Years ago, a new acquaintance asked me about the bag I wore on a belt around my waist. She saw me taking dog treats out of the bag and feeding them, one after another after another, to my then-young dog, Otto. I was in the process of teaching Otto to ignore squirrels in trees, pigeons in the street, and cats on the edge of the riverside trail we walked each day, and the tactic required a lot of treats. My new friend wanted to know if I always wore the bag; surely, since Otto seemed so well-behaved to her, I didn’t need to have it with me all the time? Ah, yes, but would Otto be so well behaved if I had no treats? At that point in time, so early in our relationship – no!
Could I carry treats without a pouch? Well, sure, but it’s a darn sight easier to carry and dole out cut-up hot dogs, sausage, cheese, chicken, and Goldfish crackers in a bag that’s made just for that task than it is to keep them in a pocket – or even in a Ziploc bag in a pocket. And it’s not just about the greasy stains or hot dog aroma emanating from one’s clothing, though these are good reasons to use a bait bag rather than a pocket. It’s really about the speed of treat access and treat deliverance.
When teaching a dog new skills, in particular, it’s most effective to get the reinforcing treats onto the lips of the dog as quickly as possible – and if you are fumbling to extract a bag from a pocket, and then extract a treat from the bag, the moment becomes all about that, rather than what the dog did an increasing number of moments ago.
Otto no longer needs treats in order to learn a new behavior – and he certainly doesn’t need them to respond to old cues; today, he will happily work for petting and praise. However, if I’m carrying treats, I notice that his responses are quicker and more accurate, and his recalls – which are already very good – become Greyhound fast! (He’s competitive, and wants to get to me before any of the other dogs do.)
And now I have a new young dog, Woody, who will be nine months old as this issue is printed. He’s already a very well-behaved fellow, on- and off-leash. But in the course of any given day, things come up that challenge young, inexperienced dogs, some scary and some exciting. It helps to have treats ready to deal with either situation.
For example, on a walk the other day, we suddenly heard a barrage of loud gunfire at close range. Woody has heard guns being fired before, but at greater distances, and not so many at once. We were pretty close to a firing range that is used only by local law enforcement agencies for training, so its use is light; despite the fact that we had walked near it many times, Woody had not heard guns being fired there before. He stopped in his tracks, his hair stood up, and he woofed, spun, and actually started to run back the way we had come from, back toward the car.
Because I was armed with treats, and they were so readily accessible – I didn’t have to dig through a pocket to reach them – I was able to shout, “Yes! Good dog!” and theatrically toss several small handfuls of treats onto the ground. It made Woody pause and glance over his shoulder, and because I was able to do this so quickly, he saw Otto and my other dog, Tito (a senior Chihuahua), diving happily into the task of finding and eating the treats. Despite the continued racket, between hearing the well-conditioned happy word (“YES!”) and a glimpse of his canine “brothers” grubbing happily for the food, Woody immediately drew the conclusion that the gunfire was not a big threat after all and “OMG free chicken?!” He reversed course and came readily to me for a handful of treats, and gobbled them up as I clipped his leash back on.
Maybe he would have come back if I had only mimed tossing the treats; maybe he would have come back if he saw me wrestling the treats out of my pocket. I’m pretty confident that having them ready and so easy to grab made the difference.
Why were they so easy to grab? Because I was wearing my favorite treat bag (also known as a “bait bag”) – the one that has surpassed all the others I’ve tried and tested.
Traits of a Great Bait Bag
Here are the things I’m looking for in a bait bag:
Not too big (the more unwieldy, the less comfortable they are to wear) but not too small, either. I have three dogs, and if I go for a walk with a friend, and she brings one to three dogs, I want to be able to carry enough treats to give my dogs and hers, if need be – with my friend’s permission, of course. (I can trust the friends who go walking with me and my dogs to ask for polite behaviors from my dogs, and to reinforce them appropriately.)
My favorite bags have belts – straps with a plastic buckle that can be fastened around your waist, holding the bag securely, whether you run, jump, bend over, squat next to your dog, whatever. Some of my friends prefer bags that clip onto the waistband of their pants, or are clipped onto a belt loop on their pants with a carabiner. I find that bags fastened this way flop around too much, often spilling the treats in the process.
