String Cheese Works As Treats

I love cheese, especially sharp cheddar cheese, but it’s crumbly and messy and is not something I would want in a skirt or pants pocket. That’s why I could never understand people who said they used cheese to reward their dogs. Finally, last summer, with the arrival of Tegan, I understood that people were not using cheddar; they were using string cheese. String cheese can still be a bit sticky and messy, especially when it is warm, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

One advantage is that, until it is unwrapped, the cheese will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator. Unlike the deli turkey that I was using, I don’t need to worry about the cheese going bad.

String cheese comes in bags of 12 to 24 sticks and every stick of cheese is individually wrapped. You don’t have to cut from a block of cheese. And, that individual wrapping easily peels apart and you can separate each sheet from the other just as far down as you want it. Pinch off a bit of cheese, then neatly fold the wrapper over the end and put it in your pocket.

It’s great for training, because you can separate just a tiny morsel of cheese for a reward. When I take the dogs to the veterinarian, I can continuously feed them nibbles of cheese, or I can break off a larger piece as a final reward. The cheese is low-cal and there are no extra ingredients, like flour or sugar. Best of all, the dogs love it.

Recently, Gael scratched her eye and needed drops. First, an antibiotic drop, then, ten minutes later, a drop of serum. This was three times a day for a week. Thank goodness for cheese. In spite of the fact that she must have known she would be getting drops, she came willingly to the grooming table where I lifted her up, gave her a bit of cheese, administered the drop, gave her more cheese, and put her back on the floor. Ten minutes later, we’d repeat the process. Gael never struggled and never tried to run and hide. She must have decided that the cheese reward outweighed the annoyance of the drops.

It was good table practice for Tegan as well, because he demanded equal time. If I didn’t give him his turn on the table, he ran from me to the table, and back, giving little woofs to make me understand that I needed to lift him onto the table now.

So, I did. I’d put Tegan on the table, give him a bit of cheese, take a comb to his shedding coat, give him another morsel of cheese, then put him on the floor. It made him happy, and I got in some painless grooming.

Having both dogs comfortable on the table is a plus because that comfort transfers to the table at the groomer’s and at the veterinarian’s. Both of those locations can be stressful, but if the table isn’t strange and scary, that’s one less stressor. Initially, when we went to the groomer’s to get nail trims, Tegan was not happy. Lots of practice at home on the table with cheese means that, even though he is not thrilled, he is quiet and lets the groomer work.

I’ve just started a trick-training class so I anticipate using lots of string cheese to help teach various behaviors to Tegan. Tegan will do just about anything for cheese.

If and when I have Tegan trained to enter the show ring, string cheese will be what I will use as “bait.” Handlers use various tasty substances to keep their dogs alert and to encourage them to stand nicely. Cooked liver and cooked heart are two common choices. Frequently, professional handlers will put that bait in their own mouths while their hands are busy with their dogs. It is nice to have someplace to put the bait where it’s easily accessible, but the thought of putting either liver or heart in my mouth is just too disgusting for me to try.

Now that I’ve discovered string cheese, my mouth as a storage pouch is a possibility. It may not be as delicious as sharp cheddar, but cheese is definitely more palatable than over-cooked organ meat, and, if I swallowed some, I’d be fine.

It’s taken me more than 35 years of dog ownership to discover string cheese. I wonder what else I’m missing out on.