When teaching a new cue, or when you need your dog to be extra attentive, for example, during recall training, you’ll want something better than kibble.
Dehydrated & Freeze Dried Food
Dehydrated and freeze dried dog foods are shelf-stable, portable and do not contain fillers that typically cause dogs to gain weight. Stella & Chewy’s, The Honest Kitchen and TruDog all make dehydrated and freeze dried foods with limited ingredients.
Many dogs go crazy for carrots because they’re sweet and aromatic. However, you’ll want to feed them in moderation because they are loaded with starch and sugar, and can contribute to weight gain if your dog eats too many. Fresh carrots chopped into pea-sized pieces make great training treats. You can also use a dehydrator, oven or microwave to make shelf-stable carrot chips.
Like carrots, apples are sweet, but they’re also sugary and starchy. Cut into cubes and remove the skin, which can be difficult for dogs to digest. Apples can also be dehydrated so they’re not slimy by the time you get to the park.
Sweet potatoes are another sweet, starchy veggie that can contribute to weight gain, but are fine in moderation. Make sweet potato chips in a dehydrator, oven or microwave. You don’t need to use oil to make them crisp, just lay them on parchment paper in the oven or microwave. You may have to experiment with times and temperatures to get them just right, and remember, they’ll continue to crisp up as they cool down.
Kale is incredibly nutrient-dense. It can boost your dog’s immune system, soothe inflammation due to arthritis, and even prevent cancer. Fresh kale probably won’t get your dog’s attention, but they can be a tempting treat once dehydrated in a dehydrator, oven or microwave. You can even cook them with a small amount of bacon grease to make them tastier.
Fresh or frozen green beans make a great treat for dogs that actually like them, though they’re easier to digest if cooked, steamed or dehydrated. You can boil them in broth or lightly coat them with bacon grease to make them more aromatic and delicious.
Turkey is a lean protein source, and your dog will do anything for it, no added ingredients necessary. Since it is low in fat, it dehydrates easily in your oven or dehydrator. If you cut it into tiny pieces before cooking, it’ll dehydrate very quickly into crisp treats. Or, you can dehydrate strips and cut them into training treats as needed.