Rewarding your dog with treats can be tempting; both when they perform as expected and when just looking cute enough to deserve something delicious, and while treats are great for training and behavioral exercises – it can become a health issue for dogs that easily gain weight. Some dog breeds are more prone to weight gain than others; such as Labrador Retrievers and Pugs, but all dogs will eventually gain weight if being fed too many treats.
So, should you refrain from giving your pup treats? No, not at all, but there are a few things that you might want to take into consideration when shopping for dog treats, and when using them for training. Not all treats are the same; some are better than others, and some you might want to avoid if your dog packs on weight easily.
Provide Enough Physical Exercise
The best advice is to make sure that you exercise your dog in accordance with their breed, energy level and the amount of food and treats they receive in a day. All dogs need both mental and physical exercise, but the physical exercise is what determines whether a dog gains weight or stays fit and healthy. If you feed more treats than normal during a period, then it means that you should also increase their daily exercise routine accordingly.
It is a lot easier to prevent weight gain than to try to get rid of it once those extra kilos are already showing on your dog. No dog should be overweight, as this can have serious implications on their overall health, and the best way to prevent weight gain in puppies, adult- and senior dogs when training with treats is to keep the dog physically active and properly exercised.
Count Treats Towards Daily Food Intake
A rule of thumb when training with treats is to adapt the daily food intake to the number of treats the dog has received throughout the day. If you feed more treats one day, you may want to consider giving them less of their regular food than you otherwise would. It is no exact science and it can be difficult to say exactly how much you should reduce their portion after having fed treats, since it depends on how much calories are in the treats vs. how much is in their food. Being exact is not important, however, so just take some kibble (or wet food) out from their regular portion if you feel they have been fed more treats than they usually have access to.
If you worry about the dog going hungry, you can always mix their food with mashed-up vegetables (such as carrots or pumpkin), which will then work as a filler without adding too many extra calories. It is easy to make excuses for an overweight dog, but the truth is there are so many good ways to avoid having a dog pack extra pounds that we – as owners – need to start taking responsibility. Prevention, rather than correction once the problems are already knocking on your front door. A fat doggy may be cute, but it can significantly reduce their lifespan and quality of life.
Substitute with Alternative Rewards
When you are training your dog, it is easy to get caught in the belief that they need a treat every time they do something good. This is not necessarily the case, and with time, you can teach your dog that they need to perform a couple of tricks between each treat, rather than to be fed their reward after every successfully executed performance.
You can also switch it up and use a toy for a reward; which could mean a couple of seconds of tug-of-war with their favorite toy, or a few rounds of fetch before continuing with the next trick or lesson. Thinking that a dog needs food to be encouraged when training isn’t necessarily correct, and many dogs are thrilled when offered a moment of playtime during their training session. This depends a lot on the dog, as some dogs are not motivated by toys the way others are, and you – who know your dog better than anyone else – probably know whether this is an option that might work for you.
Choose a Low-Calorie Treat
The type of dog treats you choose to purchase also matter, because just like with dog food – dog treats differ greatly, and some are better than others when it comes to preventing unwanted weight gain. Look for a special diet product if you have had issues with your pup gaining weight in the past, since these are designed to be low-calorie and to keep extra weight off.
You should always do your research and pick a quality treat; preferably with natural ingredients, since these tend to be less fattening than those packed with fillers and fat. The ingredients’ list will tell you everything you need to know about a product, so keep an eye out for a treat made with healthy fruits and vegetables, and with a lean meat (such as duck or lamb) listed first or at least somewhat high.
Mix Treats with Veggies
A clever trick for dog owners with weight-packing pups is to mix in something healthy and virtually calorie free with the regular treats, such as vegetables! Take a handful of your pup’s favorite treats and put them in a bag. You can then use cut-up carrots, peas, celery or perhaps green beans, and throw it in the bag with the treats. Give the bag a good shake to have the flavor of the treats rub off on the vegetables, and just like that, you have an exciting and mixed bag of treats that is a lot healthier than using only store-bought dog treats. Most dogs won’t mind the occasional veggie – especially when training since they will be so busy focusing on succeeding with the behavior that will earn them a treat.
Remember that the idea is not to trick your dog, but to make the treat supply last longer without having to add (much) additional calories. Some dogs might not appreciate this, though, since many picky eaters are difficult to convince, but it is worth a try before you discard the idea completely.