What To Look For in Dog Training Treats & the Best Treats (According to Trainers)

What To Look For in Dog Training Treats & the Best Treats (According to Trainers)

We all want our dogs to behave and listen to the important instructions we give them. Training a dog is not only key to their cognitive development, skill building, and manners, but it is also essential for keeping them safe. Without training, dogs can be unruly and unlikely to listen to their owners in potentially dangerous situations. When training your dog, one of the best ways to make sure that your training is effective is to use training treats.

Training treats give dogs an incentive to listen and focus their attention on the task at hand. They also serve as a great reward to dogs when they listen, all of which helps the training stick in their brains. Because treats are so important, it’s essential that you have the right kind of treats on hand.

What To Look For in Dog Training Treats

Treats serve many purposes during training: they are lures, motivators, and rewards. Without having the right kind of treat, dogs can lose interest in their training and won’t be as motivated to make progress or pay attention. With the right type of treats, however, dogs are invested in the training and will do what you ask in order to receive the reward.

In addition to the type of food used, there are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing a dog training treat.

Your Dog Must Like It

A treat won’t be useful for training unless the dog likes it. While this might seem obvious, there are many times that an owner or trainer will choose a treat they think their dog will like, but the dog isn’t such a big fan of it. Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and notice what types of treats they respond to. Many trainers recommend cooked, dried, or dehydrated meats, as most dogs like these.

Cheese can also be appealing to dogs. String cheese is great because it’s individually wrapped, easy to break into small pieces, and inexpensive. Stronger-smelling cheeses like Swiss are also a good choice. Most importantly, the treats should be healthy and use ingredients that won’t trigger allergies. After all, your pup will be eating them frequently during training, so you want to be sure they’re getting filled with healthy, high-quality foods.

Training Treats Should Be Smaller in Size

Training treats are meant to be given out frequently for good behavior and compliance during training, so you need to make sure that they are small in size. A big treat will be too much to give out each time your dog performs a desired behavior. When making your selection, aim for a pencil eraser-sized treat. 

Training treats typically come in small sizes, but if you use food from your house make sure it breaks up into small pieces. If a treat can’t be broken up or cut to size (like a hard piece of jerky or dog biscuits), then it might not be the right type of treat to use in training.

Only Use Training Treats for Training

When trainers are asked, “Do you give treats during the day at times other than during training sessions?” the answers are varied. Trainer Dorien Vogelaar says she normally only gives treats during training, but she qualifies that by admitting that training happens often during the day — even on walks and when asking the dogs to come when called. Melinda King says she reserves training treats for training. However, her dogs get chewing treats at other times as a, “delightful surprise.” Dee Green uses treats only when training.

Several trainers note that training can occur at any time, as Dorien did. Amy Bradley rewards good household behavior occasionally, while Michelle Barga said that she’ll reward behaviors throughout the day, and that rewards don’t happen only during formal training sessions. After all, we’re training our dogs all the time, right?

Be Cautious of Calorie Intake & Limit Treats

The general rule for treats as proposed by many nutritional experts is that anything added to the diet should not exceed 10% of the calories fed each day. For example, if the dog normally eats 500 calories per day, the treats and other extras should not exceed 50 calories in total. 

Most trainers are aware of this and keep it in mind when using treats. The small size of the training treats helps in this regard, as does the choice of the treat used. A few trainers say that on days when a lot of treats are given, the next meal might be slightly smaller than normal. Other trainers use a part of the dog’s meal as a training treat. 

Some trainers, including Hope Schmeling, mention that too many treats can cause an upset tummy, so it’s important to monitor how many treats are given.

Understand When To Use Treats and When NOT To

There are dogs who can’t handle the excitement of a great, smelly treat. Maryna Ozuna says, “Pups are coming in for training so unfocused, so full of adrenaline, that I’ve stopped most treats and just used a measured portion of their food. Within three or four days of coming in for training, I’m getting better focus than I ever did with treats. I’m finding less is more.”

Interestingly enough, several trainers say they use kibble, cat food, or Cheerios as training treats (rather than meat, cheese, or other more enticing treats) for similar reasons. Some dogs are too excited by high-value treats, but with kibble, cat food, or Cheerios, the dogs will cooperate with the training without losing their minds.

