Accelerating Our Puppy’s Training Using High-Value Dog Food

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When we first brought home our puppy, I thought I had stocked up on a great selection of training treats that he would love and do anything for. However, it started to become apparent after a few days that while he would eat the treats, he wasn’t exactly falling over himself to get them! I realized, on reflection and some research, that we needed to get hold of what dog-trainers call ‘high-value’ food as rewards, particularly for the important fundamentals of puppy training – and apparently the treats I had bought were not sufficiently high-value to Kepler. Thanks to Freshpet for sponsoring this article.

What does this have to do with trail running and adventuring, you may ask? Well, it’s really important to us that he grows up to be a well-behaved good citizen who can come out on all our adventures and be a Good Boy in the home, so finding some training treats that work for him is also important. A good trail dog needs to be well-trained and responsive to their parents and respectful of other trail users and the environment, just like their owner.

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Real meat as a reward for puppy training

It makes sense that the most coveted food for most dogs is going to be a dog treat that includes a significant portion of real meat – something that our dog trainer made clear to us. Once I had started to appreciate this, I picked up some chicken to see how our puppy would respond to it. I bought shredded chicken breast, pre-cooked and shredded, from the deli counter at our local supermarket (we buy this fairly often for our cats, anyway, so this time I bought twice as much). Now I know the meaning of ‘it worked a treat’! Immediately he was looking at me with that ‘what do I need to do to get it’ attention that I just hadn’t really seen from him previously.

Since using chicken as a training treat, Kepler’s learning has accelerated significantly, because he’s been more excited to work for the reward. He can do a number of cute tricks, like ‘shake’ and ‘wave’, but more importantly he is learning the meaning of commands such as ‘leave it’, and to respond to his name.

Using chicken for training is great, and it works, but I found that as we are doing a lot of training with our puppy, he can end up eating a lot of chicken, even if it’s in small pieces when fed to him, which means the plain chicken meat would end up being a bigger portion of his daily food allowance than his pet food, and I couldn’t be sure he was getting enough balance in his diet. He also has a tendency to get bored of certain foods, so it’s good to find a variety of food to use as treats.

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Alternative to real meat for puppy dog training

I started to look around for a dog food that we could use as Kepler’s meals, but was attractive enough to him to be seen as a great training treat – this way we can use some of his meals as opportunities to do training, and also use the food during his outside training sessions and know that it is formulated to be dog food, not just giving him loads of plain chicken! He enjoys his kibble but not enough for training with, so I wanted to use something fresh and that looks and tastes more like meat, that we could mix in to his daily diet and use for this purpose.

FreshPet Select Multi-Protein Complete Meal

For a while now we’ve been using Freshpet Select, which is fresh dog food that you can find in the refrigerator in supermarkets and pet stores (see Freshpet’s store locator to search by zip code, and also check in your local stores, as our local Target stocks it but didn’t show up on the store locator).

This dog food is exactly what we were looking for – complete dog food that can be served as a meal, but is very meaty, with simple ingredients and made in a form that makes it a great training treat! I like the fact that this is fresh food and has not been rehydrated or frozen in the process, and has no added flavors, colorings or preservatives.

Freshpet Select’s Multi-Protein Complete meal is designed to be just that – a complete meal that can be fed to your dog as his or her daily diet, so they get to have fresh meat and veg in a nutritionally balanced way, rather than sticking to kibble.

While it is designed so that you serve up Freshpet Select as a complete meal in one go, this food is sufficiently high-value to my dog to be used as training treats, especially as the pieces of Freshpet Select are already in bite-size pieces – and if any pieces are bigger than a large pea-size then they are easy to quickly divide into two to three smaller chunks. This means that I can effectively hand-feed our puppy his food as rewards for training and tricks, rather than put it all in a bowl at mealtimes and have him devour it in one go. This way he can work for his dinner and learn something along the way 🙂

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To get the portion size correct, I usually measure out the amount that I want to feed him in total, and then I take from that portion the pieces that I want to use for training, so I’m not over-feeding him.

The ingredients in the Freshpet Select Multi-Protein Complete Meal are chicken, beef and salmon, with sweet potatoes, carrots and green beans. The food is steam cooked (this is not a raw food meal), and you can actually see the pieces of green beans and carrot in the bag. For more about Freshpet and details of the nutritional composition of this dog food visit Freshpet’s website.

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Our puppy still has so much to learn (we are still working on ‘leave-it’ and leash-walking, but his paw-shake and high-5 are looking great!) but at least now we know we have fresh dog food that motivates him and will help us along the way.

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Helen is one of Trail & Kale's co-founders. An experienced trail runner and world traveler, Helen also enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits including hiking, camping and mountain biking.