I caught Tom red tongued, gently picking pea pods off the vines. And here I was blaming the chipmunks!
I think it’s safe to say, Tom and Zora both like treats. And I use them a lot in training. Lately our dog treat budget as been looking a bit wonky. Treat prices are increasing significantly! So I decided to go back to what I used to do and make my own.
Without further ado here is my simple recipe for Set ‘Em & Forget ‘Em Dog Treats.
What you need:
How to Make:
Depending on the cost of the can of dog food and the cost of electricity to run your dehydrator for 6-8hours, these can end up being some really inexpensive, really yummy, really simple to make dog treats. I think the can of dog food I used made at least 5-6 dozen treats, each of which I can easily break into even smaller treats when training.
I’ve been in dogs a long time, and more importantly I’ve worked in dogs a long time, and in a variety of capacities. As such, I’ve seen a lot. And worked with a lot. For many years in private practice my primary case load was dogs with some variation of aggression complaint. So often when someone tells me something, I have a bit of a skewed perspective.
I have a boarding dog here currently, her first time with me. On drop off it was mentioned she is horrible for getting her nails trimmed. Which was why they were incredibly long. Like splay her feet out over grown.
My definition of ‘horrible for getting nails done’ is ‘panic, avoids muzzle being put on, attempt to bite with muzzle on, won’t eat, shakes, high level stress, no forgiveness, hours to days to recover, flailing, freak out’, my definition of ‘impossible for getting nails done’ is ‘requires medical sedation at the vet’s’. I worked with so many clients and dogs on increasing the dog’s comfort with nail trims so they no longer had to be sedated at the vet’s for twice a year trimmings. When I worked in the veterinary clinic, dogs toileting and/or releasing anal glands in stress response to nail trims was not uncommon at the clinic.
Regular readers know my thing about dog nails. After a few days of developing a relationship with this dog, listening to her click click on the hardwood, and feeling bad about how painful her splayed feet must feel for her I decided to take a chance.
I now seriously have no idea what her owner’s definition of ‘horrible for getting nails done’ is. At all. Because she certainly wasn’t horrible. She wasn’t even difficult. Or hard. I’d put her in ‘requires support, but with it, easy.’
I showed her the basket muzzle. I put a treat in it. She shoved her nose into it. I fed her another couple of treats through the bars of the muzzle. I buckled it on. She stood there eating treats as I fed them to her. No panic, no freak out, no trying to get it off, no refusing food.
Next I walked her to the grooming table. She willingly walked with me on leash. Still ignoring the muzzle on her face.
I gently lifted her onto the table. No panic, no freak out, no resistance as I lifted her and placed her on the table.
I picked up a rear foot. She stood there. I fed her another treat. She ate it.
I clipped the nails on her rear foot. She stood there. I fed her another treat. She ate it.
I then proceeded to clip all of her nails. She stood here. Made no attempts to bite me through the muzzle. No flailing. No panic. No freak out. Ate treats as I offered them. And stood there.
Once all nails were clipped, I lifted her down off the table, removed the muzzle and offered her more treats. She ate them, wanted some petting, then followed me upstairs, for more wiggling and petting.
And now her feet clearly feel better. And I don’t have to hear click click on the hardwood.
But it begs the question, what in the heck have people been doing to try to trim her nails that causes her to behave in a way they would define her as ‘horrible for getting nails done?’
I’m not sure how she would have been had I attempted this without muzzle, or had I not gradually tested her at each point ensuring her stress level was low enough to still willingly take and eat treats. But in any case, I’m glad she trusted me enough and now feels better. And now I know for me, in this setting, that she will let me trim her nails. Which is good data to have, especially for any potential future stays.
Every once in a while when I was teaching more (and sometimes still when out and about) people will say something like, “If I use food for training my dog will be obese!” or “My dog loves food so much, I can’t use it for training or he will get even fatter!” or “I have such a small dog, there is no way I could use food rewards with them, they don’t eat enough to do it!”
