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Covers positive reinforcement dog training strategies and tips. Jeff strongly believes that positive reinforcement training is the only option and he is a vocal critic of other methods. You can also find product and book reviews and clicker training tips.

How to avoid overfeeding your dog when using treats

This is always a concern with dog guardians. Over-treating can lead to an overweight dog or intestinal difficulties if your dog is especially sensitive. Here are some tips to get your worries under control and avoid over-treating your pooch.

calorie_bowlCalorie Bowl
This is a strategy that you can implement instantly and use daily to keep track of the amount of food and treats that your dog receives. 

  1. Portion out your dog's daily food intake into a bowl. For instance, let's assume your dog gets two cups of dry food per day.
  2. Instead of the full two cups, put 1.5 cups of food into the bowl and .5 cups of high quality treats (see Treat Suggestions below)
  3. Throughout the day, grab handfuls of the contents of the Calorie Bowl and do short training sessions with your dog, or put portions of the food into Kongs or other stuffable toys
  4. At the end of the day, if there is any food left, put the rest into your dog's bowl

Use "Life Rewards"
Now that you are using the Calorie Bowl, you can also incorporate "Life Rewards" into your routine. Life rewards consist of using a variety of rewards throughout the day that you would provide for your dog anyway. If you shift your thinking a bit, you can do quick training sessions before all good things and your dog will benefit from more training. Here are some suggestions for using Life Rewards with your dog. Don't forget a mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog!

  1. Toys. If your dog loves toys, put them away until you are doing training sessions. If you keep them out all the time, your dog can quickly become bored with them and then they are less interesting and rewarding.
  2. A game of tug. Dogs that love to play tug can be rewarded with this activity. Do a quick training session, play a game of tug, ask for a "drop", do more training and then reward with another quick game of tug. Put the toy away when you are done so it is interesting the next time you use it as a reward.
  3. Walk. Do a quick training session before you take your pooch for a walk.
  4. Chew Toys. Giving your dog an occasional chew toy? Do a 5-minute session before he gets his chewtoy.
  5. Frisbee. If your dog loves to play Frisbee or chase a tennis ball or other toy, do training while you are playing. Suggestions include Drop, Sit, Down, Stay, Come, and Stop. Ask for more behaviors each time you throw the toy.
  6. Running. Dogs love movement. While you are walking your dog, reward him with running or other fast movements when he performs behaviors that you ask for. For example, walk a bit, ask for a Sit, say, "Yes" and then run a bit, ask for a Stop and gently put the brakes on. Say, "Easy" walk slowly while you give praise, "Good, good, good" and then run a bit more.

Treat Suggestions

When you are using treats, you should only use high-quality treats. "Treat" does not mean junk food. Avoid food coloring, sugar and by-products. I use mainly meat-based treats and other high-quality food items and use very small treats. As long as your dog's system can handle the food item, you can be very creative with your food offerings. If you are not sure if your dog can handle something, give a small quantity for a few days in a row with no other changes in his diet and monitor his ability to digest the new treat. Sometimes it can take awhile for a dog to get used to something, so be patient. 

Dried ChickenPremium treats may seem more expensive, but usually if you calculate the cost they can be similar in price to the unhealthy well-advertised treats with the cute names and shapes that make them look like bacon, sausages or other meat products. Use small pieces of the high-quality treats and they will last a long time. You can use a variety of food items and treats. 

My favorite treats include 

You can also use non-treat items assuming your dog's system can handle them. Options include:

  • cheese (not every dog can process dairy)
  • steamed chicken
  • lunchmeat (watch the salt)
  • oyster crackers
  • peanut butter, etc.

As mentioned above, stuffing Kongs can be a wonderful way of making food and treats last longer and provide more mental stimulation. My new favorite Kong stuffing recipe:

  1. Pasta
  2. Cheese
  3. Dried chicken
  4. Melt cheese in microwave
  5. Put in freezer overnight

Last night it took my dogs 2 hours to work their way through their frozen Kongs and then they were exhausted! Do not make the Kong too difficult for a new dog or he will get frustrated and ignore it, no matter the quality of the stuffing. Allow food to fall out easily at the beginning until he is really motivated to interact with the Kong.

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