Written by Ella White
Training your dog is an important part of their development. And with the right rewards, it can be an extra fulfilling experience for your dog, and you. After all, none of us work for free: when we’ve worked hard and achieved results we expect some payback and the good news is, your dog doesn’t ask for a salary. Just a tasty treat to say “well done”.
You’ll probably find that your dog will do most things in return for a piece of kibble or even a loving pat on the head. But since you’ll probably be getting through a lot of treats during your training sessions, it can be more beneficial to pick a treat that rewards your dog’s health as well as their taste-buds.
Though you might like to think your dog will train for the fun of it, that is unlikely to be as rewarding as a quick treat. So using food and treats as reinforcers won’t only make training more enjoyable for your dog, but it will likely help them learn their behaviours with ease, too. Food is a primary reinforcer for most dogs, as they’re programmed to understand the behaviours that will get them the food they need to survive. So they will quickly learn what gets them a tasty reward.
Food treats are also very easy to give when your dog performs a positive behaviour. So you can repeat the training over and over, and use the treat as a lure in your hand to get them to follow your instructions.
Picking something your dog loves can help them focus on their lessons and prevent distractions. There are lots on the market so it’s important to work out what your dog enjoys best, but avoid any you don’t want to feed to your dog consistently throughout their training.
Premium or high-quality treats that taste great and provide health benefits for your dog are the best option as you can manage their nutrition and calorie intake without compromising their enjoyment. Dog trainers often talk about the trade-off between high- and low-value treats. This doesn’t refer to the quality of the treat but to the value your dog places on it, and therefore how likely they are to respond to your commands in return for a treat.
So understanding the kind of treat that your dog likes best is conducive to effective training. To figure out what they like best, you might have to test a few. But there are some factors to keep an eye on while you work out which treats work best for your dog.
Even big dogs don’t need big training treats. Just a tiny piece is all it takes to keep them motivated, and will help them quickly enjoy their reward before moving onto the next repetition. Smaller treats also make it easier to manage your dog’s intake and ensure they’re not eating unhealthy amounts – after all, they’re going to be eating a lot of them while they learn.
Smaller treats are also easy to keep in your pocket or around the house for immediate rewards for good behaviour.
Because you will be feeding lots of treats to your dog in a short time while you’re training, it’s important that they can gobble them up quickly. Keeping your dog motivated and rewarding them for doing the right thing means consumption is high in the early stages of training, and you don’t want to be waiting around for them to indulge in a big chew stick or bone. The faster they finish the treat, the faster you can move onto the next step.
Like with smaller treats, this also means you can pack more practice into a short time without your dog getting bored or distracted. On the flip side, there are some elements of training where a longer-lasting treat will be beneficial. For example, training your dog to stay somewhere like in one place or in their crate. They can be encouraged to stay if they have a big tasty reward to keep with them.
The softer the treat, the quicker (and usually tidier) it will be for your dog to eat. Biscuits seem like they make great rewards, but they require more chewing and are likely to produce crumbs that will distract your dog and send them sniffing around for more.
Another benefit of soft treats is that they’re usually meat based and have a stronger smell. Dogs respond to the smells they love, so soft smelly treats make a more motivating training reward.
If your dog begins to get bored of their training treat, mix it up. The key is for them to feel motivated by their reward so they won’t give up or get distracted. So if you need to move onto something new – even if they really used to love the last one – then do it. You might even find that using more than one kind of training treat at a time can help keep their attention.
The treats your dog loves best should be used to reward their very best behaviour. So when they’re being taught something totally new or are being introduced to a new situation or environment, their favourite treat can be their top reward. They can also be used to reward fast responses and counter-conditioning training. Just make sure they’re not high in fat, sugar, or are otherwise bad for your dog’s health.
Treats your dog enjoys and that aren’t made from ingredients in their usual food can be used to reward everyday routines and more established training sessions. They’re useful for helping your dog maintain learned behaviours, rewarding good behaviour, and keeping your dog’s attention in potentially distracting situations.
When your dog is ready to phase out training treats, downgrade to something they’re less motivated by. This could be pieces of their usual food or a low calorie treat containing ingredients they already eat a lot of. These treats can continue to encourage good behaviour and be used in regular enrichment activities. But ultimately, treats need to be faded from behavioural training as they can’t expect a high value reward for their learned behaviours.
As well as the above considerations, you’ll need to know which treat your unique dog likes best – it might not be obvious. Some dogs love a piece of broccoli while others prefer raw meat treats, so you’ll need to carry out a taste test to check the efficacy of your training treats.
High protein treats including fish, meat, poultry, and even peanut butter can be very effective for dog training and it won’t take long to figure out which are their favourites. Also consider the texture as some prefer moist or wet treats to dry alternatives. And finally, make sure that the treat you pick is also easy for you to deliver. You might need to balance their enjoyment with how easy it is to carry and feed them from your pocket.
Front of the Pack’s air-dried dog treats are packed with raw, animal-sourced protein. They come in dry, bite-sized chunks so they’re easy to feed to your dog as a reward. Plus, they come in three tasty meat flavours that are sure to send them straight to high value status.
In dog training, a bribe is a treat that’s used to get your dog to respond to a cue. If your dog doesn’t obey your command unless they know you have a treat, then they will only perform commands to get something in return and as such have not been effectively trained.
Treats are rewards, so it’s important they aren’t used as bribes during training. Early on, you might use food as a lure to encourage a new behaviour, then switch so the behaviour is what leads to food. If this switch doesn’t happen it becomes a bribe, and your dog needs to know that you won’t bribe them to perform trained behaviour.
By hiding the treat until the command has been performed, it stays as a reward rather than the main enticement for your dog to obey you. This way they know that it’s the behaviour that makes the treat happen and not the other way around.
Though treats are the best reinforcer for your dog’s training, the large quantities they’ll consume during this time could have a negative impact. If your treats are high calorie or contain unhealthy ingredients they could cause your dog to gain too much weight.
Serious health issues can arise from being overweight, so make sure that treats never account for more than 10% of your dog’s daily food intake. Eventually, you can begin to offer their normal food as a reward rather than high value treats that are often higher in calories. That way, you can easily balance out the amount of food vs treats they eat throughout the day.
Just remember that with patience and a tasty treat in your pocket, dog training can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog.