Which Training Treats to Use and When
Using the right training treats can have a huge impact on how successful you are with your dog training. And it’s not always best to use the same treats in every situation, either!
We are often asked which training treats we use. The answer is – a variety, depending on what it is we are training and what level our dog is at. Food is the most powerful natural reward (primary reinforcer) in most circumstances and by pairing it with a clicker, it is a powerful, accurate and fast way to train. The real art is when you teach the dog to seek the click not the food…but that’s your next trick to learn.
High Value vs Low Value Treats
High value training treats
This is something that your dog absolutely LOVES. We generally use small cubes of cooked chicken. I bake plain chicken breasts in the oven until quite dry, cut them into small cubes, then freeze in batches in small size resealable plastic bags, ready to take out and use for training at any time. That way you’re producing a whole lot of treats in a short time that are always ready to go!
You could also use small cubes of cheese or dog roll (we prefer Superior Chunky as it tends to cut up/roll up into small pieces the best). Generally wet foods like this will carry more “value” to your dog and be more motivating that dried commercial treats, though some commercial treats work well too. It’s a case of trial and error, trial a selection and see what your dog responds to most eagerly!
Lower value training treats
These are something plain and not quite as juicy and yummy for your dog, for example dry dog kibble or dehydrated treats. Carrot is good for the pup if he’ll eat it, it’s a good low value snack for teaching as it’s high in Carotene and Vitamin A, but with much fewer calories so you don’t need to worry about overfeeding (though with any training treats, always remove the treats you’re using from your dog’s overall diet to prevent overfeeding!).
When to use High vs Low value treats
Use high value training treats when:
+ Teaching new behaviours for the first time
+ Doing work with a fearful, aggressive, highly sensitive or highly anxious dog. The higher value treats will help keep them more focused on you and the training treats and therefore in a Learning State (you need to pair the food up with the clicker well for this to be truly effective)
+ Working with a dog that is not being hugely responsive to commands
+ Training recall or anything else particularly challenging
+ When proofing a command in a new, more distracting environment
Use low value treats when:
+ Your dog is a bit too food motivated, and gets distracted during training sessions by wanting the treats too much or jumping up at you to get them (labradors, I’m looking at you!)
+ When your command is well-established and you’re just doing some practice
+ When practising commands in a less challenging situation when it’s not too hard to get your dog to respond, for example at home in the lounge rather than out and about with the distraction of other dogs around
Remember, if you want your dog to be really motivated to work – use high value treats and ensure your dog is hungry before training sessions. Skip breakfast if you need to, you can make up for the lost food amount in training treats!
What if your dog isn’t food motivated?
+ Ensure your dog is truly HUNGRY for training sessions. Skip your dog’s breakfast before doing any training, you can make up for the lost food amount with training treats
+ Use very high value food rewards when training. Test a few to see what really gets your dog going. We find cooked chicken pieces, cheese and cubes of dog roll usually work much better than dry commercial treats but find what works best for YOUR dog
+ Start by tossing tidbits of special food on the floor and click with a clicker when your dog eats them. Do this for a few days to pair up the clicker and the treats then you can get started with using a clicker to teach basic commands with treats, which can help with your dog’s food drive
+ Will your dog work for a favourite toy or pats and praise? If so, you can certainly use praise but when shaping new behaviours or changing old behaviours, using food and the clicker will be much quicker and longer term, so if you can build up some food motivation then it’s easier to train
+ If your dog struggles to eat or is underweight, speak to your vet. A vet may be able to prescribe an appetite stimulant to get that food motivation going
+ Ensure your dog is in a Learning State. If your dog is stressed, scared, aggressive or highly distracted, they aren’t in a Learning State and won’t take treats from you. If you need to learn how to calm your dog down enough to be in a Learning State and be able to focus on training, check out our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School here.