For many dog owners, offering treats is part of our daily routine. There are lots of ways to use treats: as a special reward, a dental assistant, or as a training tool, to name a few.
What’s important to remember is that different types of treats serve vastly different purposes. As dog owners, the treats we use for training should be different than those offered for distraction, and different than those we use to satisfy our pup’s natural instinct to chew.
Types of Dog Treats
Knowing a treat's purpose can help you better understand the appropriate situation to offer it. Here are 6 different categories of treats, and recommendations on how to incorporate them into your dog’s day:
Training treats are small in size and low in calories so your dog doesn’t get full and lose interest in a training session. They are eaten quickly, usually in a single chew. They are best for dogs or puppies enrolled in training classes, or for situations when you are trying to teach your pup something new, such as a trick or new behavior.
Biscuits are typically crunchy, flour-based treats consumed within a few bites. Biscuits tend to be high in carbohydrates, and are a great treat to toss your pup as you leave the house and say your goodbyes for the day. (Note that excess carbohydrates can contribute to weight gain. If your dog is prone to carrying too much weight, avoid biscuits and try a crunchy protein treat instead).
High-value treats are useful when asking your dogs to listen to you amid a distraction and are usually high in protein. If timed right, before escalation/excitement occurs, a high-value treat should be able to get your dog’s attention away from something in their environment. You can then use the treat to hold their focus and connect it to a desired behavior (loose-leash walking, sitting calmly when a squirrel runs by, etc). High-value treats are also extremely helpful if you want to mark and reward a one-time behavior, such as during potty training. Offer the treat after your dog has successfully gone potty outside to reinforce this desired behavior.
Dental treats are often plant-based and contain enzymes to help prevent plaque build up. These treats are usually given once a day. While they can be useful, dental treats should not be substituted for regular oral hygiene practices.
Quick chews and frozen treats typically require less than 10 minutes for a dog to consume, and can be a valuable addition to your dog’s diet. They are great for when you just want to give your pup a “little something extra”. Some options include freeze-dried or dehydrated animal body parts, frozen ice cream, or frozen bone broth. For a high-protein, balanced treat, raw frozen duck or turkey necks are a good choice. An alternative would include dehydrated sweet potato, which is high in carbohydrates and should be offered sparingly.
Long-term chews should take more than 10 minutes (and preferably much longer) for your dogs to consume. Long-term chews have a number of important benefits for dogs, from providing mental stimulation and aiding in dental health to satisfying a dog’s natural instinct to chew, to name a few. Bully sticks* are a great example of a healthy, all-natural treat that ticks the box for a longer chewing time.
Less processed is better
When considering the healthiest option for your dog, look for carnivore-appropriate, minimally-processed treats that are high in protein and low in carbs. Even when you’re “treating” — think nutrition as nature intended, and offer your pup quality ingredients that their bodies need to be healthy and happy.
Providing the right type of treat for the right situation will ensure your dog is getting just what they need, and nothing they don’t.
Johnna Devereaux is a Clinical Pet Nutritionist and canine wellness expert. She is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Bow Wow Labs and sits on their Board of Advisors.
*Bully sticks are a great longer-term chew that brings lots of joy to your pup, supports a healthy mental state, and satisfies their instinctual desire to chew. We always recommend pairing your bully sticks with the right size Bully Buddy to make your pup safer and to help prevent a choking hazard or intestinal obstruction once they’ve chewed down to the last 1 to 1.5 inches of the bully stick.
The points of view expressed above are those of our clinical nutritionist and supported by science, her education and experience. However, we recognize there may be different points of view or opinions on some aspect or even the premise of this article. Our goal at Bow Wow Labs is to provide the best, clearest, and most helpful information possible to help keep your dog happy, healthy and safe.