One thing about belts: None of the manufacturers provide or make available a belt for larger-than-average people.
3. Easy Open and Close
This is a big deal. When you work with dogs or puppies who have little previous training, many of them take any opportunity that arises to try to help themselves to the treats in your bag. If the bag lacks a secure closure, you will find your dog’s snout buried in your treat bag more and more often – random reinforcement being the most powerful to develop new behaviors. Treats are also apt to fall out of bags that don’t close well, littering the ground with treats, and potentially leaving you without any high-value rewards when you really need them.
However, as secure as you need the closure to be, you want one that is easy to open again, too – especially if you are working with just one hand free.
When working with the aforementioned high-value rewards – chicken and cheese, hot dogs, pastrami, and so on – you need to be able to throw the bag in the washing machine once in a while without having it fall apart.
5. Bag Quality and Materials Used
You want the thing to last! Seams should be well-sewn, plastic buckles should be secure, magnets strong, etc.
6. Extra Pockets and Other Features
The one extra feature I really like in a bait bag is a pocket that is big enough and secure enough – and separate from the greasy treats – where I can put my cell phone. While I don’t often make calls or text on the trail, I do frequently take photos or video. I wear jeans much of the year, and can often slide my phone into my pants pocket, but in the summer, when I’m in shorts, it’s much more convenient to put the phone in the bait bag.
However, I’ve been quizzing my dog trainer friends about what features they like in a bait bag, and different things are more valuable to different people. Some of the features I’ve heard mentioned as indispensable include:
– A place for carrying and dispensing poop bags
– A clip or loop where a key ring can be secured
– A clip or loop where a leash or a toy can be carried
– A zippered pocket where some cash or a credit card can be stashed super safely
There are treat bags on the market that have a lot of these attributes, and some that have only a single strong feature. I’ll name my favorites, but I’ll also describe all the other good-quality bait bags that have something to offer other dog owners, even if they aren’t my cup of tea, or pouch full of cheese, as it were.
The Dog Treat Bags We Tested
|1||Karen Pryor Clicker Training Treat Pouch, $15||Hinged “quick-close” closure. Fastens with belt (maximum 45 inches) or plastic belt clip. Second large pocket has hook-and-loop closure. Key-ring loop and carabiner. About 9 by 7 inches. Black.|
|2||PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport, $20||Hinged “quick-close” closure. Fastens with belt (maximum 48 inches) or plastic belt clip. Main pocket has fabric divider with hook-and-loop closure, to keep types of treats separate. Second large pocket has hook-and-loop closure. Key-ring loop and carabiner. Two elastic loops on front for holding . . . something. About 73/4 by 61/4 inches. Available in three colors.|
|2||Hurtta Pro Treat Bag, $50
Not sold by maker. Available from retailers including JJDog.com and BaxterBoo.com
|Hinged “quick-close” closure. Fastens with belt (maximum 58 inches, contains reflective fabric) or plastic belt clip. Second pocket has hook-and-loop closure and waste-bag dispenser. Third zippered pocket on back. Key-ring loop and carabiner. About 91/2 by 61/2 inches. Black, with trim available in three colors.|
|3||Dexas Popware PoochPouch, $7 – $10||No closure; shape of pouch keeps treats in but permits entry of hand easily. Silicone pouch with plastic belt clip. Small zippered pocket on front. About 41/4 by 31/2 inches. Available in five colors.|
|3||Doggone Good Rapid Rewards Pouch, $20
Available in pet supply stores and online, including amazon.com and cleanrun.com
|Magnetic closure. Fastens with plastic belt clip, or by running your own belt through two sewn loops provided for this purpose (company sells a belt with plastic quick-release buckle separately, maximum length 48 inches, for $2.75). Roomy main compartment is big enough to hold tennis balls and/or lots of treats; has fabric divider with hook-and-loop closure, to keep types of treats separate. A small, vertical pocket is on each side; one features a poop bag dispenser. Large zippered pocket in rear. Flat pocket in front. Two plastic D-rings for attaching things. About 63/4 by 53/4 inches. Available in three colors.|
