For many dogs, treats are a part of their daily routine. While it’s a great feeling to do something nice for those you love, when it comes to dogs, it’s important to know why you’re doing it. Giving treats at random is not only a surefire way to help your canine pal gain weight, but depending on what you’re giving them, it could be negatively affecting their nutrition as well.
There are, however, times when giving treats is appropriate, and even beneficial (besides the fact that our dogs love us for it). Here are a few examples of these:
Food is a powerful motivator for many dogs and can be a huge help when you’re training. Teaching new behaviours and commands, toilet and crate training puppies, and teaching positive associations with triggers (in reactive or fearful dogs) are all times when treats are appropriate. This is because treats reinforce what a dog is doing is a good thing, therefore increasing the chance of repeating the behaviour.
It’s important to note, however, that while treats can be given in abundance during training, those calories add up, and fast. Giving small amounts of nutritious treats (we’ll discuss options for those later) and smaller meals on training days will help your dog avoid gaining unnecessary weight during training, as well as contributing to their overall nutrition.
Dogs need mental stimulation/enrichment in order to thrive. Many of what we consider to be “bad” behaviours in dogs are often due to a sheer lack of excitement in their lives — they’re bored! Thankfully, you don’t always have to exercise them for hours on end to satisfy their need for stimulation; mental activities can be super helpful too. In fact, cognitive stimulation can greatly improve overall animal wellbeing. 
Treats for enrichment can be things like snuffle mats, puzzle toys, stuffed Kongs, natural chews (more on those later), and raw meaty bones. Anything safe and healthy that gets your dog’s jaw muscles moving (and their brain problem solving) will help to cure boredom and leave them feeling satisfied. Added bonus: these options can also be helpful for dogs with anxiety-related behaviours, as they can be calming and comforting while dogs work on them.
When dogs aren’t getting the nutrition they need from their diets — or aren’t consuming enough calories — treats can be a good supplement to provide the dog vitamins they’re missing. This can happen for various reasons, including changes in food preferences or feeling unwell. Another good reason to supplement your dog’s diet with treats is to provide them with a snack before bed, to avoid the dreaded “hunger pukes.”
Choosing healthy treats are even more important when dogs are already missing out on key nutritional elements. Make sure the treats you’re using to supplement their diet will help to provide what they need more of to give them a nutritional boost. Treats should include things like single-ingredient proteins, with no fillers. Dog-friendly bone broth and other natural, dog-safe ingredients will also help to plug nutritional gaps.
Every dog owner knows the tell-tale odour of dog breath – and it’s not something we should necessarily put up with. Bad breath can actually mean that your dog’s teeth aren’t as healthy as they should be. There are ways to help them with their offensive breath and their dental health. Aside from cleaning their teeth on a regular basis, the act of chewing can be very beneficial for dogs’ dental health, provided you give them the right chewing source.
To note, while it’s tempting to grab a bag of commercial brand dental chews, they typically don’t contribute to your dog’s nutrition. With ingredients like glycerin, various starches, and even sugar, these aren’t something you can give your dog long term without seeing adverse effects on their health. Nature’s option is much better: natural chews like antlers, raw meaty bones, and dried hooves are all great ways to help keep your dog’s teeth tartar-free, and they’ll enjoy them, too!