Finding healthy dog treats for training is no easy task; the market is inundated with products claiming to be “natural” and “healthy” dog treats that have ingredients which are far from natural or healthy.
You have to be a careful consumer – the words “natural” and “healthy” aren’t regulated and can be added to any dog treat package to try and boost sales.
If you are training your dog, it gets even harder. Dog training is most effective with high value (i.e. smelly) treats. Most smelly treats, however, are full of preservatives and artificial flavors. Finding a healthy treat that is also high value is tough.
Today’s dog treat market has a bunch of great alternatives that are truly healthy, many which only contain a single ingredient.
Why is it Important to use Natural & Healthy Dog Treats?
Many of the dog treats on the market are full of ingredients that are unhealthy. In addition to the unhealthy ingredients, there are several fillers that may not be harmful, but add no nutritional value.
With so many truly natural & healthy dog treats on the market, why get something that has either of these?
Instead of diluting the healthy benefits of the treat, choose wisely so you are supplementing your dog’s diet with products that will make them healthier!
Single Ingredient Dog Treats
I am a big advocate of single ingredient healthy dog treats, for several reasons:
1. Having a variety of treats is a great way to keep your dog interested in training
Dogs will get bored if you feed them only one type or flavor of training treat. They are like people in that sense – if you have chocolate ice cream day after day, week after week, it gets less exciting over time, right? Same with dogs. Switching up your training treats every few days keeps your dog excited and more willing to learn.
2. Single ingredient treats are easier to make yourself for a budget-friendly option
I’m all about homemade, budget-friendly dog treats. When you have a dog with a major behavioral issue, you go through a LOT of treats, and if you buy them pre-packaged it gets expensive – fast.
3. Single ingredient treats can reduce digestive issues and allergic reactions
Some treats give dogs upset stomachs, diarrhea, itchy skin, or may cause behavioral changes. Using single ingredient dog treats makes it easier to pinpoint foods that your dog is sensitive to.
When training with a single ingredient treat, if any issue surfaces, you know the ingredient in that treat isn’t a good match for your dog’s system.
4. With single ingredient treats you avoid unhealthy ingredients and cheap fillers
Your dog will be eating fewer preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, sugars, and sodium. Treats will be full of nutrition instead of fillers that are empty calories.
Single Ingredient Healthy Dog Treats from Your Kitchen!
You would be amazed at the healthy dog treat options that are already in your kitchen.
If you have time to prepare them, making your own healthy dog treats can save you a ton of money. It gives you total control of the ingredients that go into your dog’s treats, allowing you to use organic and hormone free ingredients if that is important to you.
Here are some great ideas for high value, healthy dog treats:
Cooked meat cubes are a huge hit with my dogs.
Buy your meat of choice: chicken, beef, duck, pork, lamb – you decide.
Cook the meat in your oven or on your grill. For my meat dog treats, I overcook the meat just a little. Although juicy meat is a bit more tantalizing, it also is messier to treat with and leaves your fingers wet and greasy.
Once the meat has cooled off, cut it into small cubes. I like to make mine about ¼” square (6mm), some dog owners prefer bigger cubes. A lot of my training involves tossing small handfuls of treats and the dog sniffing to find them, so smaller is better for my needs.
Once cut, I scoop about 1 cup of cubed meat per sandwich-size Ziploc bag and freeze it. Freezing in smaller batches keeps the meat from going bad once I thaw it in my refrigerator.
Cubed Sweet Potatoes
Cubed sweet potatoes are a great option if your dog is sensitive to animal proteins or is trying to lose weight. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, so are a great part of a treat rotation due to their nutritional benefits.
I cut the sweet potatoes (skin on) in cubes about ½” (1 cm) square, toss with olive oil, spread on a cookie sheet, and cook in the oven at 250°F (130°C)) for around 3 hours, flipping a few times as they cook. Make sure the edges don’t touch on the cookie sheet.
If you want to avoid using olive oil put the cubes on parchment paper before cooking.
Cook until they are somewhat dried out with slightly crispy edges. Freeze in small bags and thaw as needed.
Dried Salmon Skin
I think this one is genius! In addition to being insanely high value (ie smelly), it costs you $0!
The next time you cook salmon for dinner, save the salmon skin. Put the skin back in the oven at a low temp, 150-200°F (66-93°C), and cook for around 2 hours, until the skin is jerky-like or brittle.
Check out this article that has a free printable recipe for this homemade salmon dog treat recipe.
Want to “flavor” your single ingredient treats?
Some dogs are really picky and need a little extra smell for treats to be valuable enough to motivate them during training. Here are a few ideas to make the above treats a little smellier:
- Bacon flavored: Take the finished treats and put them in a large skillet. Add a small amount of bacon fat (I use 1 tsp. – 1 Tbsp.), and turn heat to low. Stir the contents once the bacon fat has melted to coat, then cook at medium heat for a short time to cook in the flavor.
