Dog owners want to be able to give their beloved dogs the best of everything, but sometimes, choices need to be made with finances in mind. With that in mind, I set out to compare two types of dog treats against a highly-rated dog food and answer these questions: Can kibble be used as a dog treat? Will your dog know the difference?
Imagine if your child looked forward to having delicious fresh fruit as a reward, rather than cotton candy and popcorn – most parents would be delighted. Unfortunately, children do not live in a bubble and they do watch TV commercials. Fortunately for dog owners, most dogs are immune to TV commercials touting the latest high-priced dog treat. The commercials are aimed at us, the humans, not the dogs!
Consider this: dog treats are not generally designed to be as healthy for a dog as food. In fact, many dog treat packages now have a maximum number of treats recommended for dogs based on a dog’s weight. Just like you would not want to let a child get away with constantly having ice cream and cookies instead of well-balanced meals, you should not let your dog try to get away with having dog treats instead of well-balanced meals.
In general, most dog treats are more expensive when compared to dog kibble, pound for pound. So not only may it be healthier for your dog to learn to value a particularly yummy brand of dog kibble as a treat, it can be a very economical decision for your budget as well.
I picked two different brands of treats and one brand of dog kibble for comparison. The contenders: Holistic Select Duck and Oatmeal Formula Dry Dog Food, Science Diet brand Simple Essentials Treats Oral Care, and Canyon Creek Ranch brand Natural Duck Tenders. After purchasing the products at a small local pet food chain, I gave my dogs a chance to try a few pieces of each product during a training session, so that the dogs associated each product as a valued reward. The dogs readily accepted the treats and the kibble as rewards throughout the session, without any apparent discrimination or preference between any of the three products.
Since my larger dog has an appropriately larger appetite, I chose to conduct a very unscientific taste-test trial with her as the subject. I put a small amount of each product in individual bowls. I permitted Lucky, my rather willing test subject, to see and sniff what was in each bowl, but not to take anything at first. I did not want the placement of the bowls to be a factor when Lucky would be released to choose which bowl to go to first, so I asked her to hold a position several feet away from where I put the bowls down.
Then I gave her permission to feed. Happily trotting over to the line of bowls, she glanced at the contents as she approached. She immediately selected the Science Diet Oral Care Treats, and proceeded to wolf down the entire contents of the bowl.
I half expected her to just move over to the bowl closest to the one she had emptied, but to my surprise, she sniffed it – and passed it over to move to the Duck Tenders. After devouring the Duck Tenders, she sniffed again at the Holistic Select kibble, and then simply sat and looked at me. Clearly, the kibble was not ranking very high in her mind! I asked her to lay down, and I gently shoved the bowl in front of her. Still no go.
Clearly, even though Lucky is not influenced by TV commercials, she was signifying a strong preference for the treats rather than the kibble, which still was being ignored in the bowl between her paws. Still, would she work for the kibble? Could it still be used as a reward?
I picked up the bowl and then proceeded to ask her to perform various tricks and behaviors, using the kibble as the reward. In relatively short order, the bowl was cleaned out; the kibble still had enough value to warrant perfect behavioral responses. So the answer is yes; kibble can be used as a reward, when other, higher-valued reward choices are no longer available.
It was time to also test the assumption that kibble is more economical to the wallet. I reviewed my receipt to calculate the cost per pound before any coupons I had available.
My test subject’s preferred reward: the mid-priced product, Science Diet’s Simple Essentials Oral Care treats, at $4.53 per pound. The Canyon Creek Ranch Natural Duck Tenders, the highest priced product in the lineup, was her second choice at a pricey $11.99 per pound. The Holistic Select Duck and Oatmeal Formula Dry Dog Food, was the lowest-priced at $2.50 a pound.
Comparative Cost Per Pound
Holistic Select Duck and Oatmeal Formula Dry Dog Food $ 2.50
Science Diet brand Simple Essentials Treats Oral Care $ 4.53
Canyon Creek Ranch brand Natural Duck Tenders $11.99
Clearly, using kibble as a reward rather than treats can be done. One recommendation I would make is that owners reserve a particularly yummy kibble just for treats, thereby differentiating it from the dog’s regular kibbles used in meals. Dog owners looking to find some financial relief can switch from high-priced treats to a much-lower priced kibble, and reserve the high-priced treats as a rare but special reward.