Yea, that’s poppy cock. Poppy cock I say.
Sure if you didn’t put any thought what so ever into the amount and type of calories your dog is consuming and the amount of exercise they are getting they will get fat. But with a bit of thought and planning, you can use food rewards with minimal risk on average of having an obese dog.
Note: In this post I am not referencing dogs with medical conditions that require strict food or other management as instructed by a veterinarian. As always follow the instructions and advice of your veterinarian. In this post I’m talking about your generally medically unrestricted around food, meals and other dog.
When clients would say such things I’d say, “hang on a minute, let me go grab Tom and Zora or which ever dogs were in my life at that time (or photos of them)…” Because you see I don’t have fat dogs. I have svelte in shape, well muscled, trim and fit dogs. Who get a lot of food rewards when we are actively training. And a fair share of food rewards throughout the day regardless for various things on any given day. And who also eat 2 meals a day of very good quality dry dog food. Neither of whom is a super high energy, happy to exercise themselves non-stop type of dog, sure they love their walks and to play with us but if we humans aren’t doing anything they chill and sleep. Yet they aren’t even close to being fat. Seriously my vet has wanted to use them as positive examples on what a fit dog looks like for other clients.
Not possible, you say? I must have some kind of black magic, you say?
Nope. As a good friend of mine who also happens to be a vet tech says, “Calories in must not exceed calories out.”
So how do I make sure that happens while still training using food rewards?
A couple of ways.
2. I break food that I am using for rewards up into small bits. Bits tend to be about the size of my pinky finger nail. Most times the dog gets 1 bit per repetition or reinforcement event. My hands are bad so I tend to drop a fair share, which they learn not to grab at. And I also sometimes give them 2 or 3 at a go when again my hands are being frustratingly uncooperative and dexterity is down. In terms of calories, for example a Zuke’s brand mini training treat which is if I remember right 3 calories, I get at least 4-6 training reward bits out of 1 Zuke’s mini or .75 of a calorie per reward bit. Though to be honest I don’t use those types of treats very often as they aren’t a preferred one for my dogs, but to give a reference point familiar to many people. Or a Charlie Bear treat which is 2 calories per disk, I break those up to usually 3-5 training reward bits (but again rarely use them as they are really low on my dog’s value scale)
3. If I’m really breaking down a complex behavior and/or doing some shaping work and building up a behavior over a period of many sessions, often I use at least one if not both of the daily meals for training time as well. Usually I don’t train for their entire meal, but will train using say 1/3 to 3/4 of the kibble (depends on which dog and how much they are eating that meal and what we are working on) then the remainder they get as their meal in their dish. If for some reason (such as a medical one) I have to stick to kibble as the reward, I take a hammer to the kibble pieces and break them up even further.
4. I am careful about what types of food rewards I use. I try to avoid ones that have added sugar, or are really grain heavy as I find carbs and sugar will pack the pounds on my dogs much faster than food rewards that are higher protein, and meat or veggie based. Sometimes there will be a carb based treat (like those teddy bear shaped ones in the photo above) that my dogs seem to really really enjoy, so I will use those but am careful to break them up small and to mix in other higher protein rewards so the training session isn’t using all carb based treats.
5. I keep training sessions short. Usually intense but short. Depending on the session I might use 10-20 reward bits per training session. We might have any where from 1-6 of those length training sessions during a day depending on what we are working on, how much time I have and what else is going on in life, but I’ve learned that short planned out sessions are more effective for reaching my training goals overall than longer poorly planned sessions. So if we go back to my treat math calorie examples above. Say I’m using Zukes at 3 calories per out of the package Zuke. I get 4 reward bits from 1 Zuke. And I used 15 reward bits each training session for 3 sessions that day. (3 calories/4 bits) x 15 reward bits x 3 training sessions = 33.75 calories in reward bits for training for that day. For comparison adult dry dog food has on average 300-500 calories per cup depending on brand and formula.
