Dog treats are an important part of your pet’s daily schedule. Treats provide a wonderful training tool, and they can also provide lifestyle support and contribute to a more well-rounded daily diet for your pet. Furthermore, dog treats contribute to your pooch’s mental health and strengthen their bond with you.
But, like all good things, dog treats need to be handled with moderation. Healthy treat habits will complement your dog’s diet and wellness, won’t ruin their appetite for dog food and can be useful during training sessions. So what are the dos and don’ts of dog treat distribution? Read on for advice on when to give treats to your pet, how much to give them in a day, and what kinds of treats are best for your pet’s health and happiness.
When Should You Give a Dog a Treat?
Dog treats are just that – treats! Handing over these yummy bites should be a special occasion and a reward for your pet. There are times when you won’t want to give your dog a treat, and there are times when you definitely want to have a treat on hand to complement your pooch on their behavior or encourage them to behave.
Treats Should Be Given When Your Pet Is Calm
Don’t ever give your dog a treat when they are hyperactive or crazy. This means that you might need to give your dog some time to calm down after you get out the treat bag. They can likely tell, either by the rustle of the bag or the scent of the treats, that you’re about to give them something yummy, and they’ll start to display excited behavior. Wait for your dog to calm down and try to encourage them to sit still before giving them the treat. If you hand over the goodies while your dog is behaving poorly, they’ll start to associate that poor behavior with a positive reward.
Don’t Hand Out Dog Treats During or Near Mealtimes
You want to be sure that your treat habits aren’t interfering with your dog’s normal, healthy eating schedule, so it’s best to avoid giving treats at or around meal times. You want your dog to have an appetite for their meals, so treats should be saved for the middle of the day. Avoid giving treats or doing training an hour before your dog is supposed to eat a meal.
Tips for Using Dog Treats During Training
Treats are a great tool for teaching basic commands to your dog, no matter their age. But it’s important to keep a few things in mind when you choose to use treats for training. It’s best to use small, low-calorie treats for dog training so that you don’t have to worry about using too many and you can freely reward your pooch when they complete a task. Also, if you use a variety of different treats during training, save the highest-value treats for the end of the training session to keep your pooch engaged when their attention is starting to fade.
Be Consistent in Treat Distribution
The best thing you can do for your dog is be consistent about when they can have treats and when they can’t. Get everyone in the family on board with the treat schedule so your pooch doesn’t feel confused. If you go on a walk at the same time every day, your dog is going to start expecting that bonding time with you. They’ll feel sad and disappointed on days when it doesn’t happen and might even misbehave. The same goes for their treat schedule – if you usually give them a treat when you eat lunch, they’re going to expect it.
Likewise, if someone gives them treats during a meal or when they’re being hyperactive, the conflicting messages will leave them confused about what is appropriate and what you are communicating when you give them a treat. Support your dog by holding to the treat habits you develop.
The Right Amount: Can You Give Your Dog Too Many Treats?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right amount of dog treats for your pet. A general rule is that treats shouldn’t make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s daily diet. When planning out your dog’s daily treat schedule, consider their:
- Size and weight
- Activity level
- Veterinarian’s advice
Older Dogs Might Need Fewer Treats
Age will be a deciding factor in how many dog treats your pet gets daily. Older dogs tend to be less active, which means they need to take in fewer calories to avoid becoming overweight. As your dog gets older and slows down, you’ll need to adapt their treat schedule. Puppies are growing and very active, so they can generally have more treats than adult or senior dogs. This is convenient because you can use puppy treats for training your dog when they first come to your home!
Your Dog’s Size and Weight Help Dictate the Proper Number of Daily Treats
Size is a major factor in deciding the appropriate number of treats for your dog’s daily schedule. Obviously, a big German Shepherd can have more treats each day than a tiny Chihuahua. If a dog is underweight, pet owners sometimes use treats to increase their daily calorie intake and help them gain weight. Likewise, if a dog is already overweight, their treat habits are going to have to be much more restricted, and your veterinarian might even recommend that you stop treats altogether until your dog has their weight within a normal range.
An Active Dog Can Have More Treats
Activity level will be another consideration when setting up healthy treat habits for your pet. If your dog is especially active every day – going on hikes with you or playing regular games of fetch in the backyard – they will burn more calories every day and therefore can have more treats. If your dog is more of a long-naps-on-the-couch type, you’ll have to be more careful about giving them treats in order to keep them at a healthy weight.
Talk to Your Veterinarian About Appropriate Treat Distribution
Your veterinarian will be able to give you excellent, detailed guidance about your dog’s daily calorie needs and how to incorporate a healthy amount of treats into their daily schedule. Most veterinarians will also be able to recommend treat brands or types that would be good for your dog, or at least let you know what they think of the treats you have chosen to give your pet. The input of a veterinary professional will be invaluable in developing healthy treat habits with your dog.
