We’ve come a long way in the world of dog training and behavior management! The use of audible markers (clicker or voice) paired with tasty treats has become increasingly more common in the industry, and for good reason. Marker training is a clear, concise way to communicate with dogs that allows the dog to learn faster and greatly enjoy the experience. They become active participants in the learning process! I am often asked, what type of training treat is best? Believe me, I’ve tried them all, and I’d like to offer here some tips on identifying the best treats for use when training your 4-legged friend.
- Make sure the treat is palatable! A treat is only good if the dog LIKES IT! It should be of high enough value that the dog is excited and attentive to you during training. You may need to experiment to see what treat is most valuable to your dog! If you dog goes nuts for any and all types of food, then consider just using their regular dog kibble as a treat.
- Make sure they can tolerate it in large amounts. Some dogs have sensitive stomachs and will have GI issues if they eat too many fatty or novel type treats. Make sure your dog readily tolerates the treat you choose before using the treat regularly and in large volume.
- Tease them with a tiny nibble! Avoid large, bulky treats that will fill your dog up too quickly. You want to use tiny morsels---generally no larger than your pinky nail. Particularly during the early stages of training, when you will be offering a high rate of treat reinforcement.
- Lower calorie is always good. Avoid treats that contain a lot of calories, particularly if your dog is overweight. Also, it is always a good strategy to regulate their kibble diet so they are not overeating during a training program. Cut up veggies may be a good option for pudgy pups but remember that even veggies have calories in large volume.
- Protein based treats are good. I generally use meat protein based treats such as chicken breast, hot dogs, or home made liver treats. Carbohydrate based treats such as ‘Milk bones’ and other similar treats may cause gas and bloating and a spike in the dog’s blood sugar.
- Low Cost: Store bought treats can be very expensive. It may be worthwhile considering lower cost treats that you can make yourself. Here are some ideas: http://dogaware.com/diet/treats.html
- Make sure the treats haven’t been recalled. If you are using store bought treats, make sure they haven’t been recalled. Some treats, particularly Jerky style treats have a high rate of recall.
- Make sure the treats don’t spoil: Keep treats tightly sealed and/or in the fridge when you aren’t using them, to prevent spoilage.
Lastly, some pointers for dogs who don’t seem very treat motivated:
- Start training in a very quiet, low distraction environment that is familiar to your dog. They will frequently be more interested in food when there are no distractions around.
- Withhold their meal until after the training session. If a dog is hungry they are more interested in treats, than if they have just eaten and are full.
- Consider a favorite toy instead. Some dogs would rather play with a toy than eat a treat.
- Experiment: With some dogs, it’s just a matter of finding the RIGHT treat. I recently worked with a little dachshund that had no food interest until I pulled out the peanut butter, then he went NUTS! I put the peanut butter in a camping squeeze tube for ease of dispensing. It worked like a charm!
Have fun and happy training!