6. I manage the amount of exercise they get based on how many food rewards and calories they got that day. If we’ve been working on training a more static, less movement based behavior then I’ll incorporate more active calorie burning play into our break sessions and as rewards as well. So yes I could see if you had a 5# Papillon you might need to incorporate more toy play into your sessions as reward, but you still can absolutely use food rewards for portions of your training sessions.
So yes, you absolutely can have fit and trim dogs of varying sizes, body type and age while training with food rewards. It, as with anything, takes some thought, care and awareness.
Zora here and today it’s my birthday!! MY Birthday! Me me me Corgi dog ALL DAY! It’s My Day! Mum said so! So as it’s my birthday I have many requests.
First more breakfast! What? You say no!? But it’s my birthday! “sorry, Zora, no. You can have a special bite of hot dog in your breakfast but not more breakfast.” What kind of crap birthday is this going to be human?! No extra breakfast?! But it’s my day! Well we shall see lady, you better step up and make it a really great day if you want me to forgive this one!
Second a walk and swim. That one mum said ok to! It was awesome!! And the cheese stick she gave me wasn’t half bad either. Ok this day is improving a lot!
Third ball time! A LOT of ball time! Every time we go outside. Until I want to stop!
Fourth you human sit still and let me sleep on you. “Sorry Zora I can’t make promises on that one. Sitting without shifting is really hard. How about I pet you instead while you lay beside me?” Hmm, ok I guess.
Fifth all the cookies I want! “ALL? the cookies you want? Maybe, we’ll see. There might just be some ice cream tonight for you special little munchkin…..”
Zora the corgi who is now threeee!! Happy Birthday to MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!
We were in the grocery store a while back and my husband always likes to check the clearance rack. Where a can of spray squeeze cheese was sitting on discount. Shockingly he had yet to experience the hysterics of dogs eating spray cheese from a can. An event I told him he had not yet lived if he hadn’t yet experienced.
So much fun. So silly. The faces, oh the faces.
I know it’s disgusting nasty to put cheese in a can. All manner of gross. Blah blah blah. And it’s not something I’d give the dogs regularly. But a once in a while afternoon filled with laughter is worth it to us.
So. Much. Fun. Hysterical.
Whether you live with a chronic condition that causes fatigue as I do or you are exhausted after a busy day at work, your dog still needs exercise. Many people think exercise the dog = walk the dog. Well when you’re exhausted and walking the dog means making your tired brain and body move off the couch, yea don’t know about you but not likely.
I spend a lot of my time on the couch, sitting in a chair or leaning against a wall, tree or fence. And have come up with lots of ways to exercise my dogs from those stations. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t also get my dogs out in the world, I do. I go for a walk with them nearly every day. But for many dogs (mine included) that isn’t enough. And when I have days where I can’t get out, these types of things are my go-to.
So here we go: 10 Ways to exercise your dog when you’re exhausted!
Oh how I love hide and seek and all of its near endless variations!
Version 1: If my husband is home or my nieces and nephews are visiting hide and seek means I sit on the couch, they hide. They call the dog, dog finds them. I call the dog back to me, the hider hides in a new spot. Over and over. Until dog is bright happy eyes and panting exhausted. If the hider gets creative there are lots of ways they can hide even in a small area. Some favorites are in the bathtub, behind an open door, on the bed, in the closet, and hidden in plain sight by quietly standing up against a wall in a dark room. Zora especially Loves loves loves this game. We use praise, treats, and petting to reward her, and practice her staying with the person until the other person calls her, not just racing back and forth. This waiting until called gives the hider a chance to really hide.
Version 2: if your dog has a favorite toy, instead of hiding a person you can hide their toy. If your able to get off the couch, hide the toy in various places in your house and send the dog to find them. Practice your dog doing a sit or down stay while you hide the toy and finding it when you cue “Find It.” If you can’t get off the couch, hide them in various spots on the couch. Under different cushions and such.
