We all use food/treats rewards for training our dogs, and that is the norm nowadays. Even non-experienced trainers or just regular dog-owners have used at some point some kind of food/treat to train their dogs to do something or to behave a certain way. But treats are just one of many ways to reward your dog, they also like to play, to out or for a walk, belly-scratches and toys, and we can incorporate any of those things into training rewards, it’s just that treats are the most effective and quick way we can use, so how do we do it properly? What treats are best for them and would give better results?
Although using treats seems like a simple and straightforward method, there is a little bit of science behind it, and some rules we can follow to get the best results out of the training. One of the first things we have look out for its variety, and this is important to keep in mind if you use the store-bought ‘‘training treats’’ always as the only source of treats, because even though they are fine for their purpose of training, there are many benefits in including other options as well, to surprise your dog from time to time, and increase the excitement at the time of receiving a treat. When choosing treats, the first thing you have to do is find what your dog likes most, because just like people, all dogs have preferences, so to keep them motivated, make sure they enjoy what you reward them with.
When training, you want the treats to be small and easy for them to swallow, so that there’s no time for chewing (this may distract them a little bit), making the reward quick and effective. A big piece of meat or whole treat will not be effective for training, since the attention will go directly to chewing and eating that big piece of food, distracting them from the training, and after just a couple of treats, their stomach will be full and ready to take a nap. What we want to achieve with the treats, is the association in their minds that doing a certain thing, generates a reward, that, only with a little treat, we can make that very clear, and their brains will still do the math and understand it, so some of the best dog training treats, apart from store-bought treats, are small pieces of boiled chicken breasts, slices of carrots, bites of banana, frozen peas, apple, and peanut butter (check if it’s dog-friendly), and even bites of their dry food, which will save us calories and avoid over-feeding them!
An important thing to remember is that treats shouldn’t make more than 10% of the total amount of calories our dogs consume per day, so if your dog needs 500 calories a day, only 50 should come from treats, that’s another reason why small treats work just fine for training, and we also avoid spoiling their appetite for their actual meals, since they bring the most important part of nutrients, vitamins, and energy our dog needs, while treats are just meant to be a tasty special reward.