2 golden retrievers run in a huge meadow with tall grassesTo say that Cali is a “good eater” and not at all fussy about food and treats is to vastly understate. Which is why I was astonished when she rejected proffered treats recently.

We have a hierarchy of treats. This is an essential element of training and motivating dogs to do the right thing. The harder the “right thing,” the better the treat. High-value treats — treats that dogs will do anything for, must be reserved for the most challenging situations, or they lose their value.

I have special treats that I use only for off-leash recalls. This can be practice in an enclosed area or, more commonly, when we’re hiking in the wide-open spaces around our Missoula home. For more ordinary moments, and for walks in familiar places, I use doggy trail mix, a try-your-luck mixture of second-best treats like freeze-dried liver, lower-value, but still delicious, treats we find at the local holistic pet store, and “filler” treats — Charlee Bears and Cheerios, usually. These take on scent and taste from their better cousins in the doggy trail mix jar and are usually accepted eagerly by Cali and Orly.

I would have said “always accepted eagerly” until yesterday.

The weather was dicey, and I wanted to get them out for a run. When the rain paused, I grabbed girls and leashes, and off we went. Astute readers will note no mention of grabbing the good treats. Indeed. The dogs noticed that too.

I always have a handful of doggy trail mix in my coat pockets, and a reserve supply can usually be found in the car. So we’re walking along, dogs off leash, me periodically calling them back and offering treats Continue reading

Hiking? Don’t Forget the Doggy Trail Mix!

Bag of Mud Pie Oh My dog treats from Bocce's BakeryI have a Dog Hiking Backpack that is always ready for our next adventure. Problem is, it weighs more than Orly does!

So I select essential items for each hike. Number one on that list is doggy trail mix.

6 small heart-shaped dog treats
The heart shape is a nice bonus

This homemade delight was invented by Deni. And, dare I say, perfected by me, with copious input from Cali. Perfected for our hikes, that is. Your recipe needs to be created and tweaked by your dog(s), of course.

Doggy trail mix is simply a mix of treats. The base, as in any trail mix, is some basic and relatively inexpensive ingredients. I don’t use peanuts (choking hazard) or raisins (dogs can’t eat them); instead, the base mix is about two parts Cheerios (generic are fine) to one part Charlee Bears — any flavor that doesn’t include chicken, for my girls.

To that I add generous amounts of medium-value treats. This mix changes every time. I am partial to the tiny treats from Bocce’s Bakery that my local dog grocer stocks. Cali and Orly love the Mud Pie and Duck flavors. Again, your dogs’ preferences may vary. I have also used many other kinds of dry and semi-soft treats. The key is to use small pieces or treats that are very small.

Topping off the mixture is a few handfuls of high-value treats. I often use freeze-dried liver.

The trick is to have enough good and great treats to

  • Keep the dogs interested and hopeful
  • Provide some variety in their rewards
  • Lend scent and flavor to the other treats as everything jumbles around together

That last point might seem a little deceitful. But come on, who doesn’t eat the bits of chocolate in their trail mix with a bunch of the peanuts or raisins to make it all taste better? If it works for us, why not for the dogs?

Leave out the BEST treats

Our highest-value treat is currently a duck jerky treat that I get in big bags from Costco. It’s soft enough to break into small pieces. But I don’t put it into the trail mix because I save it for the most important use. That’s right: When we’re hiking off leash, I always carry a lot of duck jerky. This ensures that whenever I call the girls, they come running at top speed, screech to a halt, and sit right in front of me, eager for their reward. Duck jerky is truly magic. (Orly’s hiking guide uses the same stuff).

Hiking trail mix, like many human-oriented snack mixes, has crept into daily use. I mix up enormous batches and keep treat jars filled with it on every floor. It’s the default reward for training, cooperation during grooming, and recall practice outside. Each batch is a little different, and no one has complained about (or turned up her nose at) the Cheerios yet.

What else is in the backpack?

The backpack has:

  • A first aid kit
  • Binoculars
  • Dog water bowl
  • Long leashes for swimming, recall practice, or hikes in places I don’t want to let them off leash
  • Insect-repelling dog bandanas
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Wet wipes & sanitizer
  • Strong wire cutters in case we run into traps or snares (I hope NEVER to use them)
  • Bear spray (ditto)
  • Flashlight
  • Extra poop bags
  • Extra leashes
  • Extra sunhat

Often, the pack stays in the car while we hike so the heavier stuff is nearby if needed. But a treat bag stuffed with trail mix and/or duck jerky is always with me. Happy hiking!