Bonus Tip: Not All Dog Treats Are the Same
It might seem obvious, but not all dog chews will have an equal amount of calories. In fact, even dog treats that are similar in size might have a surprising disparity in their caloric density. You’ll need to reassess the proper amount of daily treats for your dog if and when you buy a new brand, size, or type of dog treat. It’s important to know exactly what ingredients and how many calories your dog is taking in when you give them a treat.
Choosing the Best Dog Treats
Even if you practice super healthy treat habits in regards to when to distribute treats and how many of them you give your dog, your treat practices can only be as good as the treats you’ve chosen for your pet. Unfortunately, there are lots of treats out there that will smell and taste great to your pooch but aren’t very good for their health. As a pet owner, you need to be diligent about reading the ingredient list on any dog treat you purchase and picking the best type of dog treat for your animal at every age. Here are our tips about:
- Healthy dog treat ingredients
- Unhealthy dog treat ingredients
- The best treats for puppies
- The best treats for adult dogs
- The best treats for senior dogs
What to Look for on the Ingredient List
A dog treat doesn’t need to be pure indulgence – it also needs to support your pet’s health and nutritional needs. You also might want to consider dog treats that serve another purpose, like dental chews for keeping your pet’s teeth in good shape. Dogs need a balance of fiber, protein, healthy fats, and vitamins to ensure their bodies are functioning correctly. Treats can contribute to that healthy daily intake.
A great dog treat will be made from ingredients you can pronounce and recognize. The simpler, the better! Homemade dog treats are especially great because you know exactly what is in them and you can adapt your recipe to suit your dog’s needs and preferences. Some of the best ingredients for dog treats include peanut butter, sweet potato, blueberries, and high-quality meats like beef, pork, lamb, and chicken.
Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Treats
Some dog treats might contain fillers and ingredients that are less-than-healthy, or possibly even dangerous, for your dog. Avoid dog treats that include sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners (especially xylitol, which is deadly for dogs), preservatives like nitrites and nitrates, and soy, which is sometimes used as a protein source (your dog should be eating meat proteins instead). Remember, ingredients are listed by weight, so the first ingredients usually make up the bulk of the treat.
You’ll also want to keep in mind any allergies or sensitivities your dog might have. Some canines struggle to digest milk or dairy products. Especially if you know your dog has an allergy to a common food that other dogs don’t tend to have issues with, it’s very important you read the ingredient list carefully.
The Best Treats for Dogs Under a Year Old
One really common question among dog owners is “Can I give my puppy dog treats?” When it comes to proper dog care, age is a significant factor. For example, we don’t recommend CBD oil for dogs or cats under a year old. Puppies have different needs than adult dogs, who often have different needs from senior dogs.
High-quality dog treats are perfectly acceptable for use with puppies who are eating solid dog food (i.e., no longer nursing or drinking formula). For most puppies, treats can be given starting at two months old. But your puppy’s teeth will still be small and sensitive at this age, so you’ll need to provide soft-baked or chewy dog treats that are designed for little puppy mouths. You’ll want a treat that is tender enough for their underdeveloped teeth and small enough for them to eat easily, but not so small that it presents a choking hazard.
You will likely want to change your dog’s treats as they proceed through puppyhood and their teeth get stronger and bigger. The best treats for a puppy will be different from the best treats for an adult or senior dog.
What Makes a Great Adult Dog Treat
A great dog treat for an adult dog will meet their calorie needs and be easy for them to enjoy. This means it will have a flavor profile your dog likes. While peanut butter is usually a big hit, there are certainly pooches out there who prefer a turkey-flavored bite!
A great adult dog treat will also be easy for your dog to digest, and this part might require some trial and error. Definitely read the reviews of a dog treat before you buy it because these provide invaluable insight into people who’ve already used the product and might be able to give you fair warning about how their dog reacted to it. Always start small – give your dog a treat or two for the first few days and make sure their bathroom habits don’t change. Even if you’ve approved the ingredient list, they might have a reaction you don’t anticipate.
Treats for Senior Dogs May Offer More Support
As your dog gets older, you’ll want to reevaluate the type of treat you’re giving them. What works for an active, healthy 6-year-old dog might not be best for a quieter 10-year-old dog who is showing signs of mobility issues.
Senior dogs can often benefit from treats that have other wellness-supporting ingredients, such as melatonin to help them maintain a healthy sleep cycle or glucosamine HCL for hip and joint mobility. You might even consider a CBD dog treat to support your pet’s overall health maintenance. Senior dogs tend to have health issues that crop up as they age, and your treat habits might be a perfect way to address or at least mitigate those issues.
Practice Healthy Dog Treat Habits to Support Your Pet
Your dog relies on you for comfort, support, and guidance. The way you distribute treats to your pet is just one way that you give them affection and keep them healthy and well-trained. If you create good habits early when it comes to the scheduling and type of treats you give your dog, it will be good for both you and your pet!