Food rewards aid in training, reduce fear in unfamiliar situations, and are just plain fun to give. Here’s what to know about treats for cats and dogs
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Did you celebrate International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day last month? Even if you didn’t know about it, you probably gave your dog or cat a treat that day for any number of reasons.
Pet lovers give treats as rewards during training sessions, after a great agility run or nosework search, or for pottying in the right spot; as distractions in situations that cause the pet to be fearful, such as visiting the vet or the approach of an unknown person or dog; or to build a positive association with an item like a crate or carrier.
Ramona Marek says her Siberian cats Ivan and Natasha will do anything for cat grass. “I leash-trained Ivan in a couple of hours due to his ‘grass addiction,’” she says.
Dog trainer Laura Busch saves high-value treats such as homemade liver brownies and dehydrated chicken hearts for nosework trials and training class.
Janiss Garza’s Somali cat Summer makes frequent public appearances, and Summer’s response to treats helps Garza gauge whether her cat is feeling stressed.
“I save the really good treats for shows and other public appearances,” she says. “If she refuses them, I need to either take her to a safe spot or do something to calm her down or distract her.”
Veterinarian Marty Becker, who lectures around the country on the secrets of Fear Free veterinary visits, offers this advice: “Pets prefer certain flavors and textures over others. It’s crucial to use ‘the good stuff’ when it comes to gaining the pet’s interest in the face of pain, discomfort, distractions and change that takes them beyond their comfort zone — home sweet home — and into the hospital environment.”
He likes giving pieces of warm deli turkey, slices of turkey hot dogs and squeeze cheese. Choose treats that are soft and smelly, not any larger than the size of your pinkie toenail. During the exam and procedures such as having the temperature taken or vaccinations, offer 10 to 20 tiny treats per minute.
Sometimes we give treats just because. “Who’s a good boy?” isn’t simply a rhetorical question. We give treats to our pets because we love them and want them to feel special.
Treat manufacturers and pet bakeries know this, and they develop treats that feed into the human love of rewarding cats and dogs with items that resemble our own favorite foods, whether that’s bacon, cheese, chips, cookies or cupcakes.
Many pet owners also have favorite homemade treats that they serve up to drooling dogs and cats. For Lab breeder Linda Rehkopf, it’s frozen turkey meatballs. Val Hughes gives sweet potato and yam chips that she bakes in the oven. “Scrub the veggie, slice as thin as possible and cook for at least three hours at about 250 degrees, turning every hour,” she says. “Let them cool before serving.”
For faster, easier treats, pet faves include rotisserie chicken, freeze-dried liver, tiny frozen shrimp, small cubes of cheese or a small bit of cream cheese or aerosol cheese on the end of your finger. Many dogs love blueberries, banana slices, bits of fresh or dried apple or other fruit. (Avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure.) Cats often like cantaloupe.
Try the following recipe if you want to bake “brownies” for your dog or cat.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Blend 1/2 cup chicken liver or beef liver with one egg. Add 3/4 cup rice flour and blend well. Form the dough into small balls and bake for 45 minutes or until hard. Let cool. Serve to happy pets!
PHOTO CAPTION: Limit treats to about 10 percent of a pet’s daily caloric intake.