Clicker training your dog requires two essential items. First, a clicker. Second, something the dog loves, and that usually means food treats. Teaching new behaviours requires so many treats, in fact, that they can make up a fair percentage of a dog's diet. If you train as much as I do most of your dog's daily intake of food will come in the form of pocket treats.
That's why I give my dogs actual meat as rewards during training--not salami or pepperoni and the like, either, because they are high in sodium. Instead, I offer bits of lamb or beef or chicken because I know that high quality treats means they will try their hardest for me.
There is one downside, however. I hate handling meat, smelling like meat, and having to worry about the use-by date on it, too. I've often wished my dogs could get just as excited about carrots, but that's never going to happen.
Finally, I broke down and bought a dehydrator. I figured, if I had to handle meat, it would be better if it felt more like a corn flake.
I always imagined that dehydrating meat would be a long, smelly, disgusting process. I thought it would be difficult, too, and imagined meat juice spilling onto the countertop or flies gathering on the drying trays. I envisioned a massive mess, a butcher smell, my whole house reeking of liver.
But guess what? Dehydrating liver and kidney couldn't have been easier. And it didn't even make my house smell. The sloppy liver and raw blobs of kidney turned into these incredible treats for my dogs:
But how did I produce these genius treats? Your dog wants me to tell you. Actually, your dog wants Bishopton dog walker, Jamie Shanks, to tell you. Jamie is so good at making both baked and dehydrated dog treats he may as well be a dog chef. His recipes come with plenty of photographs and good advice. However, explaining how to dehydrate meat is so easy, you may not even need to click over to Jamie's site (though please do, because he's fantastic).
Step one, decide what you want to make. I chose the easiest two organ meats I could find: liver and kidney. For the kidney, I froze it for an hour to make it firmer and easier to slice. For the liver, I dried it on a paper towel and chopped it into relatively thin pieces, laying those pieces out onto the dehydrating trays (I didn't even use the liners recommended by the manufacturer of the dehydrator!). Then I flipped the switch and let the dehydrator hum away overnight. You'll need to dehydrate most meat for ten hours or more, depending on how thin your slices are and what you are making.
There are some health and safety aspects to dehydrating meat. You must wash your hands often while preparing these treats and disinfect all surfaces and utensils carefully afterwards, just as you would with any raw meat.
While, those who are very strict about raw-feeding their dogs will want to avoid any additional heat, many sources, including this one from the University of Idaho, recommend that that eliminating pathogens in the final product by putting the dried treats on an oven sheet and giving them a 10-minute blast at 150° C or 275° F. This makes the treat safer for you to handle, too, as the chances of E.Coli or other pathogens is greatly reduced.
I followed the directions given here on making jerky and found the extra 10 minutes cooking easy and does not alter the appearance of the treat.
However, the blast of heat required to kill pathogens is the one part of the process that smells--a lot. I had my dehydrator on all night expecting to wake up to a house that smelled like organ meat, but it didn't. Ten minutes in the oven and the kitchen smelled like liver.
I've also followed the University of Idaho's storage guidelines for jerky, packing my treats into jars and storing them in the refrigerator, where I understand they may last between 3 and 6 months, though I suspect I'll be out of treats by tomorrow.
Does making your own treats save you money? Yes and no. Commercial dehydrated dog treats are much more expensive and sometimes difficult to find, plus the quality can vary. Homemade beats them every time. For those who really can't stand the idea of handling all that meat, you might try Wagtastic Chicken Strips by Good Boy. They are relatively economical at £7.00 for 330 grams and contain 85% chicken meat. I find them easily sliced into tiny treats for clicker training, though be aware that the chicken is cooked, not dehydrated, so not suitable for those who are committed to feeding their dogs raw food.
My dehydrated treats cost me £1.88 and give me 200 grams of pure liver and kidney for my dogs to work for. Today, I am introducing the "stop whistle" to one of my shelties, a new behaviour for him to learn, which means he'll be getting a lot of rewards for his efforts. I know he's going to love the training because he'll get great treats. And I know the treats are good for him, too.
Our only problem may be the calories. And the fact my dogs are now so obsessed with their treats, they won't leave me alone. Look at them, all lined up. You'd almost think they were finally getting trained.