Training dogs with treats can be an extremely effective way to reinforce behaviors and tricks. High-value treats that a dog finds irresistible can make training easier and faster by motivating your dog to listen and respond. This article will discuss the benefits of using high-value treats for training and provide tips on how to choose the best treats for your individual dog.
The Importance of Using Treats in Dog Training
Using treats in dog training employs the concept of positive reinforcement. When your dog performs a desired behavior and receives a treat immediately afterwards, he learns to associate that behavior with getting a reward. This makes him more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. Treats are a primary tool in reward-based training methods like clicker training.
Compared to correction-based methods, reward-based training using treats creates a more positive experience for dogs. It focuses on marking and rewarding correct behaviors instead of punishing unwanted behaviors. This fosters a better relationship between owner and dog. Scientific studies show that reward-based training is more effective at teaching dogs new skills and behaviors.
Benefits of High-Value Treats
While you can use your dog's regular kibble or lower-value treats for training, high-value treats provide additional benefits:
Increased Motivation. Dogs are more enthusiastic about working when high-value treats are used. If your dog loves a certain type of treat, he'll be extra excited to train when he knows that's what he'll get. This leads to better focus and engagement.
Faster Response Times. High-value rewards encourage faster responses from your dog. He'll be eager to perform commands and tricks as quickly as possible if he knows a jackpot treat is coming.
Reinforces New Behaviors. When teaching new behaviors from scratch, using an extra-special treat helps solidify the learning. Your dog will associate immense pleasure with the new skill.
Better for Distracted Environments. High-value treats are extremely useful for training in distracting public locations. When competing with environmental stimuli, smelly, tasty treats help keep your dog's attention on you.
Improved Treat Tolerance. Dogs trained with high-value treats become conditioned to work for food they love. They don't lose interest or become saturated with regular treats as quickly.
Choosing High-Value Treats for Your Dog
Dogs have varying preferences when it comes to treats. What one dog goes crazy for may elicit no interest in another. Take your individual dog's food drive and flavor preferences into account when selecting high-value rewards. Consider the following factors:
Your Dog's Food Motivation
How food-motivated is your dog overall? A dog with a very high food drive will work enthusiastically for kibble or lower-value treats. Dogs with lower food motivation need extra enticing rewards to stay engaged in training.
Flavor and Smell
Look for treats with strong aromas that interest your dog when he sniffs them. Smelly foods like sardines, liver, or tripe tend to have high value. Avoid bland treats.
The texture of a treat impacts its desirability. Soft, meaty treats are usually big hits. Crunchy biscuits may appeal more to dogs who like to chew. Figure out your dog's texture preferences.
Real Food vs. Commercial Treats
Some dogs go crazy for real meat and cheese, while others prefer commercial treats designed to be extra tasty. Try different kinds to see what your dog likes best.
Adjust treat choices to accommodate your dog's health needs. For example, low-calorie treats for a dog who needs to lose weight. Avoid common allergens if your dog has food allergies.
High Value Treat Ideas
Here are some example treats that often prove highly motivating:
- Pieces of cooked meat (chicken, beef, turkey, lamb)
- Strips of jerky or dried meat
- Cubes of cheese
- Meatballs or hotdogs
- Slices of hotdog or sausage
- Bits of bacon
- Liver or liver brownies
- Tuna or salmon
- Pureed fish or shellfish
- Baby food with meat
- Hardboiled egg
- Leftover steak fat or poultry skin
- Microwaved meatballs
The best way to identify high-value treats for your individual dog is to test different food items. Present various potential treats and gauge your dog's reaction to each. Does he get super excited and responsive? Or does he show little interest unless very hungry? Take note of any treats that really make your dog's eyes light up.
You also want to determine if a tasty treat holds its value in real-life training situations. A treat may excite your dog when he's hungry and not distracted, but quickly lose appeal in public with environmental stimuli present. Test candidate treats in different training scenarios to confirm they function well as strong reinforcers.
Remember that treats lose their effectiveness as training rewards if not delivered within 1-2 seconds of the behavior. Bring treats on walks in a treat pouch for easy access. Cut or break large treats into small pieces so you can quickly reward your dog during training.
Use a Variable Reward Schedule
Vary how often you give treats to help maintain their reinforcing power. Reward behaviors intermittently, not every single time. A variable reward schedule keeps a dog engaged and anticipating when the next treat might come.
Phase Out Food Lures
Initially you may need to lure your dog into position for behaviors with food. As your dog learns a behavior, switch to rewarding him after he performs it instead of showing him a treat beforehand. This increases reliability off-leash.
Watch Your Dog's Weight
While high-value treats accelerate training, too many treats lead to obesity. Monitor your dog's weight and adjust food portions if needed. Use healthy low-calorie treats in training to prevent weight gain.
Reinforce training using high-value treats by practicing obedience skills daily. Work on commands, tricks, and manners training throughout your dog's lifetime to strengthen behaviors. Keep sessions short and fun using your dog's favorite treats.
Transitioning Off Treats
Using treats in training is extremely effective, but you don't want your dog to only obey when food is present. As your dog masters behaviors, you can transition to less frequent use of treats. Here are some tips for fading out food rewards:
Slowly increase the number of behaviors you request before rewarding with a treat.
Substitute life rewards like tossing a ball, petting, or verbal praise for some food rewards.
Reward intermittently and unpredictably to maintain engagement.
Occasionally ask your dog to perform known behaviors off-leash and reward later.
For solid behaviors, reward with treats only about one third of the time.
Once your dog reliably obeys cues, phase out food rewards almost entirely, only bringing treats back occasionally.
If your dog begins disobeying without treats, go back to rewarding more frequently until the behavior strengthens.
With patience, you can reduce and ultimately eliminate treat dependency while preserving training. Your dog will learn to enjoy the behaviors themselves, not just the food reward.
Training with high-value food rewards offers many advantages. Tasty, smelly treats your dog loves create excitement and motivation to train. They help establish new behaviors faster and make training more effective in distracting environments. Cater your treat choices to your individual dog's food preferences and needs. Make sure treats are broken into small pieces so you can deliver them quickly. High-value treats accelerate training progress, but you can transition to less frequent use to avoid treat dependency. With the right reinforcement strategy, treats provide immense help for training pet dogs.