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Elevate your dog’s training with drool worthy, tail wagging, treats
Training with the correct treats can make a big difference and help you reach new heights with your dog’s training. This comprehensive guide was created to help you figure out what are the best training treats for your dog. The most important thing to consider when finding treats for your dog’s training is whether your dog likes them. Consider your dog’s favorite flavors and textures, and don’t be scared to try lots of options. It might take a while to figure out what your dog likes, and this guide is here to help.
When compiling treats for all types of dogs we looked for treats that are:
- Made in the USA
- Affordable (although there is a variety of price points here)
- Uses high quality, human grade ingredients
- Healthy and tasty
- About the size of a pea, or could be easily broken without needing to use a knife or scissors
- Easy for you to transport and feed to your dog from your hand
- Easy for your dog to eat
- Not too messy
- Can be quickly consumed and used as rewards during training sessions
Is it ok to use treats to train your dog?
Yes! It is absolutely ok to use treats to train your dog. While treats do need to be used appropriately, and is a little more complex than just feeding them treats, they are a fantastic tool. Using treats during training is a great way to bond with your dog, while developing a healthy, mutually respectful relationship.
In addition, treats are a primary reinforcer. Reinforcement makes it more likely your dog will perform a behavior in the future. A primary reinforcer is a specific type of reinforcer that has an innate biological value- your dog needs it to survive and typically does not need to learn that they like it. Examples include food and treats, as well as water, shelter, sleep, and safety.
This means that when a treat is delivered to the dog after a behavior, the likelihood of that behavior occurring more in the future increases.
How and when to use dog training treats
There is no need to worry about your dog becoming reliant on treats to listen to you. This is usually an indicator of incomplete training, or that treats have been used as a bribe instead of a reward. Both are easy to fix, and often don’t even happen.
Dog training treats should be used as a reward. To use treats as a reward, you present the treat to your dog last, not first. When a treat is presented to your dog first, the treat is then being used as a bribe. Using the treat as a reward means that you ask your dog to perform a behavior, your dog does that behavior, and then they receive the treat.
When treats are accidentally used as a bribe during the initial stages of training, the dog often will not listen or perform cued behaviors unless the treat is displayed to them first. This happens because the treat was presented, then the dog performed the behavior, then the dog was rewarded with the treat. Because the treat was shown to the dog before they performed the behavior, showing the treat became an important part of their routine. They learned that the cue to perform the behavior, includes seeing the treat. This is easy to fix down the line, so not to worry if your dog does this!
There is one caveat to this though; classical conditioning! When treats are applied during a classical conditioning training program they are used to create a positive emotional response or during counterconditioning.
How to figure out which treats your dog considers high value and low value
The long answer, detailed preference assessments. But, most of us don’t have time for those. Instead, here is the short answer. Figure out what treats your dog likes to eat and in which situations they will eat them.
Low value treats are treats that your dog likes, but isn’t crazy about. They will likely eat these treats indoors and in other environments with very few or low level distractions.
Medium value treats get your dog’s attention, they like them, but they don’t go crazy when they are out. These type of treats work well for medium distracting environments, inside puzzle toys, or for practicing behaviors your dog already knows how to perform.
When high value treats come out, your dog goes crazy for them! They lose their doggie mind with excitement. Your dog is very engaged and focused on you when these treats are used, even in highly distracting environments. High value treats are special and oftentimes novel; avoid using them everyday so they maintain their value. Use these treats outside (on walks, in stores, etc.), in situations where your dog has other reinforcers available, inside when learning a new and/or challenging behavior, and during, counter conditioning.
Host treat auditions with your dog
Test out which treats they like, and which environments and situations they will eat them in. To determine your dog’s perceived value of the treat use this rule of thumb:
- Low value treats are treats your dog will eat inside but not outside.
- Medium value treats are treats your dog almost always eats inside and will sometimes eat outside, but not always.
- High value treats are those which your dog will eat in almost any situation, inside and outside.
Keys for Success
- Value can be affected by flavor, texture, size, smell
- Complete one chart for each dog in your home. Every dog is an individual and will have their own preferences
You can print and fill out this chart to keep note of which treats are in which category, and use them appropriately in your training.
