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How Low-Calorie Dog Treats Help with Training

Training treats and other low-calorie tidbits can help dog owners reward pets for good behavior while managing their weight.


Dog owners are increasingly seeking out low-calorie and training treats that are rewarding and offer appealing flavors and smells, according to industry insiders. Treats are often considered an indulgence; however, dog owners are more cognizant than ever of how food—including treats—impact health. As a result, industry insiders say they are also taking health benefits into consideration before they buy their canine friend those special treats.

Andrew Morrison, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Presidio Natural Pet Co., said there has been a continued trend toward more healthful recipes with all-natural and high-quality ingredients, and these recipes often have meat listed as the first ingredient. Dog owners are looking for single-ingredient treats, as well, which is why the company has introduced its Cheese Please treats, which are 100 percent baked Wisconsin cheese, he said.

Patrick McGarry, general manager of St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, parent company of Charlee Bear, added that in addition to increased interest in more natural, limited-ingredient treats, pet owners also prefer products that “can be kept in a pocket without crumbling, leaving smells or staining.”

In response to this demand, Gott Pet Products debuted Charlee Bear Meaty Bites treats at Global Pet Expo in March, McGarry said. The raw, freeze-dried meat treats are blended with real superfood ingredients.

Pet owners are also becoming more aware of calories—or at least they should be, said Mark Dunn, owner of Nature’s Pet Market in Eugene, Ore. He said he still needs to remind some clients that if they’re using a high-calorie treat for training, they could easily be overfeeding their pet.

“Pet parents sometimes don’t realize how quickly those calories can add up during training, so we always point them to low-calorie options,” Dunn said. “If it’s a soft treat they want, I look for a meat treat with limited ingredients.”

Tony de Vos, president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., said that as pet owners become more mindful about the amount of calories in their pets’ treats, demand for smaller low-calorie treats has grown.

“Trainers and pet parents are looking for ways to avoid weight gain during training. Canine nutritionists generally agree that treats should comprise no more than 10 percent of a dog’s daily caloric intake,” de Vos said. “But with the repetitive rewarding that’s required to teach behaviors and commands, it’s easy to go well above this 10 percent figure in a single training session.”

Smaller lower-calorie treats combat this issue, de Vos said, adding that the size of a reward makes no difference to the dog.

“Another advantage of using smaller training treats is that the dog is less likely to become full and lose interest in the lesson,” he said.

Cardinal offers a certified organic version of its Crazy Dog Train-Me! Training Rewards, available in Organic Beef and Organic Chicken varieties. In order to meet the demand for smaller, lower-calorie rewards, the treats are available in a mini size at only 1.7 calories per treat.

Soft treats are also popular training rewards, reported industry insiders. As such, Jiminy’s, a Berkley, Calif.-based eco-conscious company that makes sustainable treats using cricket protein, introduced its Chewy Cricket Training Treat last year. The soft, chewy treat has just under 3 calories per piece. Anne Carlson, founder and CEO, said that with these three characteristics, it fulfills some of the latest trends—and uses an exotic protein, which she said is another big trend right now.

Assortment Optimization

Strategizing Selections

Curating the ideal in-store assortment of low-calorie and/or training treats is no small task for pet specialty retailers, especially since there are so many choices on the market. But having a variety of products is definitely important to dog owners.

“When creating the perfect product assortment, it helps to think about consumer needs and make sure you include products that meet the key attributes that consumers are looking for,” said Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Jiminy’s. “Grouping training treats together in a store can really help the consumer find what they’re looking for.”     

Having a wide variety of training treats that appeal to any need her customers might have is a priority for Sarah Ercolani, president of Fun Time Dog Shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich. 

“I carry a lot of training treats that are smaller in size but high in value to the dog,” Ercolani said. “They are primarily soft treats, but we also carry small crunchy treats for those who like a little crunch for variety.”

For retailers aiming to develop the ideal product assortment, Tony de Vos, president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., recommends retailers make sure to do regular “checkups” in the aisle to make sure that their product picks are still performing.

“Retailers should fine-tune their treat assortment by continuously tracking sales and modifying their inventory based on preferences in their specific market,” he said. “Another good way to get a handle on the market is to talk to local trainers and find out what types of treats are most popular with their clients.”


Creative Displays

The way in which low-calorie and/or training treats are arranged in a pet store can have an impact on sales success, according to industry insiders. Everything from where a retailer places these items to drawing attention to treats with eye-catching displays is important.

“Training treats are our No. 1 seller, so I keep them at eye level on our shelves,” said Sarah Ercolani, president of Fun Time Dog Shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich. “I arrange treats by brand, with the small treats at eye level. I also use signage sometimes to point out the use and flavor, new items and special pricing.”

Patrick McGarry, general manager of St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, which makes Charlee Bear treats, suggested that retailers also make use of endcaps to showcase best-sellers and novel training treats.

Samantha Henson, a certified clinical pet nutritionist and merchandising manager for Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan, said she has used this method successfully. Endcaps help call out her top picks and serve as a time saver for a lot of customers as a result, she said.

“We have two entire aisles of dog treats, and that can be overwhelming for some customers,” Henson said. “Some will just come up to me and say, ‘What would you pick?’ So, we started doing an endcap with ‘Samantha-Approved Treats,’ which feature the top nutritional choices, and a lot of customers just head right there.”

Cross-Merchandising for Multiple Sales

Training and low-calorie treats can also be used to cross-merchandise other products. Ercolani said that displaying treats next to a product they are used with—for example, a treat bag that holds treats for use during dog training or enrichment training tools such as dog puzzles or treat dispensers—can sometimes be successful in making multiple sales.

McGarry suggested that retailers use clip strips to add treats to various areas throughout the store—such as by training accessories or even superpremium foods. He said this can help position training treats as an impulse buy.

“You can also tap in to the growing concern with pet obesity by creating a ‘Weight Control section,’” said Tony de Vos, president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif. “Display low-calorie foods and treats in this section, along with exercise gear and educational material about pet weight control.

“You can sell more low-calorie treats by informing pet parents about the recommended guidelines that dogs get no more than 10 percent of their daily caloric intake from treats,” de Vos added.

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