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A treat is just a treat, or is it?

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance eats a healthy treat.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

I was recently approached by a veterinarian who expressed concern with a mutual client. The vet saw the client’s dog a few days prior and was astounded by the pet’s recent weight gain. The dog, which should have weighed around 35 pounds, had exploded to a whopping 45 pounds and had elevated kidney values. Considering how unusual the rapid weight gain was, I determined this would be a great post for the pet health insurance enthusiasts and animal lovers out there.

The veterinarian discovered that the client had recently been using chicken breast and roast beef as training treats.

The vet expressed concern about the weight gain and suggested the client use Cheerios instead—to which the client responded, “My trainer said Cheerios were not a high enough reinforcer to reward the dog for learning.”

I often recommend a “high value” reinforcer when training difficult behaviors—which simply means using a treat that a dog goes nuts for! But once the dog knows the behavior, a “lower value” treat can be used. Eventually the dog can be weaned off treats altogether.

While Cheerios may not be as enticing as say, a piece of prime rib, Cheerios are still a valuable treat option. I often tell my clients to fill a jar with the cereal and add a piece of dried salmon. After awhile, the Cheerios will take on the scent and flavor of the salmon, making them even more appealing to the dog.

The above situation caused me think more about proper treats and the many options available. When selecting a good treat, I always focus on finding treats that are healthy, yet reinforcing to the dog. I try to avoid treats that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients and chemicals. One popular treat on the market contains BHA and BHT which are preservatives that can accumulate in the body. Not a choice I want for my dogs, especially when there are many safer options for treats.

Many of my clients are surprised when they see the types of treats I carry in my training bag. My new favorites are dried fruits and vegetables. Most dogs I encounter love bananas, dried pineapple, apples, dried cranberries, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans and blueberries. When selecting dried fruits, you want to make sure there are no preservatives or added sugar. Also stay away from raisins/grapes—as they can be fatal to dogs if ingested.

There are several companies making wonderful, all natural dog treats from fruits and vegetables. A couple of my favorites are Bite O’ Blue, a combination of blueberries and applesauce made into chewy bite size treats, and Vegatopia, which is a company that makes dog treats from sweet potatoes, bananas, apples and carrots.

In addition to the above treats, I also recommend several other commercial dog treats; Wellness Pure Rewards, Charlee Bear Treats, Itty Bitty Buddy Biscuits and Cloud Star, just to name a few. These are all healthy treats that are just the right size for training. Remember that your dog just needs a taste, so keep the treats small.

Certain foods can be dangerous to your dogs. As mentioned above, never give your dog grapes or raisins. Other foods that can harm your dog include: onions, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and macadamia nuts. Before going through your fridge to find new treat ideas, you should consult with your vet to make sure your treat choices are safe for dogs. Because accidental ingestion can occur even under the watch of the most wary pet owners, pet health insurance is something that should be considered.

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