The best dog treats for picky dogs/eaters
But, what should you do if your dog is a picky eater? The first step is to bring your dog to the vet for a thorough evaluation and ensure there is no medical condition affecting your dog’s appetite.
With a clean bill of health, there are a few other things to consider if your dog is picky about what treats they will eat:
Space can play a crucial role in your dog’s behavior, and impacts what behaviors your dog does and does not display. When your dog does not take treats they may be too close to something that they consider scary or exciting.
How distracting are the various stimuli in the environment? Stimuli, such as loud noises, people, and other dogs could be more important for your dog to pay attention to than your treats. This can be because your dog feels unsafe, or because they are excited. When you are in a distracting environment with your dog you most likely need to use higher value treats.
Rate of Reinforcement
Are you giving your dog enough treats to keep their attention on you. This is especially important in situations where your dog encounters distractions.
It’s possible that your dog simply just does not like the treats you have been using. Test different flavors, different textures, and different sizes of treats. Try making some homemade treats, and/or try human food like boiled chicken, or deli meat.
What are the best treats to use to train your dog?
Such a simple question, and I am sorry that I don’t have a more simple answer. The best treats to train your dog are the ones that work in that moment. Below I have grouped some favorite treats into categories, but please mix and match! Don’t let these categories constrain you – play around, find out what your dog likes best and determine what value your dog assigns each type of treat.
Consider trying out these rewards for a well-behaved pup!
Best for small dogs : Crumps Mini Trainers Beef Liver
Available in beef liver only
About 1 calorie per treat
Best for big dogs: Stella and Chewy’s Meal Mixers
These are very easy to feed as individual treats, or break in half on the go.
Best for puppies: Wellness Puppy Bites
Available in lamb and salmon only
Also great for older and bigger dogs
Wellness makes lots of flavors of these, they just are not labeled for puppies specifically
Best crunchy: Crumps Beef Liver Bites (full sized)
Available in beef liver only
There are a lot of brands that sell single ingredient, freeze-dried dog training treats. Crumps tops our favorites because almost every treat in the bag is a ready to eat bite sized piece. For small dogs and puppies they also have mini trainers that are the same high quality beef liver, but in smaller bite sized pieces (above).
2 calories per treat
Best soft and chewy: Full Moon Training Treats, Zuke’s Training Treats, and Bocce’s Bakery
Ahhh! There are so many soft and chewy training treats out on the market, it was very difficult to decide. So, here are three of our favorites!
2 calories per treat
Peanut Butter and Oats
2 calories per treat
Duck and Blueberry
Beef and Cheddar
Chicken and Pumpkin
Peanut Butter and Bacon
Peanut Butter, Carob, and Vanilla
4 calories per treat
Best single ingredient: Pure Bites and Pupford
Less than 2 calories per treat
Best homemade: Easy at Home Dog Treats
Best allergy friendly: Natural Balance Limited Ingredient
Less than 4 calories per treat
Best bulk: Happy Howie’s
I know, I’m sorry, we said we were not going to include any treats on this list that required a knife or scissors, but Happy Howie’s are so great that we had to make one exception.
1 calorie per ¼” cube
Best high value, low calorie: Pupford
Duck and Veggie
Surf and Turf
Turkey and Veggie
Less than 2 calories per treat
Overall Best High Value Dog Training Treat: Boiled Chicken
I know, I’m sorry, this is not the most exciting finale there ever was. Over the years I have used, probably, thousands of types of dog training treats. People ask me all the time, “what are some irresistible high value treats that you use to train your dog?” And, time after time I always come back to classic boiled chicken. Its healthy, low in calorie, an can be very inexpensive.
- Buy raw chicken breast
- Put chicken breast into a large sauce pan
- Fill the pan with water until the chicken is covered
- Do NOT season the chicken or the water
- Put the pan on the stove, and wait for the water to boil
- Once boiling, wait another 5-10 minutes before removing cooked chicken breast
- Just like with people, ensure your chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees before removing it from the stove
- Wait for chicken to cool
- Cube chicken, about 1/4 inch is good for most dogs
- Store excess in individual portions in the freezer, pull out as needed for training
The Bottom Line
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