- Coconut flavored: Do the same process outlined for bacon flavored (above) only add 1 tsp. – 1 Tbsp. coconut oil.
- Fish flavored: Make dried salmon skin and cook until brittle. Once cool, put the skin in a Ziploc baggie and crunch it up into tiny pieces. Mix those pieces into your other treat bags to give the treats a nice fishy smell.
- Cinnamon flavored: Before baking your treat, sprinkle a very small amount of Ceylon cinnamon on them and toss to coat. It’s important to be sure you use Ceylon cinnamon and not Cassia cinnamon. Cassia is the typical cinnamon found in grocery stores; it contains a natural organic compound called coumarin which is unhealthy for dogs.
This is pretty obvious, just cut the cheese into small cubes and you are ready to go! If you are doing “scatters” on the ground to promote sniffing (which helps to calm your dog) grated cheese works too.
Dried Banana Chips
Dried banana chips are a great natural dog treat but must be given in moderations to avoid tummy upset – so are best for “here and there” treats instead of training treats.
Slice your banana into thin slices, about 1/8” or 3mm, and put on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Cook about 2 hours until they are crunchy, flipping halfway through.
OK, I know this one is a bit out there, but I had to mention it. My dogs will come running from all corners of the house if they hear me snapping the woody ends off of asparagus stalks. Asparagus may not be a smelly treat but my dogs think it’s the best thing ever!
Get a pack of asparagus a nd cut the stalks into small ½” (6 mm) pieces.
Prepackaged Single Ingredient, High Value Dog Treats
**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**
A few years ago, it was hard to find prepackaged dog treats that only had one ingredient. I know this because I spent hours online searching and found very few.
When comparing brands, be sure to look at the source of the meat in the treats. Research details such as:
- What country is it from?
- Is it grass fed?
- Free range?
- Hormone free?
Today, there are a great variety of single ingredient dog treats on the market; here are some top contenders.
Whole Life Pet Products Just One Treats
Dog Chits Lung Chews (these need to be cut into small pieces)
Stewart Freeze Dried Treats
I checked with the company and they confirmed these treats are made with rBGH free milk.
Prepackaged Multiple Ingredient Treats with High Quality Ingredients
These treats contain probiotics; they are freeze dried so probiotics aren’t harmed
The Honest Kitchen Bite-Size Cookies
How do I Know if the Ingredients in my Dog’s Treats are Healthy?
I could make a list that would double the size of this article if I tried to list the unhealthy ingredients I see in dog treats.
Instead, I’ll give you a few general rules of thumb that make picking natural & healthy dog treats much easier.
- If the treat contains meat, you want to see that actual meat in the ingredient list. For example, “chicken,” not “chicken byproducts” or “chicken meal.”
- If you don’t know what an ingredient is, beware. At the very least, Google it and figure out if it’s something healthy. Most of the time it’s not.
- Note the quantity of ingredients. In my opinion, simpler is better. Can you find a treat with fewer ingredients?
- Note the quality level of the products. This means look for quality indicators like:
- GMO Free
- Antibiotic-free or hormone-free meats
- rBGH free dairy
- Freeze Dried (low heat prevents the killing of enzymes, probiotics, etc)
- Read about the company’s practices. If a company has statements on their efforts to source sustainably, reduce waste, and other beneficial practices, many times this responsible business ethic is reflected in their ingredients.
Don’t Forget the Treat Pack!
When you are training a dog, a good treat pack goes a long way.
If you have to fumble for your treat, the delay may negate the dog’s association between the behavior and the reward. If you want to be sure you are timing the treat to reinforce the behavior, read my article on Clicker Training Your Dog.
I prefer a treat pack that is small enough to carry around with me for sustained periods of time. My favorites are:
This treat pack is my favorite. It’s a bit on the smaller side, but because of that it’s not in the way if I want to wear it around the house for hours or on a long walk.
It has a magnetic closure for easy access and a small pocket in the front for poop bags.
I love Ruffwear’s stuff. Key points about it are
1) magnetic closure allows me to whip it open quickly and snap it shut. (I can’t stand the drawstring ones).
2) It’s a bit bigger than the Ollydog so can hold more treats if I’m going on a long walk with a dog that will need a lot of training treats.
This is similar to the Ollydog (I haven’t tried this one), magnetic closure and nice size.
If you like a bigger, more multi-purpose treat pack, check out this one.
You can load a roll of poop bags in the dispenser, keep your cell phone and keys in a separate zippered compartment, and fill the roomy main compartment with treats.
Change up the Treats You Use
As I mentioned earlier, don’t forget to change up which treats you are using. Switching flavors and treats makes your dog want the new one more; when they are more interested it helps with your training!
What are Your Favorite Natural & Healthy Dog Treats?
Have you found a healthy dog treat that your dog loves? Share it in the comments below, it’s the best way to help the Happy Natural Dog community find new healthy treat ideas!
Until next time-