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Dog Holding Carrot in mouth

Why are there so many dog treats you might ask? 

Dog treats are used in our everyday life with our dogs for many reasons such as the feel-good and loving factor, to help with training, to keep them quiet when we can’t pay attention to them, and sometimes to improve our dog’s health. Building a relationship with a dog is helped by the use of treats because it is the number one pleasure for the animal and we as the caretakers and givers of food, gain that magical status in their eyes and feelings. Because food is so important to our dogs, we have learned how to use it as part of helping the animal become a companion pet with things like obedience training, counteracting scary experiences, and keeping them occupied since they have now become housebound animals instead of roaming freely.

The very first reason there are so many dog treats is because dogs love them! And we as their family members love to spoil them? Treats form a wide variety of elements in our relationships with our dogs. They can be classified into so many different groups too:

Not all dogs have the same food drive but most do at a minimum, like food! They also love being told they are a ‘good dog’ or getting a cuddle, pat or having a game with us but food, especially from the hands of their keepers, triggers that ‘all is well’ cognition in their brains.

So, do treats always have to be store-bought, pre-packaged items? Absolutely not. Especially if started young as a puppy with exposure to lots of different tastes and textures, many human foods can also be a treat. Think of things like chopped apple or carrot or broccoli flowerets. These are yummy, crunchy and provide different tastes and actions for the dog. Some human foods do need to be used with care though. Some highly salted foods or high-fat foods can be a problem for dogs with medical issues and some can be incredibly dense in calories and easily increase weight. Some human foods can also be very toxic to dogs and must be avoided.

Treats should ideally form no more than 10% of a companion dog’s daily calorie intake, and if a dog is being treated every day for a reason EG: occupation, or training, then sometimes we need to cut the meal calories more to compensate. If doing this, we need to ensure that our treats are highly nutritious otherwise it is like a child eating two meals a day of home-cooked food but a fast food takeaway for the third. At some point, our daily calorie and nutritional balance will get out of whack.

Wanpy Treats

These days the variety of treats available for dogs is huge.

There are commercially manufactured and packaged treats that are clean to handle, easy to give in small quantities, and have a long shelf life. These can be useful training reward treats. When using treats for obedience or behaviour training, the treat needs to be highly desirable so the dog is super happy to have it, but also very quick & easy to eat so that you can keep ‘working’ for that training session without the dog wanting to go and lay down to chew away. It is easy for treats to mount up in calories when in training mode so being aware of their fit into the daily intake is important.

Greenies Dental  Treats

Functional treats can be commercially manufactured like many dental-specific treats are, or can be natural treats where the action of chewing is harder work such as chewing a kangaroo bone. Manufactured dental treats have specific shapes and textures to cause abrasion of the teeth, providing a mechanical cleansing action on their teeth. Using natural treats which are different animal body parts can help abrade the teeth from the chewing action but most do not allow the full sinking in of the teeth for that extra clean the commercial dental treats do.

KONG Wobbler Treat Dispenser

Occupation is an important responsibility for us as families of dogs that don’t have a job. Occupation provides a dog with a job and that helps them be mentally and physically stimulated but can also distract them away from feeling lonely, bored, or even anxious. Food can be used for these benefits either as a treat that requires the dog to ‘work’ at it like natural body parts such as pigs ears, kangaroo tuggies, ears, non-cooked bones, and oddly shaped foods where the dog has to use its paws and teeth together. Another tool is the delivery of food via boredom-busting toys that deliver the treats because they may bounce, twist or require the dog to slide doors, squeeze the toy or chase it to get the food dispensed. All of these actions are stimulating and tiring for a dog but they get the reward of the treat and then the family gets the reward of the dog snoozing happily after a day’s work is done!

Therapeutic treats combine an inviting ingredient to tempt the dog with the added constituents that offer a sought-after benefit. These can include additives like glucosamine for joints, tryptophan for calmative effect, pre/probiotics for digestive system health, or preventative health additives like turmeric or hemp.

Deer Antler

Just for fun treats cover a lot of different grounds, and even these treats can often sit partly in other groups. Things like Shark Skin Twists will bring chewing and teeth cleaning, occupation and mental enrichment, and a good dose of collagen for joint support and high levels of omegas for skin and coat health. Furry treats like rabbit ears and kangaroo skin twists take a lot of chewing which is great for the teeth, requires the dog to work hard physically and mentally and the fur does two things in helping to mechanically sweep the digestive tract whilst also bringing manganese into their diet which dogs cannot produce themselves. Some fun but long-lasting treats that the dog might chew on for a while, leave, then come back to include things like goat horns, deer antlers, and cow hooves. With these long-lasting treats, swapping them out for something new and then re-introducing them again in a few days or a week, keeps them interesting. Other ‘just for fun’ things might mean grabbing some clean-to-handle packaged treats and chopping them into smaller bits then laying a ‘treasure trail’ for the dog to follow around the house or yard.

The variety of treats is endless these days but so too are the reasons for using them. Chewing, sniffing, and playing are key elements in a dog’s life and treats can be the tool to help them have fun and be challenged and occupied.

Dr Chews Sweet Potato Treats

Remember though, treat management should always include being aware of the calories to avoid sneaky obesity, and might need to be diet or medical condition specific like being low in purine, low in fat, grain-free, single protein, or no animal protein at all.

If your dog has any health issues relating to their digestive system we always recommend seeking veterinary advice before introducing new food and treat products to their diet.

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