Treats are an important part of your dog's day for a number of reasons. Not only are they key components in behavioral training, serving as consistent motivators that encourage positive progress, but they also stimulate physical activity and add dietary variety, all of which play a role in providing your pup with a well-rounded routine.
When it comes to your dog's health, how often you treat is not as important as how much you treat. While treats are an important part of your dog's day, they can also cause unwanted weight gain if not closely monitored. According to "The Whole Dog Journal," treats should be included in your dog's total caloric count, which means adjusting meal size to accommodate the additional calories. Consult with your vet regarding what your dog's daily caloric intake should be, and ensure that his food plus treat consumption doesn't exceed this. If you'd like to treat your dog more frequently throughout the day, buy low calorie treats. Keep in mind that one dog biscuit can be broken into smaller tidbits that provide as much palate-pleasing enjoyment with less weight impact.
When to Treat
Dogs thrive on knowing what's expected of them, so routine is a good concept to encourage -- and treats can help your pup establish and maintain familiarity with everyday household events. For example, pet parents can reinforce the daily schedule by giving treats before or after doggy's mealtime, when you leave or arrive back home, before bedtime, as behavior rewards and/or after walks. Also, if your dog gets treated only at certain times of the day, it will deter him from begging for table scraps from his human housemates, as well as make it easier for you to keep track of how many calories he receives per day from his treats.
Positive reinforcement is the cornerstone of good training, according to the Humane Society of the United States, and treats are key components of reaching this objective. Most dogs are highly food motivated (which is why they tend to beg for whatever you're eating), so it makes sense to tap into this natural instinct when working on basic behavior training. Once your canine companion gets the connection between what you ask and what he receives, he anticipates the treat for performing that behavior. Once this connection has been made for certain commands, however, it's important that you stop treating every time your dog has performed the commanded task. Taper down the frequency of treats until he reliably performs the command without being treated at all. Your goal should be to make treating a once-in-a-while, and primarily scheduled occurrence.
Type of Treats
Treats don't have to be restricted to dog-specific products, with some options being much more nutritious than buying a box of biscuits. Fresh green beans and cubed apples are two of several excellent alternatives for flavor, cost and nutritional value, according to Modern Dog Magazine, making it a win/win situation for your dog's taste buds as well as your budget. However, not all fruits and vegetables are safe for canine consumption, so be sure to first check with your vet before introducing a new food.
By Lori Corrigan
The Humane Society of the United States: Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training
Drs Foster and Smith: FAQs About Treats
Modern Dog Magazine: 10 “People” Foods for Dogs
The Whole Dog Journal: Helping Your Dog Lose Weight
Seaside Animal Clinic: Weight, Calories, and Your Pet
About the Author
Based in Arizona, Lori Corrigan is a social media collaborator with more than 25 years of experience in research writing and editing. Her work has appeared in "Ladies' Home Journal," "Woman's Day" and "Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul," covering topics such as business, psychology, animal welfare and academia.