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Nutrition Team Blog

A Guide to Feeding Your Dog Treats

Published: Thursday, April 30, 2015

Many sources including the PDSA and PFMA have shown that at least one third of dogs in the UK are overweight or obese. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of exercise and overfeeding but many porky pets are getting too many treats and left-overs.

Podgy pets

If your dog is on the large size (see our body condition chart) this does not necessary mean that you should cut out all the treats you are feeding. Treating your dog can strengthen the bond you have with your pet and can make them much more responsive to training.

Treats are a good training tool

The use of treats was not recommended in traditional training methods because it was thought that this was a bribe or that the dog should simply want to do what you’ve asked. Behavioural biologist Karen Pryor (who is credited with founding clicker training and author of the well known book ‘Don’t shoot the dog’) worked with dolphins and whales before dogs. She stated that it would be ridiculous to expect a whale to jump out of the water on command just for the reward of someone saying ‘good whale’, it won’t do this without the reward of a fish. So why do we expect our dogs to do things with only ‘good dog’ as the reward?

When treats are involved dogs learn quicker. When used with Guide dogs in training (USA) adding food rewards increased the number of dogs making it successfully through the training from 35% to between 45-65% (Pryor, 2010). Interestingly if clicker training is used as well as food then the success rate increases up to 85%.

To continue using treats for rewards and training without weight gain you should:

  • Use low calorie/low fat treats e.g. Burns Kelties
  • Use treats that can be broken into smaller pieces or very small (training) treats
  • Feed non-fattening table scraps e.g. vegetables (left over peas, broccoli, carrots instead of meat)
  • Try plain unsalted/unsweetened rice cakes as a light reward
  • Cut down on your dog’s daily allowance of food if you are using a lot of treats

 If you are struggling to get the balance of food and treats right for your dog then please contact one of our friendly nutritionists using Livechat, email or call free on 0800 083 66 96.

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Reference: Karen Pryor (2010) Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals, New York: Scribner.

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