Puppyhood is a time of bonding with you, play and socialization, discovery, and training. Feeding treats can enhance these activities if the right treats are given. It is important to note that when feeding treats, the puppy’s normal diet needs to be decreased to accommodate for the extra calorie intake from the treats. Treats should make up no more than 10% of the total calories.
Be sure that if your puppy has a food sensitivity, that the treats you are using don’t contain that specific ingredient.
Occasions for Treat Feeding
One of the most common reasons that pet owners feed their puppies treats is for training purposes. Treat feeding helps to positively reinforce desired behavior quickly and easily.
A few training treat guidelines are as follows:
- Make sure the treats are small or easily breakable into smaller pieces, pencil eraser size or smaller. This is so that you can give multiple rewards without adding a lot of calories.
- The treats should be enticing, especially if your dog isn’t necessarily food driven.
- The treats should maintain their consistency, not crumble or turn to mush in your treat pouch or pocket.
Dogs of all ages have an innate chewing behavior. This behavior usually decreases with age and is typically necessary to maintain healthy teeth and gums. This behavior should not be discouraged, unless their chew of choice is your couch, shoe, etc.
Puppies have an increased drive to chew as they are teething. This usually occurs between 4 and 7 months of age. Chewing helps to dislodge the baby teeth and to help the adult teeth erupt through the gums. Providing the proper treats for your puppy can help them through this transition and hopefully save your own items.
- Choose treats that are easily indented with your fingernail. This allows for the proper amount of tooth penetration but should prevent your puppy from shredding the treat and swallowing it.
- Treats should be large enough that they can’t fit into your puppy’s mouth whole. This will also help prevent swallowing and allow for proper chewing.
- Always provide supervision when your puppy is chewing in a teething treat so that swallowing doesn’t occur.
Some good choices for teething treats include:
- Nylabones, these are a heavy duty rubbery texture bone that is soft enough to chew but hard enough that it is difficult to shred.
- Kongs, these are again a heavy-duty rubber that are soft enough to chew but also durable. Kongs can also be filled with peanut butter or kibble to provide entertainment and problem solving for your puppy.
- Frozen marrow bones, these can be purchased in the meats department of your grocery store. They are a silver dollar sized, donut shaped bone with the marrow still in the middle. Served frozen, they provide a good chewing surface but are hard to break into smaller pieces.
Giving treats can be an effective way to bond with your puppy. Treats don’t have to be a food product. You can ‘treat’ your puppy with a game of fetch, run through the park, or by simply sitting and petting him. Puppies respond to positive attention, no matter what form it takes. Feeding food treats is a quick and effortless way of proving that attention, but it doesn’t last as long or form those enduring bonds the way that time spent with them does.
Where to Find These Treats
Store Bought Treats
In any pet store, you will find isles and isles of ready-to-eat treats of all flavors, sizes, and uses, but which ones are best? When it comes to buying treats, simplicity is better. Read your labels to determine which treats are best for you and your puppy.
- Stick with the same brand as your puppy’s kibble. Dog food companies will usually stick to the same ingredients so one brand’s treats should be very similar to their regular diets. This isn’t always the case for some of the lower end brands, so check your ingredients list.
- Keep it simple. Your dog doesn’t need to eat anything you can’t pronounce, so watch those labels for unrecognizable ingredients just as you would in your own food.
- If your puppy has a food sensitivity, pick up treats formulated for that specific issue. Fortunately, these days, food sensitivity is a popular topic so many pet food and treat companies have products available for those puppy’s needs.
- Note the volume of the bag you’re buying and your likelihood to finish it before the expiration date. Since treats typically aren’t fed with as much regularity as a puppy’s normal diet, it is easy for the expiration date to sneak up on us.
- Canned food of the same formulation as your kibble can be used. Just allow the puppy one lick from the can to reward proper behavior.
- Don’t discount the use of the puppy’s regular kibble. When given at a different time or place than their regular meal, kibble can serve as a treat. If you need to add a little more enticement, place some kibble in a paper bag with a strip of bacon overnight. This will create a different aroma and taste for the kibble.
- Be sure to check country of origin on your puppy’s treats. We all remember the China pet food tragedy from a couple years ago.
Contrary to what you may have been told, human food can make good treats as long as you use the proper food. Don’t just use table scraps from last night’s dinner.
- Baby food from a jar can be used as a treat. Just like using canned puppy food, allow your puppy one lick after each positive behavior. Stick with the meat or vegetable varieties as the fruit mixtures can contain too much sugar.
- Vegetables make excellent low-calorie treats. Most dogs love carrots, green beans or even broccoli. These are good for puppies on a diet or that have grain intolerance. Steer clear of onions, raisins and grapes however.
- Finally, cooked lean meat ‘jerky.’ Not actual jerky with all the spices and salt. You can make your own puppy jerky by drying out lean chicken, beef, etc in the microwave until it reaches that jerky texture.
Cooking for your puppy is a trend that seems to be on the rise. By cooking for them, you know exactly what your puppy is consuming and where the food came from. Homemade treats are also good for puppies with food sensitivities since the ingredients are easier to control. Allrecipes.com provides several recipes that can be tweaked as necessary for you and your puppy’s needs. Also, speak with your veterinarian for other recipe ideas.
Treats can be an important part of your puppy’s growing experience. If used properly, they can help with training, teething and starting that lifelong bond that you and your puppy will share for years to come.