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Friday, 3 April 2009

We all need little treats!

I love spending time with my dog and having fun so I thought agility was perfect for both of us. I searched for agility classes in our local area but there were none. That's when I decided to do it all myself and teach him at home.
I now practise half an hour a day (depending on the weather) and my Jack Russell is starting to get good. I taught him to jump, weave, the tunnel and he still learning more.
However, there is one problem. As my dog is a terrier, he is small and therefore I can't seem to find a good treat reward that I can give him in a reasonable quantity. He can usually only have about three so I can't do to much training wit him. I've also tried using toys as a reward but he doesn't seem interested in them.
I take much care in making sure my dog is healthy and his weight is correct. Can anyone suggest a good dog treat that is tasty but not too high in fats and sugars and can be given to a small dog when training?
Jessica Ellis, age 13

Good question! Have you tried chopping up little tiny pieces of carrot - but then putting them in a bag with something more exciting like cheese or bacon so that they smell delicious but don't have the calories? A dog's sense of smell is so strong and I know my dogs swallow treats so fast that they rarely taste them, this might work out okay. I used to do a similar trick when giving tablets. I used to get a crinkly bag that you'd have sweets in, and have some very tasty smelly small treats in it plus the tablets. Then I'd ask the dog to do something simple like a sit or a down and then give a reward. Only on the third or fourth go I'd give the tablet out of the bag instead of a treat. Worked with nearly all my dogs - except Oscar the Beardie that always chews everything!
Beverley Cuddy, Editor,
Dogs Today

Agility is a active sport so your dog shouldn't be a risk of putting on weight as long as you are giving suitably sized treats and if necessary reducing the size of evening meal if your dog has had lots of treats that day.
Most commercially produced treats will be too large for use in training, ensure rewards are no bigger than half the size of your little fingernail. Pedigree produce a product of small treats called 'Training Treats', which for a small dog could be broken into quarters, or smaller. Cooked chicken makes a good high value training treat, but again remember that the treats
should be very small. Sliced chicken for sandwich fillings can be cut up into very small pieces without crumbling. If you have time you could consider making homemade training treats, such as 'Liver Cake'; include vegetables to make a lower calorie version, and try fish instead of liver for dogs with sensitive tummies.
It's a shame your dog doesn't want to play with toys, as toys make great rewards for agility training as you can throw the toy to reward the dog whilst it is working at a distance away from you. But you are not alone in this - lots of dogs prefer food to toys but with a little time invested in training even these dogs can learn to enjoy playing with toys. A great way to increase the desirability of toys for a food orientated dog is with a 'food-toy' that holds treat inside it.
You mention that you are training for 30minutes everyday; be careful not to over train your dog. Variety is important - even top competition agility dogs don't train on agility equipment everyday of the week; a little bit of a break is good. Cross-training can include activities such as free running (i.e. walking in the woods or playing fetch), lead walking and swimming etc, so remember to give your dog a couple of days off agility training each week.
Good luck with your agility training.
Tig Stephenson, Agility Instructor

Well done on your training, it's so much fun and very rewarding for both you and your dog.
Regarding treats, I can recommend our Feelwell's Probiotic Puppy Treats. They do not contain any artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, wheat or wheat gluten, sugar or salt. They are made with lamb & rice and also contain probiotics to help digestion.
They are a very small ring and are ideal as a training treat for any age of dog as they are just the right size to give your dog a reward.
Lots of agility, flyball, ringcraft and training clubs use these treats as they are natural and healthy so they can use plenty of them in a training session.
They are readily available in all good pet shops and in Pets at Home and if you would like a free palatability sample, please send your name & address to or visit to request a sample online and see the full ingredients and analysis for all our products.
Feelwell's Probiotic Treats are also available in Adult, Mature & Lite versions.
Best of luck with your training!
Helen Booth, Managing Director, Feelwell's

I have always found liver to be a good reward in training - lamb’s liver is best! You need to use very little but as it's so smelly it keeps dogs very motivated. It does make your kitchen smell but I am sure your dog won’t mind. Simply place some lamb’s liver in the oven and dry it out in a low oven for 5-6 hours, then you can break up into small pieces for the training, Liver cake is also a good treat as it can be cut into small pieces.
Lisa Gosling, Daisy's Dog Deli