|3||EzyDog Snak Pak Treat Bag, $28||Magnetic closure. Fastens with belt (maximum 50 inches) or two plastic belt clips. Small zippered pocket on front. About 61/4 by 41/2 inches. Available in four colors.|
|*||Canine Equipment Carry All Treat Bag, $13||Drawstring closure, with drawstring control on side of bag. Fastens with carabiner or plastic belt clip. Waste-bag pocket and dispenser on front. About 5 by 5 inches. Black.|
|*||Canine Hardware Treat Tote, $13
Available in stores (such as REI and Petco) and online, including amazon.com and chewy.com
|Drawstring closure, with drawstring control on side of bag. Fastens with plastic belt clip, or by running your own belt through a sewn loop provided for this purpose. About 5 by 51/2 inches (a smaller size is also available). Available in three colors.|
|*||Hurtta Junior Treat Bag, $26
Not sold by maker. Available from BaxterBoo.com
|Drawstring closure, with drawstring control on front of bag. Fastens with carabiner or plastic belt clip. Waste-bag pocket and dispenser on front. Zippered pocket on back. About 71/2 by 5 inches. Black, with trim available in three colors.|
|*||Outward Hound Dog Treat Bag, $20||Hinged “quick-close” closure. Fastens with strap when used as a belt, or use the strap over your shoulder. Outer mesh pocket has no closure. About 81/2 by 71/2 inches. Blue.|
|*||Outward Hound Treat Pouch, $5 to $7||Drawstring closure, with drawstring control inside of bag. Fastens with plastic belt clip or Velcro tab that can be fastened over a belt loop on your pants. About 51/2 by 6 inches. Available in three colors.|
Top Picks in Treat Bags
I buy every interesting or different bait bag I see for sale, and have probably tried 20 or more since I adopted Otto in 2008. But this past year, I resolved to collect and formally test the best or most promising ones for a review here.
My absolute favorite is the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Treat Pouch. It’s a simple bag, fastened with a belt (a clip is also provided, but doesn’t secure the bag well enough in my opinion), and is just the right size, with two large compartments. The compartment that holds the treats features my all-time favorite type of closure – a “French spring hinge” – that pops the compartment closed quickly and tightly, reliably keeping treats in the bag (even if you are running an agility course) and keeping doggie muzzles out, so they can’t steal a mouthful of treats when you bend down to tie your shoe. A second pocket on the front of the bag is large enough for a large cell phone, and is closed securely with a full-length strip of hook-and-loop fastener. A key ring hanging from a well-sewn loop on one edge of the fully machine-washable bag enables you to clip keys or a clicker onto the ring (you provide the carabiner or clip).
I have two minor quibbles with the product. As I said above, even my largish cell phone fits in the front pocket – but if the phone is wearing a protective case, it becomes too wide for the pocket to be closed with the hook-and-loop fastener. If I take the case off the phone, I can securely close the pocket, but if I take the phone out and then drop it . . . darn it!
The second quibble is applicable to each of the bait bags that utilize the French spring hinge. The hinges are made from thin strips of metal with hinges at either end, and are sewn into the top edge of the bag. If you pry the two sides apart, the spring bends at a joint in the middle and pops open – spreading and holding the top of the pouch wide open. To close the pouch, you just press the sides of the bag together and the hinge slams the bag shut. (If your hands are full and a dog is trying to get into the bag for the treats, you can close it by pressing it against your body with the inside of your elbow, or by leaning against a car.) The hinges work great, until they don’t.
These intricate hinges are a little delicate; they break down over time. The metal fatigues, or one of the tiny pins holding the hinges together falls out; one day you open the bag and – ping! – it can’t be closed again. If you look at online reviews of almost any bait bag with one of these closures, you will see complaints that the hinge fell apart too soon.
The Karen Pryor Clicker Training Treat Pouch sells for about $15 from many retailers; if its spring hinge falls apart after a year of use, I’m not going to get too upset. The bag, and especially its closure, is everything I want in this vital training tool.