Version 3: the good old shell game using treats. Hide a treat under one hand, dog has to indicate which hand has the treat. Or under a blanket. Or couch cushion. Or if they’re handy under actual cups.
2. Kibble toss
A fun easy game that can be played at meal times if you feed your dog dry dog food. Or at other times using a couple of treats.
Version 1: Call the dog to,you praise them then throw a piece of kibble across the room. After dog chases and eats the treat or kibble you tossed, call them back to you and repeat. Dog races back and forth across the room and gets tired
Version 2: add some obedience into the game. Ask dog to sit or down then stay as you toss the kibble. Then release the dog to go get it. Or ask the dog to stay, toss the kibble then ask the dog to do another behavior (sit, down, touch, come) before releasing them to go get the food.
3. Fetch with a toy
Simple. Take a toy your dog likes and play fetch in the house or outside leaning against the fence. Zora prefers super bouncy chuck it balls for this game. They fly off the walls making for a fun erratic game of fetch. Though be careful you don’t take the tv out if your a bad thrower as I am. Practice your dog bringing the toy all the way back to you and dropping it in your hand or on your lap so you don’t have to bend your aching body down fighting gravity to pick the toy up. If you and your dog are up for it, add in some obedience. Or multiple toys. Teach your dog to sit or down stay and wait for you to cue ‘Get it’ once you’ve thrown the toy. Or teach your dog to get the toy you point to, even if you’ve thrown 2 or more, in the order you point to the toy.
If you have the hand and arm strength and a bit of upper body energy play tug from your spot on the couch. Practicing your drop it and grab it cues.
My dogs and I do so many stupid tricks from the couch. Get creative, make shit up. Let’s see we play E.T phone home (nose touch to the tip of my finger), we play back up, we play crawl, and lots of targeting games. They play running from place to place in the house, on your bed, now on the couch, now back to your bed, now in the kitchen, now on the rug! They practice jumping over my legs. And crawling under my arms. We place shark avoidance (I take the fish toy and sing the JAWS theme, the dogs practice abandoning ship! aka jumping off the couch and “saving” me from the shark aka taking the toy and shaking it.) And I never have to move. Tossing treats or toys to reward.
6. Learning toys by name
Where’s your fish? No that’s not the fish, find the fish. Yay! That’s the fish! Now how about your ball? Yay! Now blue ball, where is blue ball? Close, that’s red ball.
and so on. My dogs love that game too. And again I never leave the couch.
7. Scatter kibble
An easy one. Take your dog’s meal and toss it on the floor. Either in the house or in the back yard. Let the dog snuffle around finding their dinner kibble by kibble as you rest.
8. Puzzle toys
Make or invest in some puzzle toys. Some that involve you too and some that your dog can play alone. There are so many different ones on the market now, it’s awesome. Lots of styles to choose from. Get some variety, so you and your dog have different ways to solve the puzzles.
If you’re making puzzle toys cardboard boxes can be your friend (hide treats in different boxes, or within within within boxes or wrapped in paper bags, etc). As can pvc (drill some holes in a large diameter pvc tube, put some treats in and cap the ends, Dog bangs it around to get the treats to fall out. Or get some lengths of PVC and different connectors, hide a treat in the maze of twist and turns, dog has to pull the pieces apart at the connectors to find the treat.). And empty soda bottles. Or muffin tins (take a muffin tin, put some treats in the wells then cover each well with a tennis ball. Dog has to remove the balls to get the treats). Basically anything you can create that your dog has to think and puzzle through in order to get their food or toy out of it.
Other ways to make puzzles for your dog can be making mazes or labyrinths out of boxes or couch pillows.
