“What treats are you using?”
“Oh, that’s how you’re getting her to work for you!”
Well, that’s not entirely why she’s working for me, but we’ll save the technical explanation for another day. Right now, I’m here to answer the frequently asked question of specifically what food bits I use when my goal is to reinforce behaviors while working with dogs who don’t have a training history with me. The food has to meet these criteria:
It’s considered tasty by most dogs.
It’s healthful for dogs.
It can be consumed quickly.
It can be made into pieces about the size of black beans.
It’s not too messy.
It’s not too expensive.
When the food doesn’t have to be shelf stable, I go for DIY training bits made with lean top round steak. Bought on sale, of course. In northeast Georgia, Ingles Markets periodically offers top round (also called “London broil”) at $2.98/lb. as of October 2017. Here is the easy recipe:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut steak into strips one inch or so wide.
Line strips onto wire rack of roasting pan (easiest) or inside baking pan.
Bake for an hour.
Pour off meat juices into a container for later use flavoring your dog’s meals.
Turn the strips over if not on wire rack.
Return to oven to bake for 15 – 30 minutes, until steak is fully cooked and a little on the dry side.
When cool enough, dice into pieces about the size of dried black beans for small dogs or about the size of cooked black beans for medium and larger dogs.
Store a few days’ worth of steak bits in the refrigerator and store the rest in the freezer.
If you are training away from home, transport the food bag in a lunch cooler between freezer gel packs.
For dogs who are allergic to or suspected to be sensitive to beef, I use chicken if it happens to be safe. I boil chicken tenders (preferably boneless, skinless breast from Georgia’s own cleaner, more humane Springer Mountain Farms) and try to dice them neatly. Chicken is messy! But dogs love it.
If your dog finds steak boring, plenty of options exist. See this prior post for other ideas.
When shelf stable food bits are needed for travel or for filling those little containers I probably instructed you to stash in other parts of the house (You prepared those and are using them, right? Great!), freeze dried meats are a fabulous choice. I use OC Raw Dog Meaty Rox, delicious and nutritious freeze dried bite-size food pieces that are soft enough to break into smaller pieces. In the Athens, GA area, go to Mary’s Tack Feed Pet on Atlanta Highway in Bogart for these and other excellent dog foods. If you’re outside this area, you can find freeze dried OC Raw Dog Meaty Rox online at Muddy & Inca.
The treat bag I clip behind my back is the Doggone Good! Trek and Train. After years of using, losing, busting, and cussing a variety of treat bags, the Trek and Train has my recommendation. It’s not too big, stands up to daily use and frequent cleaning, has just enough room for a few dog waste bags and hand wipes, and is quick and easy to open and close. I have yet to break the belt clip and that’s saying something. Its only disadvantage is that food will be knocked out of a full bag if you run with your dog. The Rapid Rewards bag by the same company is bigger and better at keeping the food in the bag when you break into a run to reward your terrier for heeling at a ho-hum human pace.
When I make food bits for training, I work with about ten pounds of meat at a time. That’s a lot of time spent dicing, so I wait for my favorite radio programs before I start cutting. Purely out of concern for my welfare, six dogs take turns checking on me in my office, making sure I save enough energy to complete my very important task. They are even willing to help me clean up the leftovers when I am finished. My dogs are so conscientious.