You love rewarding your pup for good behavior and, in general, making her happy. One of the things that she loves is her treats, whether it's a Milk-Bone, a pepperoni stick, or a biscuit from your favorite dog bakery down the block.
But is it healthy to give your dog a treat every day, or perhaps even more frequently than that? Are you sending her the wrong signals or in some way harming her physical health? Or is it harmless to treat your pup, especially when she deserves it for being well-behaved or simply too cute to handle?
Let's look at when you'd give your dog a treat, health issues that might arise, and the nutrition content of dog treats.
Training your dog
The situation where you'd use treats the most often would be when you're training your dog. When doing positive reinforcement training techniques with treats, make sure you use small treats or you break up larger treats to avoid overdoing it.
If you are teaching your pup a more complicated trick, like rolling over, you can reward each step she learns to encourage her to keep going. You should only give a treat when your dog is calm and has followed your command. Otherwise, you'll be rewarding negative behaviors like hyperactivity and defiance.
Dog trainers don't recommend giving your pup a treat as a bribe or relying on treats forever. Instead, for long-term training, you can use a clicker or toys as a reward for your dog behaving properly.
Watching daily caloric intake
Since treats are not meant to be primary sources of food or nutrition, your pup should only be getting 10% (or less) of her maximum daily calories from treats. You can find a dog calorie calculator online to help you determine how many calories that ends up being.
If you give your dog too many treats, she may end up suffering from obesity and gastrointestinal distress. That's why the type of treat you give her matters. Don't just go for the cheapest option or for the one with the most attractive packaging.
There are many unhealthy dog treats on the market that are made up of ingredients like food coloring and preservatives, and they're high in salt, sugar, and fat. Avoid these treats when you're in the supermarket or pet store.
Finding healthy dog treats
If you want to go for a healthy treat that you can buy in the store, look for one with all-natural ingredients that doesn't contain fillers like soy, corn, or gluten. You should also seek out treats with single-ingredient protein formulations, non-GMO labels, free-range and grass-fed proteins, and vitamins and minerals.
Instead of rewarding your dog with store-bought treats, you can also treat your dog to a number of different healthy human foods. For example, she will love peanut butter, which has healthy fat, protein, and vitamins B and E. If you want to make her work for the peanut butter, put it inside of a toy like a Kong. Carrots are also great for dogs since they are healthy and help your dog strengthen her teeth. She will love some cooked chicken; just don't give her the bones, since they are a choking and digestion hazard.
A spoonful of yogurt without sweetener or flavor is sure to make your dog happy, as long as she isn't lactose intolerant, and she will also enjoy pumpkin, cooked eggs, and cooked salmon. For more ideas, check out our list of everything your dog can and cannot eat.
Feeding your dog
Remember that treats can be incorporated into your dog's diet, but the most important thing is that she eats well-balanced meals and gets plenty of exercise every day.
How often you feed your dog depends on her age. If you have a puppy, she'll eat four times a day, but if you have an adult, she'll eat one to two times per day. Since small dogs burn their energy more quickly, they will need two to three meals per day, even when they are older. To determine how much food your dog needs during feedings, you can use a dog calorie calculator and/or consult with your vet. While at the vet, ask what your dog's goal weight should be.
Picking out the right dog food, just like you do with the dog treats, is key. The food you get should be comprised of protein, like meat, vegetables, fruits, and grains, and not have added fillers or preservatives. It should also cater to your dog's specific dietary needs. Some breeds, for example, are going to have trouble digesting certain foods, so you need to ask your vet about what sensitivities your dog may have.
Also, buy food that is specially formulated according to your dogs' age. Puppies need smaller food for their growing bodies and energetic personalities, and seniors need food that is lower in calories.
Combining a well rounded diet with nutritious treats and at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day is going to keep your pup healthy and ensure she lives a long and content life.