The most important thing when choosing a dog training treat is to find something your dog loves enough to motivate him to do the work. “I tell my students and clients to find their dog's ‘crack’,” says Traci Murdock, Master Trainer and Canine Behavior Specialist. “Figure out what treat will help them focus on you and not the distractions of the world around them.” We asked dog trainers from around the country to share their favorite options from plain old kibble to a special homemade trail mix. Check out their top picks and see which one your dog likes best.
Best Low Calorie Training Treat: Zuke’s Mini Naturals
About the size of a piece of Kibble, these soft mini dog treats have less than 3.5 calories each, so you don’t have to worry if you give your dog several in one sitting. “One thing I am considerate of is what the dog is happy with and above all not allergic to,” says Georgina Bradley, Top Dog at DogStars Training Academy. Zuke’s Minis come in several flavors to help you avoid allergy triggers including salmon, chicken, rabbit and peanut butter.
Best Outdoor Training Treat: Hot Dogs
“When you’re training a dog, especially in distracting environments, parents should always use something soft and smelly,” says Laura Roach, Dog Trainer of Camp Bow Wow. When there are a lot of distractions outside, a biscuit might not peak your dog’s interest, but lunch meat, semi-moist dog food rolls and good ‘ol fashioned hot dogs are more likely to entice your pooch. Roach says to cut hot dogs into little pieces. If your dog has a sensitive belly, you should test a tiny piece of a hot dog before using this dog treat for training.
Best Training Treat for Puppies: Kibble
When training a puppy, you have to be careful to pick a treat that won’t upset his digestive system, cautions Julie Bernier, Pack Leader at Dances With Dogs Puppy Nursery School in South Portland, Maine. So she suggests simply using the puppy’s kibble. However, if your pup isn’t willing to work for kibble, Bernier says to pick a soft, fragrant treat that can be cut up into small bits. “I like Wellness Pure Rewards treats because they are 95 percent meat and don't have a lot of other added ingredients, and I recommend that the owner match their choice of treat with the protein source in their pup's kibble,” she says. So if your dog eats a salmon-based kibble, choose the salmon-based training treat.
Best Summer Training Treat: Flavored Ice Cubes
Dog trainer Diane Podolsky of The Culture Canine says her favorite summertime dog treat is homemade pupcicles. Make chicken (or other unsalted broth) ice cubes with a bit of meat in the middle of the cube. “Dogs love the broth and are surprised to find the tidbit when they get to the center,” she says.
Best Training Treat for Dog Runs: Dogswell Breathies
When you’re in a setting with lots of other dogs, like a dog run, you have to be careful about what treats you take. “If other dogs know you're "packing" you could be mobbed,” says Sarah Westcott, trainer at Doggie Academy. She prefers Dogswell Breathies chicken breast jerky. “Dogs love them, but they are low odor, so generally only the hound dogs will know you have them,” she says.
Best Homemade Training Treat: Dog Treat Trail Mix
Victoria Rose of Canine Training Solutions suggests making a treat mix that has a little something for every dog’s palette. Mix together 8 hot dogs (Buy 100 percent beef or turkey dogs if you’re concerned about the ingredient list) sliced into quarters lengthwise and then widthwise in pieces about 1-inch, 10 rolls of string cheese cut into pieces about the same size as the hot dogs and 2 ½ cups of your dog’s kibble. Mix it up a few days ahead of time so the kibble will moisten and absorb the odor and flavor of the meat and cheese, Rose advises.
Best Whole Food Training Treat: Cooked Chicken
Dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer of the Inquisitive Canine says her absolute favorite thing to train with is plain cooked chicken breast – the human stuff, not dried, but fresh. She also uses other leftover cooked meats including pork tenderloin, steak and even fish.