There are many ways to train a dog. But using puppy training treats is one of the quickest, easiest and tastiest ways of communicating your approval for a job well done.
What counts as a puppy training treat? It’s a very broad category, ranging from pre-packaged products sold in pet stores and veterinarian offices, to cereal or a piece of fruit straight from your kitchen. As long as it suits your puppy’s dietary needs and restrictions, any dog-appropriate foodstuff can be a treat to reinforce good behavior.
Since they are meant to be special rewards, pre-packaged treats are more expensive than regular dog food. A small 4-ounce package of treats can cost $4 to $10, where a 5-pound bag of kibble can go for the same price. Depending on your training schedule, that bag of treats could be empty in less than a week, and the costs of these treats can quickly add up.
Pre-packaged training treats are convenient for many reasons. Their generally small size is perfect for repeating commands without overfeeding your dog, and also makes them great for taking on the go. Some premium treats contain beneficial nutrients that can be used to supplement your puppy’s diet even when not training.
What are the best dog training treats to use?
Even though it seems dogs don’t discriminate much in their choice of snacks, there is such a thing as low, medium, and high-value treats. Knowing when to use each is key to successful training.
Low-value treats can be something like a piece of kibble: not very smelly (in a good way) or flavorful, but still interesting enough to be a training reward for easy commands.
A high-value treat, on the other hand, usually has a strong smell and is packed with flavor. These treats, which are usually made of whole meat such as liver, are highly prized by pups and can really motivate them to master difficult commands or behaviors.
These high-value treats are helpful when teaching your dog one of the most important “tricks” they’ll need to learn: coming back to you when called, regardless of the distractions around them.
Puppy training treats buying guide
It’s always important to consult with your vet before adding training treats to your dog’s diet, especially if your dog has any dietary sensitivities or allergies. Once you’ve cleared it with a professional, consider the following points when shopping for treats:
• Ingredients. A short and easy-to-read ingredients list is a good sign that your chosen treats won’t contain any “mystery” or unwanted ingredients, such as artificial additives or allergens.
• Treat size. The size of the treat you should use depends on a couple of factors: the size of your puppy, of course, and the type of training they’ll be doing. Smaller treats are good for short, repetitive commands (sit, stay, etc.), while larger treats are better for reinforcing positive behaviors such as staying in their bed/kennel.
• Smell. Pungent, stinky treats are especially appealing to puppies and are considered “high value” treats. While you won’t always need them for basic training, stinky treats are good for training in places with several distractions, like the park. A balance of low- or medium-value treats and very high-value treats goes a long way in successful puppy training.
Best puppy training treats
1. Best overall: Zuke’s Mini Naturals Training Treats
Rewarding your puppy with a big, juicy snack can be tempting during training, but this is rarely a good idea. Zuke’s Mini Naturals are tiny, but full of flavor, helping your puppy to move on quickly from one command to the next.
As a plus, while they’re aromatic enough to be interesting for dogs, they won’t leave your hands smelling for hours like some other dog treats. They’re also only 3 calories each, making them great for training simple, repetitive commands such as sit and stay.
If your pup is finicky about their treat flavors, Mini Naturals has you covered. It comes in 11 different varieties, including duck, rabbit and peanut butter. Though they don’t contain corn, wheat or soy, they might not sit well with sensitive tummies, so be sure to ask your vet if these treats are good for your puppy. It’s also important to store them properly, since it’s easy for them to dry up.
2. Editor's pick: Simply Nourish Freeze Dried Beef Liver Dog Treats
Training a puppy can be hard sometimes, especially in unfamiliar places with many distractions. These freeze-dried beef liver treats are just stinky enough to catch your puppy’s attention, no matter the situation. Their only ingredient is liver, which makes them a viable choice for almost every diet plan.
These treats are fairly large, so chopping them up for your puppy is recommended before training. Because these are premium “high-reward” treats, they are considerably expensive at roughly $5.81 per ounce, compared to Zuke’s Mini Naturals’ $0.81 per ounce. Even so, they’re a healthy option for rewarding your puppy for good behavior.
3. Best for low prices: Bil-Jac Liver Dog Treats
Liver treats are always a big hit with dogs, but the good stuff can be a bit pricey. Bil-Jac’s chicken liver treats are a budget-friendly alternative for getting your puppy’s attention during training. They’re small enough as is, but they can be pinched into even smaller pieces for smaller pups to gulp down.
Aside from their convenient size, they can also be molded to fit inside toys — such as the popular Kong brand of rubber toys — for an added challenge. Unlike pricier liver treats, Bil-Jac’s does use some flour, chicken by-products and other fillers, making it important to check with your vet if these are right for your pup.
4. Best for sensitive stomachs: Blue Buffalo Blue Bits Soft-Moist Salmon Training Treats
Salmon makes for a tasty and healthy canine meal or treat. Blue Buffalo’s Blue Bits in salmon flavor are small enough to serve as puppy training treats while also being high in nutritious content, particularly Omega-3 and fatty acids. They also contain DHA, which helps with dogs’ cognitive development, especially puppies.
Even though they can be used to supplement your puppy’s diet, they do contain grains, which might not agree with some doggy diets. Blue Bits also come in three other flavors (beef, turkey, chicken) for puppies that don’t have sensitive tummies.
5. Best jerky-style treats: Rocco & Roxie Jerky Sticks
Jerky treats rarely fail to catch a dog’s attention, and these treats from Rocco and Roxie are softer and chewier than most, making them a great alternative for puppy training. Unlike a great deal of training treats, they won’t leave a strong smell on your hands or make a mess in your pocket if you want to take a few on a walk.
These treats are primarily meat-based and are grain-free, which is good for dogs with restricted diets. Their only inconvenience is that they are hard to tear up into tiny pieces by hand. If you’re going to feed them to an especially small puppy, consider chopping them up in the kitchen beforehand.