Well done on your agility training with your dog. I'm sure he enjoys the training as much as you do! With regard to treats, our Coachies Treats are very small, heart-shaped treats that are GM and gluten free and are low calorie, with only one calorie per treat. They are dry treats that dogs love, but they won't break up in your pocket or treat bag. As they are already very small, they won't need to be cut up for a small breed like a Jack Russell Terrier.
You say that your dog is not motivated by toys, but have you tried using a squeaky toy to reward him? Most terriers love squeaky toys and toys are great to use in agility training as you can reward your dog by throwing his toy to him when he is away from you. You can also encourage him to run ahead of you by throwing a toy over the final jump or obstacle so that he speeds up as he finishes. A small Kong Wubba or extra small squeaker tennis ball would be ideal for a small breed. The
Wubba is particularly good as it has "tails" that you can hold while you play an exciting game of tug with your dog to reward him. They're also small enough to hold in your hand or put in your pocket while you are running with him.
Clare Butters, The Company of Animals


  1. My JRT cross got quite fat because of overuse of training treats, so you're right to worry! It took us a year to lose the extra 3kg I'd piled on him. I was using very small treats, there were just way too many of them.

    I use carrots for another terrier I work with, and his poo is going orange!

    What I do now is only use a lot of treats at the beginning when he's learning a new skill, and wean really quickly to just the odd one or two, but I sometimes cut out one of his meals altogether because he's been working hard and has a lot of treats. He's also on a senior/lite diet all the time for other reasons but it means I can treat with healthy things and not worry too much.

    Could you treat with a toy or game? I have a squeaky toy for training sessions, that he only gets for training, so he'll give me 5 or 10 minutes of 'work' for a 2 minute game of squeaky fetch.

    Otherwise I use Naturediet fish variety, cut it into tiny, tiny bits (about the size of half a small pea) and bake it in the oven, then use that. There's only 100 calories in an entire pouch and as treats that will last ages, and the pouches are less than a pound each so works out really cheap! If they are baked properly they won't go off.

  2. I use my sheltie's kibble as training treats. We train during "meal time" so she doesn't miss it!

  3. If you are going to be doing a lot of training with your dog and know you will be using quite a lot of treats then you can feed your dog a little less at meal times to make up for the extra treats. It is important to treat when teaching something new to your dog but remember to gradually reduce those treats as your dog becomes expert at whatever you are teaching. Treats need only be tiny as someone else said about half the size of a pea is fine. I use the Barker & Barker little liver treats which are the size of a small vitamin pill but I break each one into 4 so the actual reward is tiny but because they smell quite strong most dogs are happy to work for them.

  4. Just take the calories off their daily meal allowance, use something nice like cooked chicken that they'll work for and hasn't got lots of additives, and give them more exercise if you feel they're overeating.

  5. Take the calories you sue as treats off their main meal, and use something healthy like cooked chicken or liver as it has no additives. If you feel your JRT is eating too much then up the exercise for a bit.
    I wish my dog would eat her biscuits as a treat like some here. :)

  6. I use carrots or pig's heart. I cook up the heart and chop it into really tiny bits. My bassets love the stuff.

  7. Two ideas: Using (preferred brand of) canned dog food or some other mushable goodness, put it into a Squeeze Tube (like this: can be found at camping stores.) and squeeze a small glob out for each reward. For even less calories per treat, use water flavored with something yummy and smelly (such as liver) and give a few drops at a time with a sports-drink bottle - or even a pipette!
    If you teach a solid retrieve to hand, you can reward by throwing a toy and then paying off from your tube/bottle when he brings it back - that way you can throw the "reward object" as is often desirable in agility, even though the toy is not yet of great value in itself. HTH!
    Aase Lange, Dog & Cat Trainer

  8. I teach agility and train my own dog who is always on the verge of being a bit 'podgy' but treats only have to be very tiny - I normally break normal small treats up into about four pieces! Otherwise if your dog is interested in toys then use that as a reward instead.

    I am surprised though to find that there are no clubs in your area? Have you tried looking at

    I would also like to just add that training agility at home is fine, but just be careful as it can be quite unsafe when you get to contact equipment and so on if you dont really know what you are doing, but it depends entirely on what you want to do and how far you want to get.

    It's a great sport though so good luck!