Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Motivation is ultimately the internal engine that gets your dog going, but you cannot have motivation without having a strong reward. If you want to makes this equation work for you during your dog's training session, you want to do some homework on what makes your dog eager to work for you. After all, as humans we should understand the concept very well; don't you feel more motivated to work for a well paying job versus one that pays you minimum wage? The same applies to dogs.
Best Rewards to Use During Dog Training
One of the most common scenarios in dog training are dog owners that claim ''my dog is really not food oriented.'' As you attempt to investigate the motives behind a dog being so skittish, you quickly find out why when the owner starts working the dog and grabs some kibble out of the pocket to reward the dog. Dogs do not want kibble as rewards (at least most of them). They are used to seeing kibble every day and if they are trained in a new place with distractions around, they will most likely turn their nose away almost in disgust.
What you need in this case are high value rewards, foods that your dog craves and that are worth more than anything that may be distracting him, squirrels and the neighbor's cat included. Once introduced to these high value foods, dogs with a reputation of being ''finicky'' start sniffing as if life came back to being wonderful and they start drooling buckets of saliva. But what are exactly high value treats? Dogs may know this too well, but owners must too.
- Freeze Dried Liver: Most dogs cannot resist the smell of freeze-dried liver and this is why most trainers ensure they have a pack of it on hand. Liver, in a dog's eyes, is something irresistible that will change a dog's attitude over training almost overnight. Finicky dogs come back to life and start drooling as soon as they acknowledge a piece and they start looking forward for their next training session with new enthusiasm.
- Green Beef Tripe: Some dog owners claim that their dogs completely change at the sight and smell of Green Beef Tripe treats. Not many have heard about these treats but they are certainly worth a try. If you are fortunate enough to find a store that stocks these and you want a motivated dog, these treats will certainly gain lots of attention. Owner beware; tripe treats are one of the stinkiest foods you may ever deal with.
- Hot Dogs: Hot dogs make good training treats since they can be cut up in small pieces and they are soft to eat without making a mess. Most dogs like hot dogs and look forward to training when they discover their existence. Hot dogs are also on the cheap side and convenient since you can get many pieces out of a pack of four that cost less than one dollar.
- Left Over Chicken or Steak: You may have noticed how your dog sniffs the air when your are cooking roasted chicken or steak. Well, try offering them to him during your next training session and see if it makes a difference. Most likely your dog will be drooling eager to eat some of that juicy meat. The main issue though is that they may be messy to carry.
- Cheese: Most dogs find the taste of cheese irresistible and therefore would do anything for it. One of the favorites is string cheese since strings can be peeled off easily and the dog will ''heel'' just to grab on one side. Dogs may develop different tastes for different cheeses, some may like cheddar, some may prefer mozzarella, other may like brie. Best to not indulge too much though to prevent flatulence and an upset stomach.
Of course, just like people, dogs may develop different tastes. There are some dogs that would do backflips for a piece of carrot or frozen peas. Some dogs love Cheerios while others may like a specific brand of dog treats. Often, mixing a variety of tasty treats will create great interest in a dog since he will not know what may come next. Experiment and see what works best for your dog. Chances are if you notice his ears are pricked up high, his eyes are wide open, and he is ready to listen to your command shivering in anticipation, you got the right type of treat!
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Brittanie Anne from Seattle WA on April 05, 2019:
Thanks for sharing Adrienne! I recently adopted a rescue pup. She is a rat terrier that came from a puppy mill situation. I bought five different types of store-bought treats (the small bags thankfully) and she showed no interest in any of them. I tried the cheese trick and she finally took a piece out of my hand. Now I can use cheese as a reward and incentive to socialize a little more! I will try the liver next.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 03, 2011:
You are right, they are not made for dog consumption, but can be used occasionally for the once a week training session in class. Each training instructor may offer alternative healthier choices. If you are concerned, look for low-sodium hot dogs or treats specifically made for dogs with claims of low sodium on the bag.
Jean on September 28, 2011:
I'm concerned about the content in some of the food mentioned, will the salt level be too high for my dog to handle and such? Do I prepare them different? Because food such as hotdogs, roast chicken and beef steak are usually not prepared for dog consumption.
GetSmart on February 16, 2011:
Really good information and it makes sense that dogs will do just about anything for better pay! Thanks
Eiddwen from Wales on February 10, 2011:
Handy hints for all dog lovers here.
Thanks for sharing.
SUSIE DUZY from Delray Beach, Florida on February 08, 2011:
Thanks for the tips.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on February 07, 2011:
I'll keep these in mind.
What Makes A Good Dog Training Treat?
These treats have a few specific parameters to meet:
1. Size Matters, So Think Small
When it comes to dog training, you’ll want to pick treats that are very, very tiny.
