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Right-Sized Training Treats for Dogs

by: Melissa Wallace, PhD, CPDT-KA

I was preparing treats for Liam’s swimming lesson when I realized that I have not fully discussed treats with my current students. As I was thinking about it, I realized that many owners who have entered the world of training their dogs do not understand the ins and outs of training treats. Today, we are going to talk about the size of treats.

I am owned by small dogs and must constantly watch their weight which is disproportionate to their appetite (My 6.2# male chihuahua downed an entire Wendy’s hamburger complete with bun in one sitting, but that’s a different story.). As a result, I must be conscious of how I balance their meals and treats with managing an ideal weight.

Training treats are a rapid source of feedback to a dog indicating that they did something good or correct. In training this reward is typically paired with a marker such as a clicker or word such as “yes.” The marker allows you to instantaneously mark a behavior giving you time to dig out the treat from your container. I want to maximize the opportunity to reward my dog, hence the need to “prepare” treats. It also lets me save $$$.

Some people make their own right-sized treats at home often using such items as a pyramid sheet. I caution little dog owners that even the treats from this baking sheet are too big.

I admit that I am very lazy and hate cooking. So I go with soft dog treats. I use a lot of different kinds of treats based on the activity and the level of reward it has for my dog (more on that in a later article.). Many people will think that these store bought treats are the perfect size for training. They are even advertised as such. I must tell you that they are typically not the correct size, especially for little dogs. Remember that we want to maximize the number of rewards we can give, thereby increasing the repetitions, while balancing the dog’s caloric intake. The reward is just a taste. It is a moment on their tongue generating a desire for more. They should not have to crunch their way through it, which also takes time from your repetitions. We don’t want them to tune out what generated the reward even for the time it takes to eat a treat. A good rule of thumb is a treat should be no larger than your pinkie fingernail. Big dog owners are probably now thinking that this does not apply to them. Well, it applies to all of our dogs. It is just a taste. We could also use the notion of no bigger than their kibble size. Remember NO BIGGER THAN; you should lean to smaller treats. Don’t forget that you can use kibble for their training treats. They are already hungry for their meal… Below I have provided pictures of treats I commonly use and how small I cut them. I use my pinkie to show you what I mean.

This soft mini-bone despite already being small needs to be right-sized. One treat now becomes six! WOW! These bones come in a variety of flavors.

Two pieces of soft kibble

Two pieces of soft kibble makes this.

This little container contains two cheese sticks. Not only are they small, but they are sliced very thin.

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