Some Pretty Good Treat Bags
I also tested two other bait bags that are made with spring hinges: the PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport and the Hurtta Pro Treat Bag.
The PetSafe product is very similar to the Karen Pryor bag, with differences in just a couple of minor details. The Karen Pryor bag is sewn with darts along the lower edge, to create a squared bottom. This enables the bag to stand up if placed, open, on a flat surface; this also creates more roominess in the bag, so it’s easier to insert your hand into the bag and withdraw treats easily. In contrast, the PetSafe bag is flatter – more like an envelope than a purse. It won’t stand by itself, and it’s harder to reach in and grab the last few treats at the bottom of the pouch (in particular).
On the other hand, the front pocket on the PetSafe bag is way deeper and just as wide; a large cell phone fits in there easily, even wearing a case. The hook-and-loop closure of this pocket is comprised of two shorter strips, rather than one pocket-wide single strip, but it is effective at keeping the phone secure, even when the handler runs.
Some people may be grateful for the little fabric divider inside the main pocket, secured with a little piece of hook-and-loop fastener, which allows a handler to load the bag with two different types of treats – perhaps a lower-value treat like kibble and a higher-value treat like cheese or ham cubes. I generally load my dogs’ treat pouch with a “trail mix” of two to five different types of treats, to keep them guessing, so the divider is of no use to me. It’s also difficult to use with just one hand – but if you were bent on keeping treats in your bag separate, your could do so with this bag.
Like the Karen Pryor bag, the PetSafe bag has a small loop sewn on the side, and a light carabiner is provided for clipping onto keys or something else you don’t want to put in your pockets.
The PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport is a little more expensive (about $20) than our top pick Karen Pryor product (about $15).
Far more expensive than both of these is Hurtta’s Pro Treat Bag, which sells for about $50. Wow! This bag has a lot of other bells and whistles, but it is also made with the same type of French spring hinge as the previous two products – and we already know that these hinges fail over time. If I paid $50 for a bag and it wouldn’t close properly after a year (or less) of use, I’d be pretty irritated, and I’d sure not buy another.
So what are the bells and whistles that might make this bag worth the price to some dog owners?
First, it has the longest belt of any of the belted products I tested: about 58 inches. The belt on the Karen Pryor bag is only about 45 inches maximum, and the belt on the PetSafe bag maxes out at about 48 inches). Larger handlers will appreciate not having to supply their own belt in order to wear a belted treat pouch. The Hurtta belt also features a strip of reflective material woven into the fabric for visibility at night in headlights. Nice!
The Hurtta Pro Treat Bag is considerably bigger (and more cumbersome) than my top two picks – bigger than I need, even when walking with six or eight dogs, but for a person who wanted to bring a lot of things with them on the walk, it might be ideal. Its main compartment is very roomy, especially since, like the Karen Pryor bag, it is sewn with darts that help the pouch, um, pooch out a bit on the bottom.
The front pocket in the Hurtta Pro Treat Bag is longer and deeper than those of the previously described bags, safely securing even a large cell phone with a long strip of hook-and-loop fastener. This front pocket also has a hole for dispensing poop bags from a roll that can fit (even with your phone and a couple of other items if you wish) in the pocket.
A larger and well-sewn loop and a color-matched, stronger carabiner are provided on the side of the bag. I’d actually consider fastening my big, heavy bunch of keys to this ring.
On the back of the bag – the side worn against the body – is a third pocket, one with a zipper. It’s not deep enough to hold my phone, but it’s plenty big enough for some cash, ID and/or insurance cards, and credit cards. Its hidden location increases its security.
All of those features may make it worth the cost to some handlers.
Note: All three of these products have a large plastic clip on the back, theoretically enabling a handler to use this to clip the bag onto the waistband of their pants. In practice, though, these clips can’t fasten an empty bag to you securely, much less a bag that’s full of treats. The single, centered clip also means that the bag is often in danger of tipping to one side or the other, especially as you reach in to grab some treats. I’m not convinced there is a good reason to include these clips.
