To Treat or Not to Treat When Housetraining Your Dog
Many expert dog trainers use treats as the foundation of their training philosophy, known in most circles as positive reinforcement. Proponents of positive reinforcement rely on treats and other rewards (such as a toy and/or lavish praise) to help a dog understand what a person wants the animal to do. Many trainers and other experts swear by treats as an unbeatable training tool. Treats are a gentle, not to mention tasty, way to jump-start a dog’s desire to learn.
That said, however, treats not should play a prominent role in housetraining for two reasons:
- Giving many treats to a dog who’s just learning his bathroom manners can wreak havoc with a dog’s digestion and may prompt him to potty more often than would otherwise be the case.
- When it comes to housetraining, a dog already has lots of incentive to learn what’s expected of him. That incentive, of course, is his instinctive desire to not soil his den or his dining area.
However, plenty of people teach their dogs other commands at the same time they’re teaching their pooches proper potty deportment — and dogs will learn those other lessons more quickly if they have a tasty incentive dangling in front of their noses.
Consider the following guidelines for giving treats to the housetrainee:
- Teach just before mealtimes. Give your dog his lessons in sitting, lying down, and other maneuvers just before he eats. A hungry dog will have more incentive to learn than a dog whose tummy is full. And by giving him those treats just before mealtime, you probably won’t have to get him to his potty immediately after his lesson. You can just feed him and bring him to his bathroom after the meal.
- Adjust the main course. Many treats — especially the commercial variety — are incredibly fattening. If you’re giving your dog commercial goodies during his other lessons, you need to reduce the portions you put in his dish at meal times. Otherwise, your pooch will pork out quickly.
- Easy does it. If you’re using treats for training, soft-pedal giving your dog extra goodies at other times — no matter how much he might beg for them. That way, you won’t put his gastrocolic reflex on overdrive.
Those of you who decide to add treats to your dog’s diet will find an incredible assortment of goodies to choose from. Regular supermarket aisles, pet boutique floor space, print catalog pages, and online pet store bandwidth are clogged with culinary offerings designed to please the most discriminating canine palate.
Following are some of the more common types of commercial treats.
- Biscuits and cookies. From the been-around-forever offerings of Purina’s Milk Bones to the elevated gourmet fare of Three Dog Bakery, biscuits and cookies jump-start the appetites of countless canines. The fact that most dogs love scarfing down biscuits and cookies gives these products a big advantage; another is that their small sizes make them easy for dogs to chew and digest. In addition, their crunchy textures provide good chewing exercise for dogs and can even help clean a canine’s canines (as well as his other teeth).
- The downside? Many biscuits and cookies are loaded with calories. Just as fast-food chicken can add inches to your waistline, so can too many cookies add unwanted poundage to your pooch. In addition, some treats can upset the nutritional balance that commercial dog foods offer.
- If you’re worried about upsetting the nutritional balance offered by your dog’s commercial food, try a treat that carries the same product name as the main food product. Science Diet, which is manufactured by Hills, and California Natural, which is manufactured by Innova, are just two product lines that include treats designed to dovetail with their regular dog foods.
- Do not ever, ever give your dog anything that contains chocolate. Although most dogs like it (at least the smell!), chocolate contains an ingredient that’s toxic to them. Even a small amount can put your dog in dire distress and can even kill him.
- Chew treats. Most dogs adore chomping on chew treats made of rawhide, pigs’ ears, horses hooves, and other animal parts. In fact, some may adore them a little too much. These chewing maniacs may gnaw off and swallow big chunks of such treats, and those chunks can cause internal injuries. Even small pieces of these treats can cause digestive upsets. Bottom line: Balance your dog’s delight in these treats with his tolerance for their downside. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, don’t offer them at all.
If you enjoy making treats for yourself and the other people in your household, you may also enjoy making treats for your canine family member. Homemade treats offer several advantages over commercial fare, the biggest being that you have much more control than is the case if you rely on a manufacturer. When you make treats yourself, you know which ingredients (and how much of each) go into the treat — an important consideration if, for example, your canine companion suffers from food allergies. You can also control the size of the treat so that it’s just right for your particular dog.
Like the idea of giving your dog homemade goodies, but don’t know where to begin? Mosey on over to the Google search engine. Type “dog treat recipes” into the keyword box. Then watch Google instantaneously dig out more than 300 sites that have multiple recipes to try on your four-legged friend. One caution, though: Most of these sites don’t include any nutritional analyses — so feed sparingly, no matter how much your dog loves the results of your efforts. And if you’re not virtually inclined, your public library undoubtedly has plenty of books on dog treats for you to peruse.
Low-calorie treat options
Yes, you can give your dog treats without necessarily causing him to put on excess poundage. Here are some possibilities:
- Vegetables. Many dogs adore raw or frozen vegetables, and because they’re so low in calories, they make a terrific treat for the plumper pooch. Good veggies to try are carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green beans. Make sure that you offer small pieces, though, so that your four-legged friend can digest those greens and yellows easily. Be aware that vegetables contain fiber, which acts as a laxative. If you give your pooch too many veggies, he’ll need to poop a lot more often.
- Rice cakes. They may seem utterly devoid of taste to you, me, and other human gourmands — but otherwise discriminating dogs go nuts over the prospect of getting a piece of rice cake.
- Low-cal commercial treats. Some pet food manufacturers offer low-calorie versions of their usual dog treats. Try giving some to your dog if he doesn’t go for the veggies or rice cakes.