In Training? 5 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Trim While Using Treats

A well-behaved dog need not be a fat one. Combine positive reinforcement with a healthy weight.

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As many of you reading this know, Lucky Puppy and Dogster advocate and support positive reinforcement training. This means that many of our training recommendations involve rewarding a dog who displays good behavior with treats. But some dogs tend to gain weight more quickly than others (such as Labrador Retrievers vs. Greyhounds), and giving them lots of treats can become a health issue. So we put together a list of tips and alternative treat ideas that you can use with your dog after the initial training phase. Also, treats should only be 5-10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake.

1. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise

Dogs have a system much like humans do — calories in must be less than or equal to calories out if you want to lose or maintain your weight. But that doesn’t mean you need to start counting calories with your dog. Feed your dog the proper amount based on feeding guidelines and try to get him out for at least a 30-minute walk a few times a week. If you notice your dog packing on the pounds, you can always adjust the amount of food he is eating or go for a longer walk. It’s normal for your dog to gain a little weight in the summer or winter, when you are likely less active due to high or low temps.

2. Use alternative rewards to treats

Some dogs love tennis balls, some love tug toys, and some love praise and scratches. Whatever your dog loves, mix that in with treats. For some training exercises, like going outside or going off-leash, the reward is walking or getting freedom from the leash, so treats aren’t always necessary anyway.

3. Ask your dog to do more for the same reward

Once your dog knows a couple of commands, you can string them together before giving her a reward. One activity I do in my group classes is called puppy push-ups. We ask the dogs to sit-down-sit, and then we reward. When you do this, it’s important to mix it up —sometimes reward after one behavior, sometimes after three, sometimes after four, then after two. Keep your dog guessing. If your dog stops doing what you ask, go back to rewarding after every behavior for a few repetitions.

4. Use lower-calorie treats

Frozen green beans by Shutterstock.
Frozen green beans by Shutterstock.

When one of my dogs was gaining weight, our vet recommended using frozen green beans as treats. They are crunchy and low calorie, and my dog LOVES them! You can also give your dog most fruits and veggies as treats, but some fruits have a lot of sugar, and some veggies have to be cooked first (like potatoes). Check this list before giving your dog fruits or vegetables. Not all dogs will eat just anything, so look for lower-calorie or freeze-dried treats in the store, or use plain boiled chicken or lean ground meat as a reward.

5. Give your dog a Kong with natural peanut butter

This one is especially good if you are rewarding your dog for going into her crate, or to keep her busy while you are away from home. This can also keep her busy while you are cooking dinner or doing something at home, without you having to constantly pay attention and reward her. Tip: Put the peanut butter in the Kong and then freeze it. (Be sure that whichever brand of peanut butter you choose does not contain the toxic-to-dogs sweetener xylitol.) It will take your dog longer to eat. Kong has a great list of healthy recipes to swap in so you aren’t using peanut butter every day (too much can put you right back in the situation of needing lower calorie treats).

Top photo: Man training dog with treats by Shutterstock.

Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at and Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.


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