As a dog training professional, you know that positive reinforcement is the best way to shape canine behavior. But all those food rewards can add up and cause pups to gain excess weight during training. How can you and your clients keep dogs from packing on the pounds while still giving them the repetitive rewarding that effective training demands? Read on.
The 10% Rule
Canine nutritionists recommend that dogs get no more than 10% of their daily caloric intake from treats, with the other 90% coming from a well-balanced nutritional food. A look at a 30-pound dog’s daily caloric requirements shows how easy it is to go over this 10% limit when repetitive rewarding is used in training.
A popular formula for calculating a dog’s total daily caloric Resting Energy Requirement (RER) is: the dog’s weight in kilograms x 30 + 70. This would give our 30-pound (13.6-kilogram) dog a total daily requirement of 478 calories, with about 48 calories (10%) allowed to come from treats. (Keep in mind this is the basic “resting” requirement. The RER formula may be adjusted based on factors like age, activity level and reproductive status, so always consult a veterinarian to find out how many calories any specific dog needs daily.)
Unfortunately, our 30-pound pup can easily be given well over her entire 48-calorie treat allotment in just one training session. Too often, high-fat foods such as cheese are used as training reinforcers. A one-inch cube of cheese may contain 60-110 calories, depending on the type. Even if this cube were to be cut into 8 very tiny pieces (not so easy to do), our example dog could be given only 6 treats a day at most --and a mere 3.5 treats if the highest-fat cheese were used-- without going over the 48-calorie limit. That’s not going to go very far in teaching training commands!
Stay Skinny With Minis
That’s why it’s so important for trainers and pet parents to choose a training reward that’s not only delicious enough to motivate their canine student, but also low enough in calories that it can be given repeatedly without causing the dog to break the scales. Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards were designed specifically to meet these training demands.
At just 1.5 calories per treat (1.6 for the Grain-Free version), Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards are perfect for repetitive rewarding. Our 30-pound dog can consume up to 32 Pet Botanics Mini treats daily without going over the 48-calorie limit. That’s enough for some serious training – plus a few extras left over for showing the pup some love and affection after the lesson is over!
In addition to the Originals, Pet Botanics Minis are available in a Grain-Free version. Original Pet Botanics Minis come in Chicken, Beef, Bacon and Salmon flavors, while the Grain-Free treats are offered in Chicken, Duck Bacon, and Salmon flavors. All Pet Botanics Minis – Original and Grain-Free – are have an irresistible taste that will motivate canine students to perform. This will help shorten the learning curve, without having to use high-fat rewards, allowing dogs to maintain a healthy weight during training. (See the following article for more information about Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards.)
Another strategy trainers and pet parents can use to keep pups-in-training from packing on the pounds is to give fewer rewards. Research has shown that once a dog has learned a command or behavior, he may actually retain that behavior better if he is not rewarded every time he performs it.
For example, once a dog reliably obeys the “Sit” command, try withholding the treat reward and giving it to him only every second, third or fourth time he sits on command, varying the intervals. Behaviorists call this intermittent reinforcement.
Intermittent reinforcement can make a dog’s learned behavior very durable. He knows it will eventually pay off so he becomes more focused and will try harder to perform the desired action.
With intermittent reinforcement, it’s truly a case of “less is more,” since you get better training with fewer rewards. When this strategy is combined with a low-calorie, treat that’s also very irresistible – like Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards – trainers and pet parents have a powerful one-two punch for eliminating the problem of weight gain during training.