What is the perfect training treat? It can be hard to find a treat that is cost-effective, appropriately sized, easy to handle and healthy. When you’re training, you want treats that are small enough to be able to use a high rate of reinforcement. The right treats can make a big difference when between an unsuccessful training session and a successful one.
Choosing the right training treat for your dog is a personal choice, but there are several factors that come into play (pun intended!) including:
- Value (to your dog!)
- Ease of use
You don’t need to use the same treats all the time. In fact, it’s a good idea to switch it up! Your dog will have different value for different training treats, so depending on what you’re asking them to do you may need a higher-value treat than just kibble. Mixing it up is also important because you don’t always want to feed the same thing as you want to ensure that your dog will perform for various types of reward. For example, your dog will likely find that cheese is a particularly high-value treat and will likely perform very well for it. However, it’s a high-calorie treat and may not be something that you want to carry around with you regularly. Kibble, on the other hand, is easy to keep in a bag in your pocket.
It’s also important to mix up your treats because dogs like and need variety! They may become bored with the same old treat, and something that was once high value can lose it’s value over time.
When considering training treats, make sure that it is part of your dog’s daily food allotment. In fact, it can be a meal!
Factor 1: Size
The size of the training treats you choose is extremely important, especially if you’re doing a longer training session, attending a class or just want to maximize your training opportunities throughout the day. The size of the training treat may also vary depending on what type of training you are doing. For example, if you’re teaching your dog to catch you may want something large and light (like plain popcorn), or if your dog will need to find the treat on the grass you may want something larger and light-coloured. For most training, in order to be able to give your dog a high rate of reinforcement, you generally want to make sure that the treats are small. For most dogs, pyramid pan treats are great for this (see Homemade Dog Treats), but you can also cut treats or kibble in half if needed (depending on the size of your dog!) or purchase smaller treats.
Factor 2: Value
The value your dog places in the treat is extremely important. Dogs will naturally find some treats more rewarding than others. If you’re asking your dog to do something particularly difficult or that requires a lot of attention, you’ll likely need a higher value treat, especially when they’re first learning. While each dog will have their own opinion of the value of a treat, it’s also important to note that you can also build value in a particular treat over time through the experience you are providing your dog.
There are 3 categories when it come to treat value: high, medium and low value treats. Experiment with each!
High Value Treats
These are treats that your dog places a lot of value in and generally finds delicious. They may be the treats that your dog will do almost anything for! High value treats are often soft, moist and smelly. High value treats should be used when:
- You’re first introducing a new trick or behaviour
- You’re in a very distracting environment, like the local park when it’s busy or a training class
- When working on complicated tricks or behaviours, such as anxiety or reactivity
What your dog considers high value may vary compared to other dogs, but some examples of high-value training treats include:
- Dehydrated liver bites
- Cubes of meat (cooked or raw, whatever you would normally feed)
- Cheese cubes
- Peanut butter on a spoon
- Dog meatballs
Remember that if your dog receives this treat too often, it will lose some of it’s value. Make sure to mix up your treat values and give them some variety!
Medium Value Treats
Medium-value treats are often semi-moist or dry. They are treats that your dog does not get all the time, so they still hold more value than their regular food. Medium-value treats should be used when:
- You’re training a trick or behaviour that your dog is already familiar with
- In enrichment activities, like puzzles boxes or noise box games
- You’re in an environment which is low-distraction or not overwhelming
Examples of medium value treats may include:
- Baked treats (especially homemade treats like Pumpkin Oatmeal Baked Dog Treats or Pyramid Pan Turkey Carrot Dog Treats)
Low-value treats are something that your dog receives fairly regularly. It may even be your dog’s regular kibble. They tend to be lower calorie and are usually dry. You’re probably asking why you would ever expect your dog to work for a low-value treat. Dogs can find the experience you’re giving them rewarding, and a low-value treat as a reward is just the icing on the cake. In general, you would use a low-value treat when:
- Your dog knows the trick or behaviour you are training
- To encourage good behaviour throughout the day
- In enrichment activities, like puzzles boxes or noise box games
Examples of low value treats may include:
- Store bought treats
- Dry and crunchy treats
Factor 3: Nutrition
It is important that any treat you chose be part of your dog’s daily food allotment. This means that you would subtract the treats that you are giving your dog from their regular meals. When purchasing treats, make sure to read the label just as you would with your own food. Many commercial treats have ingredients that are not ideal and high amounts of sugar. We prefer to choose a more natural treat like dehydrated meat or vegetables. We also prefer to bake our own treats so that we control what goes into them. That’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place for commercial treats, just consider using them in moderation!
Factor 4: Ease of Use
How easy the treats are for you to use is also a pretty important factor in what you chose, and it will differ by activity, location and other factors. For example, if you’re planning a training session in the park, you may not want a pocket full of sausage. In that case, you might opt for freeze-dried liver instead. Similarly, if you’re going to be out all day you may not want a pocket full of cheese. Choosing the right treat for the situation can help make your life a lot easier!
Factor 5: Cost
This one is a no-brainer. You don’t want your every day training treats to cost you a fortune. This is one of the many reasons that we LOVE pyramid pan treats. Most recipes make over a thousand treats (that’s over a thousand reward opportunities! Talk about a high rate of reinforcement!) and have a fairly minimal cost. The important thing is that whatever treats you choose as high, medium and low value training treats, you don’t need to spend a fortune.
The perfect dog training treat will change depending on many factors including the dog you are training, the situation, what you are training, the value your dog places in the treat and many other factors. There is no answer that is right for everyone, and no treat that’s right for every situation!
Don’t be afraid to experiment and think outside the box. If your dog is not food driven, don’t hesitate to use toys as reward! If your dog is obsessed with bully sticks, consider giving them a few chomps on a bully stick as quick reward.
Likewise, if your dog is on a special diet (restricted ingredients / feed raw / whatever the case may be), this can certainly be accommodated with a little ingenuity and maybe a little extra effort. For example, consider blending your raw food with a little bone broth and adding it to a squeezy tube.
If you are looking for healthy options for homemade treats, check out some of our recipes including Sweet Potato Honey Dog Treats, Pyramid Pan Beet Turkey Dog Treats or Peanut Butter Liver Gelatin Dog Treats.
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