3 Types of Training Treats: how to choose the best

The right training treat for your dog can make your whole day go better!

The best dog training treat is small, nutritious, and easily portable.  Safe ingredients are a must, since the dog may consume a lot of training treats over his lifetime.  The use of training treats is most effective when several different types are used; including purchased treats, homemade treats, and simple tidbits from one’s refridgerator.

Welcome to the only dog treat article on the Internet that is not designed to make you click links, so the author can make money selling you dog treats.  I’m sorry, but when an article has thirty links to buy treats from Amazon, and three links for dog treat recipes (which – laughably – involve separating eggs🤣), that is not information, it’s advertising. 

Read on to find out what factors are common to the most successful training treats, which ingredients to avoid, and proven winners. I even include my video showing how to make your own, at home, without a lot of fussy egg-separating. 

Oh, and those links?  I only recommend things I use for my own hound, so they are carefully vetted.

Table of Contents

What are the Best Dog Treats for Training? (Anatomy of a Training Treat)

First, what factors make a great training treat?  Here’s a list to keep in mind:  

  • They are very small, or can easily be broken up into little pieces.
  • They smell and taste great enough to capture the dog’s attention.
  • They must not throw off the nutritional balance of your dog’s diet.
  • They should not be “empty calories.”
  • Bonus – can be carried in pocket without messing up clothing
  • Bonus – doesn’t need refrigeration

Keep these factors in mind, as we continue with what the professionals say.

What Training Treats do Vets Recommend?

This is kind of like asking your dentist for candy suggestions.  Veterinarians love recommending fruits and vegetables, which presents a couple of problems.  First, they are not always effective for training purposes.  Second, some fruits and veggies are actually harmful for dogs.  If I’ve piqued your curiousity, you can read more about that in my article about foods that are bad for dogs.

All teasing aside, if you specify to your veterinarian  that you want guidance about training treats, he will likely tell you…

“…if chosen correctly, treats can supplement your pet’s health as well as be very beneficial to their overall well-being.”

Sarah Wallace, DVM

Dr. Wallace goes on to say that the best training treats are food-based, with plenty of protein and nutrients.  She is very specific about what to avoid, as well – The hardest treats can damage your dog’s teeth.  Some treats may actually make your dog sick, especially those which are raw or fat-based.  Then, there are those from countries that do not have decent standards for treat manufacturing, which may include sub-standard ingredients or even be contaminated.  My previous article delves into this particular hazard.

Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM add:

“Treats should never provide more than 10% of a dog’s energy/calorie intake, and a 5% target is better. Unlike commercially prepared dog foods, dog treats are NOT complete and balanced. Providing too many treats actually upsets the nutritional balance of the regular ration.”

Drs. Williams & Downing

The other good thing about asking the doctor is that he can give you suggestions which consider your individual hound’s health and stage of life.  As I mention later in this article, my dogs adore the joint support treats.  They even make puppy-friendly treats for the youngsters; and, for the old guys, treats to help stave off dementia!

What do Professional Dog Trainers Use for Treats?

Here is the difference between what a trainer thinks is a good treat and what a veterinarian is thinks is a good treat:

The veterinarian’s first priority is that a treat be healthful.  The trainer’s first priority is that the treat makes the dog respond in the desired way. 

Veterinarians can spout a lot of happy-talk about dogs idyllically eating vegetables, but trainers must deal with reality. Frankly, I would need to give my dog a training treat just to get her to eat a carrot or a snap pea. When I give her a carrot, she will stick her nose up at it. If I repeat the offer, she’ll take it politely and drop it on the ground. If I persist, she might bite it in half. If I get too pushy, she will register her disgust by chewing up the offending vegetable and spitting it all over the floor.

So, What are the Best Dog Treats to Buy?

The bottom line is that incentivizing your dog’s good behavior with little food bribes is highly individualized. To get training treats to be effective, there must always be the element of variety: in taste, in texture, in size, and in scent. Because of this, there is no one Holy Grail treat that will get your dog to do what you want him to every time. 

I also feel strongly that you are doing yourself and your dog a disservice, if you never give him any kind of training treats, besides purchased dog treats. There must be an element of “people” food involved. Not only do dogs like it, but they see you eat it, which makes them want it even more. You certainly can’t say that about purchased dog treats!

It is, therefore, in your refrigerator where you will usually find the variety you need to make training treats successful. The purchased treats are what you need introduce an element of consistency, where your dog will come to expect that certain treat and will respond consistently to get it, and that is a very good thing, too. Even among your consistent treats however, It is important to rotate them when you purchase. For this reason, I switch off on flavors of the various treats that I purchase.

I buy three types of training treats for my dog. The first kind is a dry one that I can carry easily in my pocket, without stinking up my clothes: Charlee Bear treats. This link is to the Original, but the grain-free are very good, as well.  They provide a different texture, to keep your dog interested.  My dogs have yet to try a Charlee Bear flavor that they don’t love.

The second kind is a glucosamine chew, which I use at the same time every day. Lily looks forward to this time with me, when, for a treat, she will sit, shake hands, get into an “on your mark – get set” type of stance, and leap in the air to get her treat.  

Don’t wait until you have a senior dog to start on the glucosamine.  Begin it right away, and your dog has an even better chance of less joint pain in his old age.

The third kind is the ultra – smelly treat, for which the dog will do anything. Recommended here is the freeze-dried liver, a perennial favorite for all dogs. 

I have recently been using a moist treat which I got from Trader Joe’s, which is supposed to be “leftovers” flavored, if you can imagine that! It smells like your trash on the day after Thanksgiving. This is the type of treat I use when I need to cut Lily’s nails, give first aid, or remove a tick; anything where she needs to hold still and behave herself.

Dog Clickers – a Training Treat Accessory

For a little extra fun and reinforcement, you and your dog might enjoy adding a clicker sound to your training treat regimen.  Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan explains:

“You can also combine giving the treat with the sound that a clicker makes. Your dog will associate that sound with a reward, and eventually it will take the place of the treat.”

Cesar Millan

One problem with clickers – They may be too loud for sensitive dogs. Don’t dispair – Toy clickers tend to be quieter than those made for dogs, and the price is right!  For the price of one dog clicker, you get a dozen of theseSome are softer than others, and then you have extras around to amuse (or even train!) children 🙂

Resources for Further Exploration

I made this video last Christmas.  The beauty of it is that you can cut the treats very quickly, in any size you need.  

By Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare