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The Down and Dirty Reality of Dog Treats

Updated on July 4, 2016

As a positive reinforcement dog trainer, I am always encouraging dog parents to use dog treats, play, attention, sniffing, access and anything else a dog might find enjoyable in their dog training routines. Sometimes people are a little concerned that their dogs will only respond if the motivators are present. If used correctly, rewards are like a “paycheck” to the dog for performing a specific behavior or to condition them to feel good around certain situations. Eventually, through repetition, proofing, and maturity, the rewards can be faded. But, that's not our topic today. Today, I wanted to talk about dog treats and how to find healthy treats and to be able to use them in your dog's daily life.

First, I don't consider food rewards as EXTRA treats. I prefer to use part of a dog's daily caloric intake as his treats. In other words, toss the dog food bowls away and feed your dog his daily calories through dog training, games, and hollow toys.

If you are feeding your dog a healthy, raw or home-cooked diet, this makes finding healthy dog treats easy. Meat, veggies and fruit make wonderful dog training treats. Healthy, tasty and part of your dog's daily calories. Toss your dog's favorites in a dehydrator to make easy, healthy dog treats that you can calculate into your dog's daily food ration. Simple.

Now, when you reward your dog for good behavior, you don't have to worry about extra calories, or feeding him too many. He has to eat, and those are his daily calories, so reward away! Again, if you are teaching your dog a lot of new behaviors or untraining some not so hot ones, do dog food bowls, all of his food should be fed for good behaviors. Repetition is key to success.

If you would rather purchase healthy dog treats, here are a five simple guidelines in picking a healthy dog treat.

  1. Read the ingredient panel! Not just the front of the bag, the actual ingredient list.
  2. Less is better. Single item dog treats are easy to use for motivating dogs and easily incorporated into your dog's daily calories.
  3. Real ingredients. Things that you can find in real life, not something that is synthetically made, or a by-product of something else. Beef, rabbit, blueberries or bananas for example are great dog training treats.
  4. Organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free and hormone-free. I personally prefer ingredients that are organic, or wild-caught in countries or bodies of water that are known to be clean and environmentally friendly. Organic foods do not use harmful insecticides, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, radiation, or other detrimental ingredients or practices.
  5. Sourcing. "Made in the USA" only means that the treat was put together in The United States, not that the ingredients IN the treat came from the US. Sometimes you have to do a little digging to find the sources of the ingredients. Most dog treat manufacturers that use only US, or another safe country (there are other countries with better food regulations than the US) for their ingredients will proudly state that either on the bag, or on their website. If you cannot locate this information, I would suggest contacting the manufacturer for the details.

10 Ingredients That Will Never Be In My Dog's Treats

  1. Sugar of any kind including high corn fructose, corn syrup or cane sugar-Added sugar or high corn fructose is just adding empty calories.
  2. Sorbitol-A sugar commonly found in berries, but it is prepared synthetically, so it is now a synthetic ingredient.
  3. By-products or digest-I can not think of one reason that a by-product or digest would be in a dog treat. If you are looking to provide healthy dog treats for your dog, something that is left on the floor of some meat manufacturing plant should not make the cut. And these products can even be carcasses from veterinarian practices! That is a pretty scary thought.
  4. Coloring, artificial or natural-Why? Why in the world would my dog need his treat to be colored? This is not necessary in a food item, especially when the coloring is artificial. Artificial anything is a chemical process and has a long list of possible side effects.
  5. Animal fat or anything "animal" or "meat"-Can you picture the animal when you read "animal" or "meat"? I would venture to say no. If the listing is that vague, it means that anything can be in the bag. A meat should list what kind of meat such as chicken, beef, or lamb.
  6. Chemical Preservatives-Chemical preservatives of any kind should be avoided. Healthy does not equate to chemicals. No BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), Ethoxyquin, TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone), Propyl Gallate, Propylene Glycol or Sodium Nitrite should be in your puppy's treats or food. BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin are banned in human foods.
  7. Corn, wheat, or soy-A lot of dogs are allergic, or have a low tolerance to these ingredients. Excessive soy may contain estrogen that might provide some estrogen-like activity in your dog and contribute to slightly lower thyroid hormone levels. Why risk it.
  8. Glycerin, vegetable glycerin or glycerol-Glycerin or glycerol can actually be produced as a by-product of diesel fuel. It will be unlikely you will know the difference from reading the ingredient list (although vegetable glycerin is plant based, not from fuel). This is an ingredient in dog treats that helps make a treat soft and sugary. It is not uncommon for dogs to get a big case of diarrhea from eating treats or food with this ingredient.
  9. Binders such as agar agar, cassie gum (gum Arabic), guar gum, tapioca, gluten, xanthan gum, and carrageenan can block your dog's intestines and even their esophagus while eating. These binders often cause gas and diarrhea. High doses have also been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and colon cancer.
  10. Added salt, regular or sea salt-Every living creature needs sodium in their diet, but too much can cause problems such as seizures, diarrhea, and extra water intake. A lot of foods have naturally-occurring sodium, so you do not need extra salt added to treats or dog food.

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