9. Arm chair agility
Use actual agility obstacles or create them out of things like chairs and pillows. Use treats and toys to encourage your dog up and over while you stay stationary. Note of caution if your dog is not an experienced agility dog, always use a spotter especially with the higher obstacles like the dog walk and teeter totter. And be sure if doing any jumping your dog is on safe surfaces like grass or carpet not concrete or hard wood floors
10. Arm chair obedience
Practice your dog’s response to cues. Try just verbal cues such as saying ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’, etc. And just hand signals. Practices puppy push ups: sit, down, sit, down, down, down, sit. Add in the cue to stand. Or stay. Or come. Or fetch. Or touch. Mix it up. Practice your dog responding to the cue you give without anticipating what you’re going to ask them to do.
Remember when doing these things with your dog, the goal is fun, happy and tired. So smile, laugh, and enjoy your time with your dog. Help your dog engage both their brain and their body. Playing these games can be super fun with your dog and low energy expenditure for you. A tired happy dog is so nice to live with.
We still have another day of trialing to go tomorrow, but today was SO AMAZINGLY AWESOME I just couldn’t wait to post. I want to remember this feeling. Awesome!
Today, for the first time ever, we tried some bonus boxes. While we didn’t fully complete either course from within the box, it was still awesome!!!!!!!!!! I was so so so proud of Zora!! And the practice we’ve been doing. She WAS FANTASTIC! I love that little dog.
Attempting the bonus runs was exhilarating. I had so much fun! I think Zora did too (I hope). Our first bonus attempt was the very first course of the day – Elite Regular Round 1. We’ve been struggling with the turn and send away still in practice, so it doesn’t surprise me we did on this course either. BUT!! She nailed that lead out line, I was so happy with that!! I was also thrilled with the distance we were able to do even after I left the bonus box.
Our 2nd bonus attempt was in Elite Tunnelers. After our barrelers run, I took migraine meds and Tom and I went off to the car to nurse it, and told my husband he could run Zora in tunnelers. Then I was informed there was a bonus box on that course and I reneged (I blame my reneging on Maxalt and the length of time we had between barrelers and tunnelers, damn when that stuff works it works really really well for me). Poor guy. Thankfully he is a really great sport, and had fun laughing at me about it. LOL.
When I walked the course, I thought, “Hmm, we’ve been working on that switch turn away on a box, but doing it on a tunnel is still often a struggle first time for us, we’ll give it a try but I’ll plan on helping her if she needs” Yup that’s the spot she needed my help. It was still awesome fun!! Again her lead out made me so so so happy. We had a while where she’d have likely come to me instead of going straight into that #1 tunnel, so I was thrilled we’ve worked so hard on that! It paid off!!
We also now only need 3 more jumpers qualifiers to complete our NATCH! (NADAC Agility Trial Champion). I’m so excited!
It was a great day!! Not many Qs, but awesome runs!! I’m so happy. Damn I love this little corgi dog!
Also, Zora says Tuna Brownies are excellent and I should think to make them more often. Tom equally agrees. Seriously, they both snubbed the cheese I offered them and held out for the tuna! If you don’t know about tuna brownies, here is the recipe I use. Be warned, your dog might stalk your fridge after.
In a bowl beat with a mixer until well combined and fairly smooth:
Then using a spatula, mix in until well combined and dough looks glossy: 1 to 1.5 tapioca starch. Tapioca starch is one of the coolest ‘flours’ to bake or cook with. I love the stuff, use it all the time. In this recipe it helps the cooked dog treats be more doughy and less crumbly. You can use regular flour of some kind as a replacement, but if you do these treats are likely to be crumbly and maybe flakey. I prefer the doughy option that tapioca starch gives especially for training treats as they are easier to toss while still being soft enough to break up with your fingers.
Pre-heat the oven to 350’F. Grease or line with parchment paper a cookie sheet or other baking dish.
Plop the dough onto the prepped cookie sheet, then press into a 1/2″ thick disk or squarish shape.
Bake for 15-20min. Remove from baking tray and cool on a wire rack.
Once cool use a pizza cutter wheel or knife (pizza cutter wheel is waaaaay easier) to cut into bite sized dog treat pieces. Store in an airtight container in the fridge (after of course letting your dog sample your wares, need to make sure you get their seal of approval, right?)