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Diamonds in the Ruff

Sensitive Stomach?  Allergies?  Picky eater?  Stress or Anxiety? 

It can be challenging to find suitable high value food rewards for dogs with sensitive stomachs or food allergies!

Think outside the box. 

You aren't limited to "only the safe kibble" which won't be motivating enough to interest your dog highly distracting or stressful situations.  Dog food kibble can be fine when training at home or for incredibly easy-to-motivate dogs, but it won't be enough in distracting or concerning environments.


Dogs who have upset stomachs are often upset dogs.  Even if you fed them nothing but their regular brand of dog food, stress can cause loose stool.  In the exciting class environment or when competing with the sights and smells of the real world, your dog will be more interested in real cubed meat, soft-moist treats or canned foods that are calorie dense with high moisture content.  These will work much better in the face of high level distractions in the real world than boring, old, dry, dog cereal.  High value, highly desirable rewards are essential to help form new and positive associations for worried, fearful and excitable dogs   Adrenalin and stress chemicals suppress appetite and sometimes 'get things moving' in the intestines.  You may find as your dog acclimates and relaxes, his digestive tract will settle down, too.  Calming supplements may also help.

Don't neglect the smell factor!  You can give them bacon flavor without actually giving them bacon!  Rice cake bits or cheerios left in a bag with a slice of bacon will take on the smell of bacon and still be safe choices.  Chop a sweet potato into small cubes and dry the bits in the oven on low heat to make little 'jerky bits' to add variety to your treat mix.  These could be good 'medium grade' options in lower-distraction environments and/or add a little variety for easy-to-please dogs.


Look on the ingredients list on the food they CAN eat.  It will give you a list safe options for training rewards.  If the primary meat source is chicken, cook and cube some chicken!


Look for single source ingredients like Vital Essentials label shown here.  What is the tolerated meat source?  Be on the look-out for unknown or additional ingredients.  "Animal fat" could be ANY animal.  The list at right is all beef, BUT there is a small amount of herring oil.  (If fish is fine, this won't be a problem.)  What is the safe binder in your dog's food?  (Rice flour?  Oatmeal?  Sweet potato?)   This will give you a starting point of things your dog CAN eat and will like enough to work for them in their "pure" non-cereal form.  These are things you can safely use as high value rewards. 

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If your dog is on a special diet, purchase the canned version of what he can eat, and use a Go-Toob, camping food tube, or large plastic syringe.  By squeezing out just a tiny "lick" you can limit the quantity of amazing high value reward and keep your hands clean when delivering it.

These are great for salmon cream cheese, peanut butter, baby food. 

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If your vet has put your pup on a bland diet for stomach upset (unrelated to illness), they have probably given you instructions on what foods you may feed your dog, like boiled hamburger, baby food, chicken and rice, and/or low-fat cottage cheese.  These bland foods can be combined in a blender and turned into a soft paste that can be delivered on a spoon or from a Go Toob, camping tube, or large syringe.  Thin with broth or thicken with rice flour, if needed, to get the proper consistency for ease of delivery.

Pro-biotics can help your dog adjust to new foods as well as lessen the effects of all the excitement and stress of the classroom.  Ask your veterinarian!   Prairie Dog Pet Mercantile carries a great brand of pro-biotic powder that you can add to your dog's meals.  Making your own treats?  You can add probiotic to the mix!


Happy Howie!  Natural Balance!  Dog food meat rolls are great high value options with limited ingredients that are often easy on the stomach and healthy options that dogs love.  Check the label for anything that your dog is sensitive to, and choose a meat source you know your dog tolerates well.

Note:  The Pet Fresh brand of dog food roll that is found in a refrigerated section of the grocery store is not a good product for class treats.  It is too moist and mushy.

Too much of a good thing?  A high rate of reinforcement is the key to successful training.  The higher the value, the smaller each reward can be. This eliminates satiation and weight gain, as well as lessening the impact of the total amount of food hitting the digestive tract.  This is especially important for tiny breeds - think lentil sized bits!  Whatever you add during training should be subtracted from his bowl at meal time.  Be aware that variety is key.  A tiny bit of low-fat string cheese that comprises about 10% or less of your treat mix is fine.  A pound of cheddar is not!

Make your own.  You can also use the canned version of a special diet as a base for baking your own high-value "training brownies" using ingredients your dog can handle.  Use the safe "binder" in your dog's dry kibble, such as rice flour to thicken the canned food as needed  Press into a non-stick brownie pan and bake on low temperature until it is the consistency you want.  Cube and refrigerate.

A silicone baking mat, like this one, available on Amazon, can be used to make pre-cut tiny training rewards in the flavor of your choice.  Great for dogs on special diets. Press your batter into the squares and scrape off excess.  350 degrees, 10-12 minutes. Let cool and stretch the sides to loosen the teeny treats.  Dump them out!

Recipe and directions > CLICK HERE

Here is a recipe for de-hydrated turkey jerky treats (you could use any appropriate meat for your particular dog's needs, as long as it is lean meat.)

Be creative when it comes to High Value Options!

If your dog is tiny, picky, on a special diet, or highly distracted or fearful, he needs super duper, extra-high value rewards!  It can be challenging to find what he likes and that his digestive system can tolerate.


A food tube or syringe may be the answer!


Honest Kitchen is an excellent dehydrated raw food in powdered form.  Just add enough hot water to mix it to the desired consistency.  You can add pate' style canned dog or cat food for added palatability and put the mixture in a GoToob or plastic syringe.  You can also use Honest Kitchen as an addition to homemade treat mixtures.


Here's a great article by Eileenanddogs  and a video on how to create and fill a home made food tube.  Great for dispensing canned or raw food as a training reward.

You can find them at Target in the kitchen section or camping stores carry them.

Other suggestions to tempt Picky Eaters and Stressed Dogs

If your dog has a food sensitivity, read the label and be sure to pick appropriate ingredients!

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Adrenalin suppresses appetite.  Nervous dogs are often picky dogs.  Be creative!
Baby food, dehydrated or freeze-dried raw food, canned cheese, innards of any kind - liver, heart, gizzards, canned tripe, dried fish skins, fake crab, natural peanut butter (no xylitol!)  Cat treats are great because they are small and smelly.  Dehydrated liver. You can crush it into powder and sprinkle it on anything you want to make higher value.  Peanut butter sandwich, rolled flat with a rolling pin and cut into tiny squares with a pizza cutter.  Ask your dog what makes his tail wag!

Vegan and not comfortable cooking or handling meat?  Any meat substitute will probably be a reward choice you can both agree on.  Of course, if your dog has a sensitivity to soy products, you may find that your carnivore will do better on the real thing.


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