Training titbits

This is a subject which is discussed endlessly by everyone from new puppy owners to old hand trainers, as well as all their friends and relatives, not to mention the people in the pet shop.  Everyone has a different opinion, but here’s my take on it.

I have three types of dog training titbits: stuff I’ve cooked myself, Specs’ normal kibble and stuff bought from the shop (but don’t tell Jen!).

Home cooked treats

The stuff I’ve cooked myself is basically just meat. Some people make their own biscuits, but in my opinion life is just too short.  If you do feel like having a go yourself Google has endless suggestions, but make sure you check that all ingredients are suitable for dogs and DON’T add any salt.

At the moment I have a supply of lamb, liver and chicken, and I’ve just run out of turkey (leftovers from Christmas).  The turkey wasn’t a brilliant idea, though it was more or less free – with turkey and chicken I just wait until I’ve cooked one myself, then I chop up all the leftovers (including the skin but never ever give your dog poultry bones – they can splinter and choke your little pooch), split them into portions and stick them in the freezer.  (The problem with the turkey is that the little chunks disintegrated.  Specs loved it, but my fingers ended up in an awful mess).

I bought the lamb from Aldi.  It was the cheapest joint I could find – about £4 I think.  I brought it home, popped it in the slow cooker, added some water and put it on a low cook for 13 hours.  When it was finished it just fell apart, so all I had to do was cut it into tiny pieces, split it into portions and freeze it.  And as an added bonus I had some lovely lamb stock to keep for gravy.  I reckon each portion is enough for one training session for Specs.  My £4 joint made ten portions, so that works out at 40p per session.  Bargain!

Even better than the lamb was the lamb’s liver.  The liver I bought was great because it didn’t fall apart after it was cooked, it was really really cheap and Specs loved it.  However, just a couple of cautions:

  1. apparently some types of liver (or maybe it’s the way you cook it?) turn to powder when they’re cooked, so you might be better off making liver cake.  I’m new to the liver game so am still on a learning curve.
  2. you have to be very sparing in how much you feed your dog because of the high concentration of vitamin A, which can cause problems in dogs.  However, used as training treats once or twice a week it shouldn’t cause any problems.  And again, if you turn it into liver cake you can be a little more generous.

I got the liver from Sainsbury’s and it cost me £1 for 1lb.  I came home, popped it in the oven and waited until it looked cooked.  I can’t remember how long or what temperature (I shall pay attention next time), but Specs didn’t care – she just wolfed it down. Again, it made ten portions, so that was even better at 10p per portion.

How do I freeze my portions?’  I hear you ask. It’s entirely up to you.  You could use ice cube trays, but they’re a bit fiddly, as well as being a bit small even for a Specs.  I use little plastic pots – I got the last lot from Sainsburys in their Basics range – 10 for £2, which isn’t bad at all as they actually last quite a while.  Plastic bags are good too, though you can’t really reuse them and they’re quite difficult to get the treats out, especially when you’re in a flip flap at puppy class.

Shop bought treats

Yes, confession time, I do use shop bought treats.  Either because I acquire them for free (such as free samples) or because I have nothing else and I really can’t be bothered to cook anything.

However, as Jenny quite rightly points out, they’re really really expensive, and you really don’t know what’s gone into them.  Here’s a price comparison for you:

Aldi lamb half shoulder joint Sainsburys liver Pedigree Schmackos (Amazon.co.uk)
£7/kilo £2.20/kilo £11.40/kilo

And Schmackos are not the most expensive by a long way!

When to use your titbits

I mentioned above that I have my three types of titbits, so when do I use each of them?

Well, the shop bought ones I basically use when I have nothing else.  They have the advantage of keeping for quite a long time so I nearly always have some knocking around in the pocket of my dog walking coat.

The kibble (ie Specs’ normal food) I also use when I’ve run out of the good stuff, but mostly I use it on walks.  I never ever take Specs out after she’s had a full meal.  The best time to take her out is actually when she’s due a meal, so she’s really really hungry.  Then all you have to do is put her portion of kibble in your pocket, and give it to her as a reward when you’re out – for walking nicely on the lead, coming back when called, a training session in the park.  There’s nothing like hunger and a handful of food to get your dog working at his peak!

The good stuff (the home cooked meat) I keep for ‘special’.  I’ll take some out on walks with me to make sure I reinforce that all-important recall (but not much – if you forget about it and leave it in your pocket it doesn’t take long to go really stinky), but most of it I keep for puppy class.  Why puppy class?  Well that’s when Specs is likely to have most distractions – all those lovely friends to play with.  Again, I never ever ever feed her before puppy class, and I always go armed with the best possible treats – usually a mixture of lamb and liver.  As Jenny keeps saying, ‘excellent treats give excellent results’.

How big should these titbits be?

Much smaller than you think they should be, for three reasons really –

  1. it’ll keep your costs down
  2. it’ll keep your dog working for longer.  Once that tummy fills up you lose your key motivator, and
  3. it avoids the possibility of your puppy getting fat, which is actually quite a high risk given the amount of training you’re likely to be doing.

‘How small is small?’ I hear you ask.  About the size of his toe pad, though if you have a tiny dog with really big feet you might want to adjust this (my little Islay was such a dog.  I’ll have to tell you about her one day soon).
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If your puppy is still hungry after the training session, that’s fine – just give him his usual food (but remember to adjust the portion depending on how many treats he’s had).

You can see Specs doing her fabulous speedy recalls elsewhere on this blog.  She’s a pretty hungry puppy and there’s delicious food right there for the taking if she comes to her trainers straight away and quickly.

Shouldn’t she come back to me because she loves me?  I know she loves me, she wants to be with me, cuddles up to me, but truth?  That doesn’t have a lot to do with good training.  Our dogs can love us a lot but still run away in the park.  Daddy or chips?  It’s chips every time.  So, I love Specs and she loves me, but she still gets liver when she comes back to me in the park, and I get my cuddles when we snuggle up on the sofa to watch tv together.

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