Today I’d like to let you all in on a little secret. My go-to high value training treat is…
Why Cat Food Makes a Great Training Treat
The more I use cat food – specifically, wet cat food that comes in cans or pouches – for training, the more I love it.
First, it’s extremely portable. Small cans of cat food are just 3 ounces. The pouches usually weigh even less than that. It’s easy to throw a few cans into your training bag and you don’t have to worry about them getting crushed or spilling. (Is there anything worse than cleaning the “powder” from freeze-dried treats out of the nooks and crannies of your bait bag? If you get it wet at all it just melts… ugh.)
It’s cheap! Even premium cat food is less than $2 for a little can. Ounce-for-ounce, it’s one of the most cost-effective training treats in my arsenal.
Most dogs are crazy for it. This is the important part. Dogs love smelly, moist food that is usually off-putting to people. Most traditionally “super high value” treats, such as liverwurst, tripe, brie, and sardines, are expensive, perishable, and must be cut up or otherwise handled. Not so with cat food – just pop open a can and you’re good to go.
How to Use Cat Food for Dog Training
I am using canned cat food to train Spark’s teeter performance. I want to use a treat that he loves so he will also love the teeter. (So far, so good – he’s always trying to get on it, and when he climbed on his first full-height dogwalk the other day, he seemed genuinely bummed out when it didn’t tip!)
Spark’s preference is to eat cat food that is a “stew”, not a “pâté.” (This isn’t surprising – the stews are way more fragrant.) Specifically, he likes the Wellness Healthy Indulgence pouches and, when I can find them, Weruva cans.
I open the can or pouch and dump the contents into a small collapsible food bowl made of silicone. This is easy for me to hold while I run and I don’t have to worry about him breaking a tooth on it in his gusto to snarf down the food.
The training process itself is simple. I wait for the desired behavior, mark it with a click, then present the food bowl for Spark to take a mouthful of cat food. Yes, he’s a clever little dog and tries to grab the biggest mouthful he can. Not a big deal. I use the smallest bowl I can find, which decreases the amount of food he can grab.
Squeeze Tube Format
Another way to use cat food for dog training is to put it in a reusable squeeze tube. I mentioned this in my blog post Food Toys for Agility Training. Clean Run sells inexpensive squeeze tubes, but I find the clip at the bottom of the tube quickly becomes brittle and shatters after several uses.
I have also used GoToobs, which are meant for travel toiletries, with some success. The hole is a bit small for our purposes, and I find the silicone retains the smell of the cat food. (Gross!)
My next project is to try a cake decorator pen, which I discovered during a trip to Sur La Table this week with Dan. They come with silicone tips, which should be gentle on the dogs’ teeth, and I like the idea of using different size tips depending on what food I’m using (cat food, liverwurst, peanut butter, etc.) and which dog I’m training.
What Say You?
If you’ve ever used cat food to train your dogs, or if you have another solution to using “gross” and messy treats during training, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments section what has worked for you.