Every canine scent detection class I teach begins with a taste test of the available food rewards, because building drive depends on making it rewarding for each individual dog. When you offer a dog 2 – 3 high value food rewards, then select the one that dog prefers, he will be hugely motivated to succeed.
I learned scent detection from a military detection dog trainer, who demonstrated that most dogs enjoy Rollover or rotisserie chicken from the local grocery store. But while these foods appeal to dogs, they usually fall into pieces that make a distracting mess on the floor. The best training rewards should have it all:
- Smelly and tasty
- Noncrumbling – dry, tidy and easily portable
- Available in small pieces – you want the dog to gobble a piece quickly and get back to work, so you can practice the most repetitions in the time available
- Healthy – quality and nutrition with no surprises, and the fewer additives the better
- Cost effective, and
- Easy to make with minimal equipment
After testing varied recipes with many dogs, I discovered a key secret ingredient: tapioca flour aka tapioca starch. It’s a fine white powder, NOT tapioca pearls like in bubble tea. It may be cheapest in Asian grocery stores, but you can also find it with canning supplies, or on Amazon Prime. It’s gluten-free, and results in treats with a fine, uniform consistency that doesn’t crumble and a wonderful taste.
Recipe for the Best Noncrumbling Tuna Fudge
Yields: 4 Cups
- 2 small cans of tuna (each 170 grams), flaked. Do not drain the liquid in the can. Save liquid and add it to the mixture.
- 2 large eggs, mixed with a fork
- 3 Cups tapioca flour/starch
- Optional: 2 Tablespoons lard, melted in a microwave (mine takes 30 seconds on power level 8. Check every 10 seconds since microwaves have varying power levels). Fat adds flavor, but if you prefer a lower calorie treat, your dog won’t complain if you leave this out.
Equipment – Two 4×8” loaf pans (You could also use a cookie sheet, but I find smaller pieces easier to cut.)
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Spray pans with oil and/or line with parchment paper.
- Put all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix with your hands or a spoon until just combined. It should be sticky, with a consistency like pâté.
- Spread mixture into greased pans and flatten it out with your fingers into a uniform ½ inch thickness.
- Cook 30 minutes (rotating half way to ensure even cooking). You want a dry biscuit that holds together, but the middle should still be malleable.
- Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes, then turn over onto cooling rack.
- Once cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut into ¼ inch cubes.
- Refrigerate for use in 2-3 days, or divide portions into Ziploc sandwich bags and freeze until needed (within 6 months). To thaw, just leave it in the fridge overnight.
(Please note that these training rewards are intended to comprise less than 5-10% of the dog’s caloric intake. They do not provide a balanced diet, but are high calorie, hugely tasty treat. Accordingly, the more rewards your dog consumes in a day, the less you should feed of his regular diet.)
Now that you know about tapioca flour, you can easily adapt this recipe to other proteins such as liver or ground meet. It also bakes nicely in a glass dish in the microwave if you prefer.
One tester commented that she’d never seen her dog salivate before like he did for these rewards. I hope your dog loves them too. Just don’t forget to store them at least 6 feet high, or they might not make it to training time.