Treats for Your Pup

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zoe-picRemember how happy and excited you became if your parents gave you a dollar for every “A” you brought home on your report card? They made you want to do it again, right? That’s called positive reinforcement. But, dogs don’t care about money! They care about praise – and food! Positive reinforcement training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do. Because the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement using dog treats is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.

Ingredients of Dog Treats

When you read the all important ingredient statement on the package of your dog treats, there may be some you recognize. But, chances are also very good that there will be several items that you don’t recognize.

One type of treat is the cookie- or biscuit-style dog treats. They are usually made with grain or some other carbohydrate, and then baked. This style of dog treats generally has the same range of moisture content found in dry dog foods – about 5 to 10 percent.

Some dog biscuits use animal products (such as muscle meat, organ meat, fat, dairy products) as the principle palatant (ingredient used to appeal to dogs), but others use sweeteners or salt.

On the other hand, meaty dog treats may be up to 100 percent meat, or contain just one or two other ingredients.  Animal muscle and organ meat ingredients are much more expensive than grain- or vegetable-based products, so meaty treats will generally cost more, ounce per ounce, than other types of treats.

Meaty dog treats should contain as much animal protein as possible. The animal product should be first on the list of ingredients and there should be few (or even no) other ingredients. The source of any animal protein or fat must be named, whether it’s a muscle tissue (in which case it will appear as chicken, beef, buffalo, etc.) or an organ (in which case it should specify which species it came from, i.e., chicken heart, beef liver, lamb lung, etc.).

In general, the fewer ingredients used in these dog treats, the better. Chewy dog treats may contain as much as 30 percent moisture. And preservatives, if used, should be natural, such as mixed tocopherols. The package should also contain either a “best by” date and/or a date of manufacture.

It is estimated that over 50% of all dog owners regularly give their “best friend” dogs treats. While treats are not essential to a dog’s diet, they are typically given as a way to indulge or train their pets. The classic dog biscuit is a small, hard, bone-shaped product that is colored to reflect its flavor. Traditional flavors include beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, liver, cheese, and bacon. However, certain manufacturers have produced some interesting flavors such as oatmeal, raisin, spinach, peanut butter, and coconut.

In addition to flavor variations, dog biscuits also are sold in different sizes – small biscuits for smaller dogs, and large biscuits for large dogs. The shapes have also changed from the conventional bone shape. In an effort to differentiate their products, marketers have produced dog biscuits with shapes as varied as animals, people, bacon strips, and even fire hydrants.

Since most dog treats are also sold as healthy food supplements, dog biscuits are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals essential in a dog’s diet. Low fat varieties are also available for dogs that are overweight. The packaging for dog biscuits used to be strictly limited to cardboard boxes because this minimized breakage. But, recent advances in packaging technology have resulted in the use of foil packaging and plastic containers.

When & How to Use Dog Treats

In between meals is the ideal time to give dog treats, and not immediately before or after a meal. Your treat won’t work as well right after your dog has had a full meal. Choose a treat that your dog will enjoy. If you’re using treats for training, as a general rule of thumb, save the best, most delectable dog treats for last, to reengage the dog if he begins to lose interest in the training session.

Giving dog treats is more than just an expression of love for our dog. Dog treats are also a great way to reward your dog to let him know he has done something right. If you lure your dog into a sit, you can give him a treat to let him know he has done it correctly. Give him the treat the second his rear end hits the floor. This works for all behaviors. You can encourage your dog to repeat behaviors you like, such as lying quietly on the floor during dinner or sitting when guests come through the door, by rewarding him with a treat to reinforce the behavior.

But, you don’t have to give your dog a handful of dog treats every time you reward him. Instead, use the smallest treat your dog will work for. For most dogs just a small nibble of something is enough to do the trick.

One of the reasons treats work so well in training, is because a dog’s sense of smell is so unbelievable. Dogs can smell a treat from over 20 yards away and can get a pretty good idea of the main ingredients. Not all dog treats are created equal though.

Are Dog Treats Safe?

While tasty, most dog treats are not balanced for the nutritional requirements your pet needs to stay healthy. Therefore, treats such as rawhides, biscuits, table scraps and other “people food” should not account for more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories. Calorie counts may not be on the treat packaging – you may need to contact the treat manufacturer so you can calculate how much of the treat your pet can safely eat. Feeding too many treats may lead to a deficiency or excess of certain nutrients, and cause illness. Essentially, most dog treats are just empty calories – much like a big piece of chocolate cake is for us!

When choosing dog treats, make sure it’s something your dog will like and something that’s appropriate to give a dog. When buying dog treats, it’s good to follow the same common-sense rules you’d use when shopping for your family. Look at the ingredients list. If the ingredients include things you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, it might not be the best dog treats for your pooch. Also, keep in mind your dog has a different palate than a human. You might not serve beef trachea at your next dinner party, but for your dog, it’s like filet mignon. Most dogs love liver bites and would do almost anything for beef tendons.

How do you determine which treats are safe for your dog? It all boils down to personal preference.

However, there’s been a long controversy of late over dog treats made with Chinese ingredients. Many dog owners blame these treats for illnesses, and even deaths. Although the Food and Drug Administration issued a precautionary statement, it stopped short of ordering a full-blown recall.

Keep in mind, too, that human treats are not necessarily good for dogs. You’d think if a dog would like beef tendons, he’d probably go for a chocolate bonbon, but chocolate actually makes dogs sick. There are also many other things that we eat that dogs are allergic to or literally can’t stomach.

Act Quickly After Exposure to Toxins

As with any toxic exposure – every minute counts! Knowing what to do can save a life – in this case, your best friend’s life! Most importantly, you should have the phone number of Poison Control, your regular veterinarian and an after-hours animal hospital posted in your home. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at (888) 426-4435 in the US.

It is usually best to wait until you reach Poison Control before you do anything, but you will usually be told to make your pet vomit to get rid of the bulk of the dangerous food items. Vomiting can be induced with a teaspoon of peroxide if you don’t have ipecac. Give the peroxide or ipecac by mouth every few minutes, giving your pet a chance to relax in between doses, since many dogs will refuse to vomit when held. Using a small syringe to administer the peroxide or ipecac can make the process a little less stressful for everyone concerned.

Once vomiting occurs, or if you are unsuccessful within a few minutes, you should then seek professional help from a qualified veterinarian to find out what more to do about the ingestion of any of these dangerous food items. Be sure to have an idea of how much of the substance your pet ingested and how long ago it happened.

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