Thursday, April 21, 2016

DIY Training Treat Trail Mix

When Brisbane was younger, I used to buy him something called "beef trail mix". It was a sizable canister of various bits of jerky, freeze dried lung and liver, and I don't even know what all else. There were all sorts of sizes and textures and flavors, all in just the right size for training treats. I loved it because some of the bits were higher value than others, and I was grabbing them at random to Briz was never quite sure what he was going to get.
dog treats
Ziwi Peak dried meat dog food, Fruitables Bacon Whole Jerky,
Loving Pets Buffalo Lung, and cheese.

I was pretty devastated when the product was discontinued a couple of months after I discovered it. Still, the idea was brilliant. I love using a variety of training treats in one bag. The uncertainty makes the whole game more exciting for the dog. Karen Pryor likens it to the difference between a soda machine and a slot machine, there's a reason people get addicted to gambling and not Coca-Cola machines.

Trail mix is also an awesome way to stretch those high-value treats by sneaking in some lower-value stuff as well. Most of my crew find kibble to be pretty boring anywhere more exciting than home, but will happily accept a piece now and then while working for better stuff. Everyone except for Ranger, who will only accept freeze dried liver and spits out every lesser offering.
dog treat mix prep
Preparing to chop dried lung, cheese, and bacon jerky.

There are some important considerations when putting together a random bunch of dog treats, and storage is important unless you will be using it all up in one training session.

Rule 1: Never mix freeze dried liver with anything moist. Whether it's ground beef, hot dog bits, or boiled chicken, don't do it. Wet freeze dried liver tends to fall apart when it rehydrates, and the result is pretty vile.

Rule 2: The refrigerator is your friend. If anything in your mix is perishable, keep the whole bag in the fridge between training sessions.
training treat mix
All chopped and ready to mix.

Rule 3: Keep it airtight. Soft treats like Zukes Minis and Ziwi Peak food tend to get hard and stale if you let them hang out in a treat bag for very long. According to my dogs, this makes them significantly less awesome.

For this week's agility class, I made a bag of trail mix based on dried buffalo lung, which is super smelly and therefore very high value. I'm not sure if it rivals freeze dried liver though, I haven't asked Ranger yet. Some Ziwi Peak dried meat dog food went in, as well as some bacon Fruitables Whole Jerky, a little bit of Acana Singles lamb kibble, and a couple sticks of cheddar jack cheese. This was enough treats for a couple of trick training sessions and Sisci's entire agility class, which usually involves continuous reinforcement for allowing obese labradors, spooky show border collies, and hordes of baseball kids to exist in our vicinity. (I have no idea why Sisci is terrified of conformation border collies, she also finds baby dolls and stuffed horses similarly horrifying).
training treat trail mix
Trail mix!

Trail Mix Ingredients

  • Meat (chicken, steak, pork, ground beef, hot dogs, cooked liver, bacon)
  • Dog Food (kibble, air dried, freeze dried)
  • Commercial Dog Treats (whatever your dog will work for)
  • Cheese
  • Cereal, crackers, and other people food
  • Veggies (higher value when swimming in a bag of meaty treats, but my dogs won't work for them)
  • Fruit (banana chips, apple slices, dried apricots, anything that will hold together)

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