We all appreciate a little treat now and again, as a reward for good behaviour or as an incentive to do something we would really prefer not to do, and dogs are no different. However, to reiterate two common phrases, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”, and “the best things come in small packages”, at least as far as edible treats are concerned.
In all animals, humans included, we can think of the body as a set of balancing scales, and in order to keep fit and trim, we need to balance calories in (food), with calories out in terms of exercise and activity levels, so it is important not to overdo things.
The following is a list of do’s and dont’s to be mindful of when treating your dog:
Remember that treats are an essential part of positive-reinforcement when it comes to reward-based training, but each treat will have a calorific content, so be careful not to overdo them or else you will be helping your dog to become overweight and unfit
Remember the 10% rule; treats should make up no more than about 10% of your dog’s calories per day
Remember that a dog’s daily calorie needs will vary depending upon their stage of life (e.g. puppy or fully grown adult), reproductive status (if they are spayed or not, pregnant, etc.), any medical conditions such as diabetes, activity levels, body condition score (from too thin to too fat) and environmental conditions (e.g. a dog living indoors, rather than outdoors)
Try and use low-calorie dense food as treats, such as raw broccoli, apples, bananas, and carrots. If your dog is picky, then a couple of his favourite dried kibbles out of his daily ration can be given instead
Bear in mind that many “human foods” can be toxic to dogs, and should never be fed to them. Examples include chocolate, grapes and raisins.
Some dog treats can provide extra benefits to your dog such as healthier coats, skin and teeth, breath-freshening, and joint supplementation
If your dog gets too excitable at the prospect of being given a treat, wait for him to calm down and only then give him the reward. If he tries to snatch it out of your hand, clamp your fist around the treat, and only give it to your dog when he gently nuzzles your hand, calmly
Try and avoid giving scraps off the dinner table as this will only encourage begging
Only give treats appropriate for the age and condition of your dog. For example, do not give young puppies adult dog treats, as they may choke on them or be unable to digest them
Do not overdo the treats - remember the 10% rule! Not only will too many treats lead to your dog becoming overweight and unhealthy, but it may also put him off eating his balanced “main” meals meaning that he may end up becoming deficient in certain nutrients
Don’t reward bad behaviour/ unwanted behaviours with treats, for example, if your dog is constantly yapping, or jumping up on you to get to the treat, only give it to him when he has calmed down, otherwise, you will be re-enforcing this negative behaviour
Do not give treats alongside their regular food at meal times, as this can also encourage selective eating, with the treats being the preferred option
Do not feed your dog human snacks or junk food. Not only may certain foods, such as chocolate and onions, be toxic to your dog, but they can also easily bunk up the intake of calories in a disproportionate amount when considering the calorific requirement of a dog (compared to a human)
In summary, the take-home message here is that healthy, low-calorie, non-toxic treats can be used as part of a sensible and healthy training/reward program with your dog, but use in moderation and be mindful of only rewarding good/wanted behaviour, rather than inadvertently encouraging unwanted/poor behaviour.