Month: February 2021

Like most people who train through positive reinforcement, I use a lot of training treats. Doubly so because I am often using them for client’s dogs etc. That means my treat budget is pretty extensive compared to a lot of my other expenses. And as we all know the best treats with the best ingredients are kind of expensive.

Another concern is for dogs who have strict dietary restrictions, getting away from common allergens like chicken, or rosemary can be really challenging. Not to mention expensive. And none of us really want to give more money to amazon or chewy. So I have a homemade training treat that is amazing! Dogs love it and it’s super easy to make! (Not to mention cheap.)

For the recipe I made here I use multiple kinds of baby food, but you can use a single flavor, or any combination you want. The key is to use the flour to help balance it out. The first time I made these I just baked the baby food, the results were tasty but mostly flavored air crisps. They crumbled with the slightest touch, and were mostly air. Obviously this is not ideal for storing in a treat pouch.

What you need: mixing bowl, spatula, large baking sheet, silicone triangle mat.

Available via Amazon. I know, I know, you can check your local restaurant supply for them too.

Basic Recipe:

13 to 14oz baby food

1 cup flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix together baby food and flour to form a consistency that is thicker then the baby food, but easy to spread.
  3. Spread in inverted silicone trays. I just glob it in the middle and spread it out, scraping off any excess so it’s all level. I don’t really worry about the edges since the goal here is to create treats as easily as possible and I am not detail oriented. At all.
  4. Bake. 10 to 13 minutes, I kind of eye ball them if they look like they are going to burn I take them out.
  5. Let cool enough you can dump them out. They will pop right out of the silicone tray, I just roll it and out they come. I do not grease the tray ahead of time.
  6. Let cool completely, toss into a jar for storing. I do keep them in the fridge when not in use since I don’t dry them into hard rocks, and there are no preservatives in them. You want them to be cool completely before storing because the heat escaping will create steam that will make them too soggy long term.
  7. Let your dog lick the bowl.

For this recipe I used 4oz Apple, 4oz pumpkin, 2.5oz Chicken and 2.5oz turkey. You can use any combination of flavors. You could even use peanut butter but if you do you might want to adjust the flour content to ensure you don’t end up with a paste that is too difficult to spread. I like using baby food because you can control the ingredients, and make sure you aren’t accidentally getting something in there that is not diet approved for dogs who are restricted, or need to manager their calories. (I haven’t experimented with using canned dog food yet, I am planning too soon though! But with canned food there are often a lot of additives and stabilizers that I don’t necessarily care about, but also don’t really need to add when baby food is pretty cheap and easily obtained. Also with canned food you will need a pate variety with no “chunks” unless you want to take the step to run it through a food processor first. No chunky, all smooth.)

It is really that easy. And I have two trays, I filled them both completely and baked them. There was a little batter left over that I split between the dogs and let my youngest lick the bowl before putting it all in the dish washer. (The trays can go through the dish washer too!)

Voila. Easy, delicious, entirely customizable dog treats! No spending half your day cutting hot dogs, or cheese. All in all when I make these it takes maybe half an hour. And most of that is just baking the trays (I bake them one at a time since my oven isn’t super large.)

Let me know if you try them!

I think there are a lot of things we
over look in working with dogs; everything from the importance of
knowing when to stop, the idea of cutting yourself some slack, the
idea of loving the dog you're with etc. All of these are things other
people have covered (often times better than I could myself) or
things I mean to write about but get distracted (hello, ADH—oo
shiney!) But the one I want to discuss today is something that I like
to tell people at the end of my reactive dog classes; and it's this:
this difficult dog you have, right here, right now, is going to make
you better.

We all know of the dog who is
“difficult.” Perhaps they are incredibly fearful, hyper reactive,
aggressive, or maybe they are just really difficult to motivate;
whatever it is we know this dog. We might even own this dog. And when
we are buried under a mountain of self doubt and frustration, anger
and resentment because we just want Fido to be normal for god's
sake... We have to take a moment to remember a few things.

The first is that no matter how
frustrating this situation is for you, it's equally, if not more,
frustrating for your dog. They don't want to constantly be feeling
the way they do (angry, frightened, upset, overstimulated – pick
your adjective.) They don't want to be living with their own stress
and they really don't want to be living with your stress, either. So
matter how bad it gets, remember you are not in it alone, Fido is
right there beside you (wreaking havoc and stirring the pot, but he's
there just the same.)

