Q: My vet told me my dog needs to lose weight so now I can’t use treats for training. What do I do?
A: Let’s look at the long-term goal first. You won’t be using treats for every correct behavior for the rest of your dog’s life. You only reward them each time when you are first training a new skill, then begin decreasing the frequency of the treats. However, your dog will stop doing the skill over time if you do not periodically reward them. Would you work for free forever?
For a high-value paycheck, you can use lean proteins such as chicken or steak. All rewards should be pea-sized. As a preferred reward, cat treats or cat kibble can also be used in small quantities. Some dogs enjoy vegetables such as carrots or broccoli, which can be given in tiny pieces and won’t add many calories. We want the dog to eat fast so they’re ready to quickly repeat the behavior again. Soft high-value treats are better for this, like chicken and steak. Cheese cubes can be cut into 27 small squares which gives you 27 rewards!
Regular dog kibble can be used as well, especially if your dog is food motivated. You can mix small amounts of the high-value, higher-calorie rewards with the dog kibble so the dry food absorbs some of the taste of the other foods.
Use your dog’s mealtime as their training time. They will want to eat and then be eager to work. This also gives you a fun time to bond with them at least twice daily.
During the day, use ice cubes and veggies as treats or in puzzle feeders. Carrots make excellent frozen “rawhide” replacements. As your dog is learning new skills, you can start using favorite toys such as squeaky balls, flying discs, and tug toys as rewards too. This will not only cut down on calories but increase exercise.