FAQ: Can you give a dog too many treats?

Every so often someone asks me this question, and the answer is: Yes, definitely. Giving your dog too many treats creates problems both mentally and physically. Let’s talk about that.

Physical problems

This is obvious: too many treats creates a dog who’s overweight and who doesn’t eat his or her food (and therefore is malnourished). If you need to give your dog a lot of treats for training purposes, and you don’t want either of these to happen, consider giving your dog a high quality kibble as their “treat.” Either reserve half their breakfast as their “treats” for the day, or buy a whole different kind of kibble and use that as treats. Either way, you want to adjust their food accordingly.

Too many treats (aka, too much sugar) can also cause health problems such as diabetes in dogs. Keep your dog healthy: cut down on the treats.

Mental problems

Far more importantly for training purposes, giving dogs too many treats causes mental problems. Now, I don’t mean it makes your dogs crazy (though dogs, like humans, get sugar highs). I mean it causes problems that are governed by the brain. For instance, if your dog is getting treats at random, then when you ask them to work for a treat (sit, come, be friendly, don’t jump, behave), they have no reason to do so. Why work for something when you’re going to get it for free later?

In addition, if they’re used to getting high value treats — whether it’s because they’ve worked for them or just because they’re getting treats in general — then low value treats will lose their incentive. Why should I work for carrots when I normally get potato chips? Your dog feels the same way!

Sometimes people will ask me if they can give their dog treats “just because.” The answer is yes, but rarely. The more training the dog is undergoing, the fewer “just because” treats they should get — we want them to be motivated for training! My dogs, who rarely have to learn anything new anymore, get “just because” treats once a week. Some dogs get them once a day. But those dogs are dogs who are PERFECTLY BEHAVED and have no problems! If you need your dog to be motivated by food, use treats sparingly.

Now, if you can’t stand the thought of giving them no treats except when they work for it, try giving them their kibble as an occasional (occasional) treat. It’s a fun snack, and it’s low value.

“Jenna!” I hear you cry. “What do you mean, ‘work for it’? What does that entail? I always ask my dog to sit before I give her a treat!”

If I ask Lily to sit, and she sits, she DOES NOT get a treat. She’s not working for it. She knows that command like the back of her hand. She’s done it a million times. It’s automatic. If, however, I ask her to sit and stay as we answer the door, she gets a treat for that. Not because she doesn’t know how to sit or stay, but because doing so in the face of TWO NEW HANDS TO PET HER is really hard.  She has to work at that, so she gets a treat. When I try to teach her something brand new, she gets not just a treat, but a high value treat — something to create incentive to work hard and learn this difficult new thing, rather than giving up or getting bored and walking away.

Ideally, unless your dog has no problems whatsoever, they should only get treats when they work for it. Low value treats or kibble are perfect for easy things. High value treats should be reserved for harder things. But note that if you give them a lot of low value treats, they’ll be too full for the high value treats! So, regardless, don’t over-do it. If your dog is in training, reserve treats for that. If they’re mostly perfect, give them occasional (once a week to once a day) low value treats. If they’re having to really work on something, nix the treats altogether unless it’s for training.

Finally, I get a lot of people who say the following:

Spouse 1: Our dog doesn’t jump on people when I tell him not to.
Spouse 2: Our dog jumps on everyone, no matter what I tell him!

This is extremely common. Dogs relate differently to different people, and respond differently to different people, and have different manners for different people! If you are Spouse 1, and you don’t have a problem with your dog but someone else in your family does and is training them… don’t, for the love of god, undermine that person’s efforts by filling your dog up on treats, or giving your dog high value treats so they’re uninterested in more treats! If one person in the family is training, the others in the family need to support those efforts in the easiest way possible: by not interfering.

So, in short:
If your dog is nearly perfect (for everyone in the family), they can have a low value “just because” treat once a week to once a day.
If your dog is in training, reserve treats for training.
If they are in training, use high value treats for the hard stuff, and low value treats for the easy stuff. Don’t fill them up on low value treats!
And finally: Support each other!