And the second thing to remember is
that this dog will make you better. He will challenge you, he will
force you to better understand him (and all dogs) and meet his needs.
He will demand you learn more, that you hone your skills, that you
sharp your intellect and your creativity. .He will force you to be
more compassionate, and more understanding of some one else's needs
and desires. And in doing so; you will be better. This dog, the one
who is yet again throwing a fit at the end of the leash when a
situation went sideways, will make you better. He will teach you to
remain calm under overwhelming pressure. He will teach you to see
things from his perspective, no matter how weird and different it is,
to better understand why he's reacting the way he is, and how you can
help him cope. He will teach you to break things down into smaller
and smaller pieces until his hyper-drive over stimulated little brain
can chew it and learn it. This dog, this exasperating furry heathen
that you love and are trying so hard for, is going to make you a
better version of yourself.

So when you're ready to throw in the
towel because you just CAN'T any more; think about all you've gained.
Think about how differently you approach training; it's no longer
something you could do, but something you must do. Think about how
differently you view dog interactions than you did before ,how you
can read a dog's body language better, that you recognize signs of
stress and signals that a dog is uncomfortable long before anything
ever escalates to an argument. Think about how creative you've become
in teaching skills in tiny little nibbles over time to achieve a much
larger goal. Think about how when the dog acts up, or out, you stop
and think of the situation from his perspective instead of assuming
his behavior is the result of malice or incompetence. Consider how
you know that being negative about a situation rarely helps, but
instead how to look at the positives, and that being encouraging is
more fruitful than being discouraging.

Now think about how incredibly valuable
potential employers will find these skills, how much easier it is to
interact with people when you know how to view the disagreement from
their side, and how to approach a task from a variety of angles so
every one can learn and benefit. These are skills employers spend a
significant amount of money trying to teach their employees,
seminars, and guest speakers and corporate retreats and team building
exercises. Think about how much you can expand your resume under
“special skills” because you've managed to figure out a way to
coexist with a very difficult being, and love them anyway, and teach
them things, and help them become a better version of themselves.

So often dog owners are so busy trying
to find a reason, a solution, a fix for a problem they forget to
realize that they are already stepping above and beyond. In simply
actively trying to help their dog they are achieving something a lot
of people never do; compassion, desire and understanding. And they
forget to take a step back and smile, and feel good about their
successes (Even when they are small, or short lived) and in
forgetting to reward themselves for the work they have already done;
they don't appreciate their own efforts. This is especially true with
reactive dog owners, they don't see that they have closed the
threshold from 10 feet to 9 feet and 2 inches. They only see the
remaining 8 feet and 10 inches to go. But in doing so they don't give
themselves enough credit for that success. But those small steps, and
those little victories will eventually build themselves to something
great. But appreciating the success along the way is important for
our sense of self worth and self esteem and motivation to keep going.
I get clients who are frustrated, and stressed and often very upset
and worried for their pets. And it's easy to get caught up in those
feelings, so I like to have them take a deep breath, and I start
asking about other things with their dog. Things their dog does well.
Things their dog likes. Things they find amusing, or lovable about
their dog in particular. And then I point out how much better Fido is
doing at walking to a heel, or some other (relatively) trivial skill
they weren't intentionally focusing on but has become a byproduct of
their other efforts. And then I ask them about what caused the
situation that was so stressful for them this week, and I point out
every single instance when they correctly identify the triggers for
their dog's behavior, they take ownership of their own mistakes, or
they correctly identify and address a dog's body language cues etc.
Things they overlooked in their fret over the bigger picture. And
with in a few minutes the conversation has changed from “Why can't
he just be normal?” to “Okay, how do I keep helping him improve?
What else should I be doing?” And in that their attitude has
changed, and they are brighter, more determined and refreshed for the
uphill battles ahead. All because I pointed out how well they were
doing; not necessarily how well Fido is doing because his behavior is
irrelevant to the human's need to recognize and remember how much
they are growing along side their dog. And even with clients I've
been working with for a while, who's difficult behaviors are well
managed and altered to significant degrees, I occasionally remind the
owner how proud I am of them, and how far they have come. So they
never forget how much work THEY did and how much THEY improved right
along side their dog.

Remember when you're knee deep in
frustration, stress and are ready to strangle the dog: that this
exhausting, exasperating and lovable ball of fluff is making you a
better version of yourself. And pat yourself on the back for it.
Because you deserve it for a job well done.