Don’t Forget About Other Rewards

When talking to trainers, it was stressed that this article is about treats, but several of them emphasize that other rewards couldn’t be ignored. Dianne Kuhl says, “Some dogs will do anything for food, but it’s important to keep in mind that rewards can also be playtime with a special toy, praise, or just working in partnership with their favorite human.”

Recommended Training Treats To Try

Now that you understand the importance of picking the right dog treats and the best ways to treat your dog, let’s take a look at some of the treats you can use in your training. Rather than processed dog treats that are made overseas, you can use healthy, natural ingredients that you have laying around your kitchen as an incentive and reward during training sessions. Here are some of the best options.

Boiled Chicken

Plain boiled chicken is a great high-quality option for a dog treat. Human-grade chicken is inexpensive and boiling it in water makes sure that it’s cooked through without any spices or flavoring that can upset a dog’s stomach like garlic or onion. Real chicken also works better than some heavier meats like steak or pork, which can also upset a dog’s stomach by being too rich.

Your Dog’s Current Kibble

Kibble can be a fantastic training treat, as you already know that it works for your dog’s digestive system and diet. While it might not be the most exciting treat, it works well when you want to give out training treats in bulk but don’t want to overfeed your dog. Try using it in controlled spaces and not in a high-stress environment where it might not be attention-grabbing enough to be effective.

Kibble is a great example of how low-calorie treats can be given throughout the day while avoiding unhealthy ingredients like fatty acids, gluten, or artificial flavors.

Yogurt (Try It Frozen!)

Yogurt cubes are good training tools that are gentle on dog tummies while providing great health benefits. By freezing yogurt into bite-sized pieces, you can help the dog work towards the reward (which dogs like to do) in order to train their brains and play after training sessions. 

Yogurt gives your dog nutrients like calcium, probiotics, and protein. Plain, non-frozen yogurt is a great soft treat that many dogs love the taste of, and the texture is easy for most dogs to lap up. To learn more about the benefits of yogurt for your dog, check out our blog on dogs and yogurt.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a high-value treat that avoids some of the artificial colors and by-products that processed treats can have, even in popular training treats like hot dogs, Blue Buffalo treats, and Zuke’s Mini Naturals. It’s the best dog treat for those who want to give their pups plenty of protein without relying on heavy meat. Peanut butter also has a distinctive smell that dogs enjoy, and that draws their attention — even over a distance.


Want to give your dog a treat with digestive health benefits during training while staying grain-free? Pumpkin might be your answer. It has a creamy flavor that dogs enjoy while also giving them plenty of soluble fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. Adding a little cooked pumpkin or sweet potato to your dog’s food provides health benefits, but having a little on hand for training also helps you get those nutrients in during the day. Like yogurt and peanut butter, pumpkin can be frozen into bite-sized pieces — perfect for training.

Apple Slices

Natural treats don’t have fillers or additives that can hurt your dog’s digestion and throw off their diet. However, dogs can still enjoy a sweet treat in the form of fruit like apples. Apples are nutritious and inexpensive for frequent training sessions, making them a fantastic option. Apples can be cut into cubes or slices so your dog can have lots of treats during training.

Fresh Vegetables

Fresh vegetables can provide dogs with a satisfying crunchy sensation during training. They provide great options for different treats and can be given out frequently for good behavior. Vegetables also have nutritional benefits that dogs can enjoy, while certain veggies can be used as soft treats that are gentle on the teeth. Different vegetables offer different benefits — for example, leafy greens have omega-3 acids while carrots have beta-carotene and soluble fiber.

Train Your Dog Right With The Honest Kitchen’s Treats

Training treats are an important part of the dog training process. Without those treats on hand, your dog might not get the most out of training. You want to have healthy, natural treats that your dog enjoys and are free of preservatives and other additives. Treats should also be broken into small pieces to avoid any overindulgence.

If you are looking for great dog training treats, The Honest Kitchen provides healthy, effective training treats for dog owners and trainers alike. Our mission is to provide quality ingredients and all-natural foods to dog owners who care about the long-term well-being of their animals. 

To learn more, browse through our dog treats today to find the best natural treats for training your dog.

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