Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dog In The Desert's Guide To Treats- Part 1 Training Treats

Is that bacon in your pocket or did I do something right?

Lately a lot of my friends have been either getting new puppies, starting agility, or doing other things that require treats.  With so many out there (and so many iffy ones on the market) it is a confusing topic that I have been answering many questions about lately.  I thought it might be good to put all my thoughts into one place I'm calling DogInTheDesert's Guide to Treats.  Keep in mind I am very careful about what I feed my dogs, I do not support the major pet food companies and I never would feed treats made in China, so you will not find any of those in this guide.

I'm going to split this up into sections as follows-
  1. Training Treats
  2. Chew Treats
  3. Treats to Occupy Time
  4. Biscuits and novelty treats for you to let guests hand out in an effort to stop them from giving your dogs table scraps
Lets start with Training Treats
There are a lot of things to think about when you are looking for training treats.  You need a few things in your arsenal ranging from very high value to just ok, they need to be small (or in the case of chihuahuas tiny) and they need to usually be something that your dog can eat a lot of and not get sick.  For me I also want something that I can put in my pocket or training bag without getting too gross.

Many people make their own training treats.  That is commendable and sometimes I will do that too HOWEVER time is precious.  My dogs eat an entirely home prepared raw diet and that takes a lot of my time.  Rarely do I have the extra desire or ability to spend the day baking and rolling and dehydrating training treats.  If you are the make it yourself type a lot of dogs go crazy for plain ole boiled boneless chicken breast.  Chicken is pretty easy on most tummies, easy to break up and really cheap.  On the home made front another popular training treat is string cheese.  Those are easy to store in your pocket, very high value and if your dog is tolerant of cheese it is a great way to go.  Just be sure to do that in moderation as cheese is both fattening and a little hard on the tummy sometimes.  I used string cheese at agility with Kerri for about 6 months before she started throwing it up in the car on the way home but many use it with total success. 

Moving away from cooking required but sticking with "human food" there are a lot of staples that people go to.  Hot dogs are always an option.  Watch out because there is a lot of salt in hot dogs but many of the natural all beef dogs out there at the health food store are actually better for your dog than many sugar and salt filled soft dog treats out there.  They can be an option if you need something really good and don't use too much of it.  Another popular option with little dogs is plain Cherios.  Cherios are a lot of grain for my taste but they are small, visible on the floor if you are looking to throw them and good sized for littler dogs.

As far as pre-made training treats there is one thing that I recommend above all else.  Stella & Chewy's Carnivore Crunch.  For starters it is typically irresistible to dogs.  I discovered the stuff because a friend at agility class had it and all the dogs went so crazy for it we had to borrow some to get our dogs out on the course.  When I took basic obedience with Nova the same thing happened to me but in reverse and the other owners joked I had bacon in my pockets.  The other great thing about S&C is that they are made from pretty much just ground protein, bone and organ (so exactly what I am feeding the dogs anyway).  For a raw feeder they can even replace a whole meal every once in a while without any stomach upset at all.  For those dogs with sensitivities they come in three different proteins for you to choose from and have no added anything.  The only downside to S&C Carnivore Crunch is that they crumble up pretty bad in your pockets.

Now let's talk semi-soft treats.  For the most part (other than the carnivore crunch) dogs tend to like soft training treats more than hard ones.  This can be tricky because so many of the soft treats out there are full of sugar and other things that can really mess with the tummy in high volume.  I used to love Zukes brand, but since they have been bought by Nestle-Purina I am no longer supporting their products.  Some good semi soft treats would be Cloudstar Tricky Trainers, and ThinkDog Alligator Jerky.  One warning with the jerky though- it smells really bad.  I try to avoid anything with "natural smoke flavoring" in it because it makes me want to puke.  In fact I might have actually had to pull over once after opening some of that Jerky in the car.  If you are not someone like me who is bothered by smells you have a lot more options in the semi-soft treat category.  The important thing is to read the label, don't buy anything made in China, stick to things with named proteins high on the list and avoid a lot of treats high in sugar.  Or at least reserve the sugary treats for when you are looking for a very high value treat.  I am not very brand loyal when it comes to semi-soft treats and while I do keep some in my training bag it is often whatever I picked up that looks good.

There are a few more options I would like to talk about so I'll add those here in no particular order-
  • Recently Wellness came out with a line of soft treats for small dogs called Petite Treats and they seem to go over pretty well at our house with all sized dogs.  As a training treat they are actually very well sized for even a larger dog.  Along those lines Wellness Pure Rewards and Just For Puppy treats are great training treats for the slightly bigger dogs.  I get frustrated having to pull them apart into so many pieces for the chihuahuas but for a bigger dog they would be great.  Those are all available at big box pet stores so if you are looking for off the shelf Wellness might be the way to go.
  • WholeLife is a company that makes a large variety of quality freeze dried treats.  I always keep their sirloin Burgers in my training bag because they are pretty durable in a pocket, easy to break into small pieces for the chis and are a good higher value treat to add variety to my Stella & Chewys.  For dogs larger than a chihuahua their other treats would be great too depending on what your dogs liked and many are low in fat and calories and would be great for the chubbier dog that is still needing treats for training.  We have tried their sweet potato, liver, cod and cheese treats- Copley has loved them all.  The pickier chihuahuas have preferred some over others- you just have to experiment based on what your dog likes.
  • Kibble.  I know- to many raw feeders and people who feed a more natural diet to their dogs kibble is a dirty word but hear me out here.  If you feed kibble (or any other small dried up food like Ziwipeak that may not necessarily be a kibble) then stick some in your training bag!  Particularly for puppies it is great to use part of (or all of) their meal as training treats.  Usually for a kibble fed dog kibble is not very high value but you can always throw in something higher value every so often or just use it for lower intensity training if that's the case.  In our house where we never would actually feed kibble as a meal I will pick up sample bags of premium kibble and use it as treats.  Ziwipeak is great for that, it is a very high quality food that most dogs love and even some raw feeders use it as a backup for the days when dinner is rushed.  Just be careful if you are using kibble as treats because it is very dense, full of carbs and can bulk up a dog really fast if you are not careful.
  • Max & Ruffies is a brand that makes all vegan dog treats.  Typically I like to stick with meat based treats for my dogs but these are really a great product.  While I am not in agreement with them that dogs should be fed a vegan diet- their all veggie treats are made with great ingredients that I am happy to feed my dogs.  The mini bites are the perfect size for training treats if your dog likes crunchy things.  I also love that you can just throw them in your pocket if you need to for a walk or therapy visit.  They don't fall apart and you don't end up smelling like meat.

Although over the years a few of these companies have given me free samples I was not in any way compensated for this post.  Having received probably hundreds of bags of treats via this blog I believe I am becoming a bit of an expert on what is on the market.  I decided to share my opinions all in one place and that is precisely what this is- my opinion.


  1. We don't have any of those brands here but high value and small is what we go for. We have missed you.
    Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. I love the Max & Ruffies treats - wish they weren't quite so spendy! The Honest Kitchen Quickies are also great for training - they are made with fish so they are stinky, but they are tiny crunchy hearts.