Jenna

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9 thoughts on “FAQ: Can you give a dog too many treats?

  1. this is really helpful advice, but could you clarify how much is too much? a number range would be really helpful. i have been giving my frenchie treats whenever he goes to the bathroom in the yard, when he comes on command, and sporadically when he goes in his crate. this amounts to as many as 10 training treats in a day. is it too much?

  2. The problem with specifying a number is that different treats will have different numbers, as will different sizes of dogs! If you’re giving your frenchie little treats, and he’s still eating his kibble and responding appropriately to the treats, and he’s not overweight, then 10 is not too much. On the other hand, if each treat is the size of his paw, ten is probably overkill.

    If you find you’re giving him even more than that (as often happens with puppies) or they’re large treats (compared to some part of his body), then swap out some of the treats for kibbles instead. But if you’re just giving him little treats, I’d think ten is fine!

  3. I have spoiled my dog, “Rat terrier” I know it’s a bad thing to a point, but now Iv been giving him treats 3-4 times a day, and he’s over waight, he hardly won’t touch dog food, how do I correct this problem??

  4. My female 7 year old pug keeps getting bladder/kidney infections. Could giving her too many begging strips cause this? Thank you

    Michelle Sekelsky

  5. (btw I’m a kid, and I have to go to school)
    I’m currently bite-inhibiting and potty training my 2mth old miniature schnauzer puppy, Blau.
    It’s getting really hard with school and all that, because when I’m not home, one family member comes home to stay with Blau. She never uses toys to play with her and is always touching her with bare arms and hands. Blau then play bites her, which is a problem because the family member does nothing about it, and instead gives Blau a treat…
    This also happens with the potty training. Also, my puppy has recently been biting on wall corner, which my family member gave a treat for, therefore I don’t think it will stop anytime soon…
    She also gives Blau a treat for anything, 2 days ago the bag was pretty much full, I only gave her 1 big treat cut in 3 small pieces for when I cleaned her eyes, ears and teeth, but today there are only 2 treats in the bag…

    This is pretty annoying because I remind her every day to not give the dog treats when I’m not here, or even give her much attention, because Blau has to start understanding that we won’t always give her attention.
    Blau has lately been play barking/growling for attention, which she didn’t do a week ago.

    My family member says she won’t be so fond of Blau when she reaches her adult body, which is also a hard thing for me to do, since it’s impossible that she gradually stops giving her attention, because she just won’t listen to me. This would mean one day, when Blau is about 6mth old my family member will suddenly stop playing with her, etc, which could possibly be very traumatic for Blau, in my opinion.

    She also overfeed the puppy her actual food (she’s soposed to get 4 spoonfuls (from a big baby spoon) at 8a.m, 1p.m and 8p.m, but she gets given about 6 spoonfuls at 1p.m, since my family member thinks she’s hungry…). This +half a bag of big high value puppy treats every day, except on weekends, when she just can have 1 treat per day, or maybe a healthy homemade cookie when she ‘sits’ (it’s been hard, but Blau finally made it to her 1st treat for tht reason).

    I’m really scared of the physical and phsycological damage this could make to my puppy in the future, but my family member will just not listen to me, and nod when I talk about taking care of the puppy when I’m not home……

    I’m thinking about filling the house with posters of puppy-caring rules, which she probably won’t even recycle.

    Please help me, I’m desperate.
    I’m also suffering post-puppy depression since I’m worried all this will make my puppy love my family member more than me. Blau’s already greeting her with a better and happier attitude than she greets me with…

  6. Thank You I read the entire passage. It was really useful and you are very good with dogs, I hope other people trust your advice on this passage, like I did. Again Thank You!!! You desirve a THUMBS UP!!!👍🏻👌🏻🤗🤗🤗🤗 bye
    From:Ari

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