Treat Bags You May Enjoy (But We Didn’t)
Because I’m such a huge fan of the bags with the French spring hinge – fragile as they can sometimes be – I personally wouldn’t use a bag with any other sort of closure. Some of you may be less avid about this point, however, so I also tested a number of pouches that had other redeeming qualities.
For example: the Dexas Popware Pooch Pouch is an extremely inexpensive, no-frills product that works fairly well. It’s basically a silicone container with a slit in the top and a wide clip on the back. If you don’t mind a few treats spilling out if you jog or bend over, and don’t need to carry anything else, you just may appreciate this simple tool.
I have a number of friends (both professional trainers and regular dog owners) who really like the Doggone Good Rapid Rewards Pouch. This is a deeper, more vertical pouch, with a number of pockets: a shallow one on the front, fastened with a bit of hook-and-loop fabric; the main, quite deep compartment; and a large zippered pocket on the back. Two narrow pockets are located on the sides of pouch: one for a clicker, and one for a roll of poop bags; a slit at the bottom permits them to be dispensed one at a time. Cute! There are also two rings, one on each side, that a person can presumably clip things onto – keys? a leash?
The main compartment features a fabric divider – again, presumably for those who want to separate types of treats. This compartment is closed by virtue of magnets sewn into the front and back of the pouch. This makes it incredibly easy to open, reach in, and close, even one-handed, but a handler should be aware that the top is not closed as tightly as with one of the hinged pouches; jogging will cause a few treats to splash out, and a dog’s nose could definitely dive in and grab some treats from the unwary. But it holds a lot – and that zippered pocket can even safely accommodate a large cell phone.
The Rapid Rewards Pouch utilizes the ubiquitous plastic piece on its back to clip onto your pocket or waistband, but it also has two fabric loops through which a handler could run her own belt to fasten it more securely.
The EzyDog Snak Pak Treat Bag also utilizes magnets to close its top. It comes with a belt, and – get this – two plastic clips on the back; now we’re talking about a secure clip-on solution! The bag is small – no way to fit a phone or much more than a couple of keys or some cash in the front zippered pocket. But its minimal approach and clean look will appeal to handlers who want or need just a few treats along for a walk.
Don’t Buy These Bait Bags
I also tried out five other bait bags over the past year: the Canine Equipment Carry All Treat Bag, Canine Hardware Treat Tote, Hurtta Junior Treat Bag, Outward Hound Treat Pouch, and the Outward Hound Dog Treat Bag. I didn’t like any of them, but they may be useful to someone in certain situations.
I had no use for the first four listed above for the same reason: Each fastens to a handler’s pants waistband or pocket by means of a single connection point – a narrow plastic clip – and each is opened and closed with a drawstring. The bag falls off constantly. And the only way a person can access a treat quickly with a setup like that, is if she leaves the bag open at all times. Otherwise, it takes two hands and a few long moments to open the bag and extract something.
While novice trainers might imagine they are rewarding their dogs as their trainers told them to, the fact is, if you can’t mark and reward the dog quickly and frequently when he’s doing what you asked him to do, his learning is doomed to progress very slowly. Imagine a first-grader in a classroom being asked to calculate the sum of five plus five, and him giving the correct answer. If the teacher turned her attention to something else, and then, a minute later, told the child, “You were right!” there is a good chance the child will have no idea of what he was right about. The delay that is built into the structure of these treat bags is, by professional animal training standards, interminable.
I ended up using them to carry Tito’s tennis ball when he was tired of carrying it himself. They were highly useful for that purpose.
I thought I would like the fifth product, the Outward Hound Dog Treat Bag, since it has a French spring hinge closure and a belt. Alas; this was not to be.
The Outward Hound Treat Bag has a mesh “pocket” on the front; that was stretched out to the point of utter uselessness within days. Strike putting anything in there. Also, while the bag comes with a belt, and its product literature says it can be worn in a belt-like fashion, it’s designed as more of a strap that you wear over your shoulder. And when it’s worn like that, swinging next to your body, you are up against the same issue as with the other products I have no use for: You can’t access the treats quickly enough, defeating the whole purpose of having a bait bag in the first place!
Nancy Kerns is Editor in Chief of WDJ.