Imagine giving your child a cupcake every time she went to the bathroom, another when she washed her hands, and another whenever she said “please” and “thank you.”
Your child would quickly gain weight, get sick, or at the very least fill up with food (and have no room for the meatloaf you slaved over all day)! Instead, you might reward a child with chocolate chips.
Dog training works the same – if you give your dog an entire bully stick every time he sits, you’re not going to have a very effective training session.
Using smaller treats will help keep your dog in shape and excited to train, without filling him up or slowing down training.
2. Quick & Easy to Swallow
Stay away from crunchy or chewy treats for training purposes.
Waiting for a dog to finish chewing slows down training – instead, stick to soft treats that are easily swallowed.
This is why trainers don’t often recommend training dogs with traditional dog biscuits – they take some time to eat.
Soft, small treats are key to fast, safe training!
3. Super Portable
Yes, your dog might love miniature meatballs. They’re healthy, small, and soft (and insanely tasty).
The downside is that they fall apart in your pocket and stain your jacket, so they might not be the best training treat, especially for walks.
If you wouldn’t put the treat in your pocket and don’t have a treat pouch, it’s not a good option.
4. Health & Nutrition
It should go without saying that nutrition matters for treats, too.
Keep an eye out for all-natural ingredients, and aim for treats made in the USA that are USDA-inspected.
If your dog has specific dietary needs, such as needing special hypoallergenic dog treats, talk to your vet about which are the best treats for training your dog.
Finally, be sure to reduce the size of your dog’s dinner if you’re giving a lot of treats! You don’t want to fatten your pooch up too much!
5. Stinkiness – The Smellier, The Better!
Smelly treats are often yummy treats.
When you’re working on difficult tricks or training in distracting situations, you want the treats to be attention-grabbing. While some dogs will work for kibble or Cheerios, save the really good, stinky stuff for training.
The more challenging your goals, the better the treat should be. Stinkiness for humans is often a good indicator of tastiness for dogs!
What To Avoid: Many commercial dog “cookies” or milk-bone type treats are not appropriate for training. They’re too big, and the crunchiness can even make them a potential choking hazard.
Cookie treats also take too long to eat and are cumbersome. They’re also not stinky or tasty enough for high-level training. While they’re a fine treat for hanging at home, we do not recommend using milk-bone type treats for training.
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I purchase a bone broth tea that I give my dog as a treat. It’s very healthy and my dog seems to love it. It gives him great energy too. The product is available on a few sites and is called Buster’s Brew. https://bustersbrew.net
I have a question about my 13-year old yellow lab who suffers from larynx paralysis. I have been grinding up his senior dry food for a few years now and mixing it with a homemade mixture of white rice, ground chicken, green beans, peas, carrots, beets, and sometimes pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Over the last few weeks, he has been having difficulty eating the dry food. We have been giving him the wet food, which he is able to eat up with no problem. He also gets a glucosamine tablet chopped up with his food twice a day for his arthritis. Are there any suggestions of any other soft food diets I could make for him? We also feed our Pekingese the soft rice mixture with a little bit of grinded food, as his stomach is delicate
Hey there this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if
you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a
blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get advice from
someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!
Hi, we use Thrive Architect as our WSYIWYG editor.
What type of reward to use with clicker or marker training?
The type of reward to use is an important part of any reward-based training method, including clicker training or marker training. Normally, at least in the beginning, we use food rewards the reason for this is because food is motivating as well as rewarding for dogs. On top of that, it also allows us to do a lot of repetitions in a short timeframe and to keep a higher rate of reinforcement. Food rewards can be separated into two groups
- High value rewards
- Low value rewards
High value rewards
High value food rewards are considered to be such things as, meat, cheese, dog food sausages, etc. Normally, high value treats are soft products, although this depends on your dog. Every dog has a different taste and what some dogs may find extremely motivating, another may not. You may have to change a few different types of reward treats in order to find what your dog prefers the most.
Low value rewards
Low value treats on the other hand are such things as dog food kibbles and dry treats, in most cases. For example, if you are using dry dog food as a type of reward, your dog will probably not find it so exciting since that is part of his daily meal. Using low value treats may significantly decrease your dogвЂ™s motivation and overall performance up to the point that the dog stops performing all together since the reward is not motivating enough.
I wouldnвЂ™t recommend using low value treats for your type of reward at the beginning of clicker training (or marker training) especially not while you are still shaping your dogвЂ™s emotional response towards obedience exercises and work in general.
Normally most dog trainers and owners that use clicker or marker training start with food and eventually switch to a different type of reward, usually to a toy reward, if the dog has enough drive for toys. Dogs that have a high toy drive in most cases prefer a toy over food.
Keep in mind that it also depends what you are doing with your dog. For example: a dog that has already established trained behaviors can be switched to a toy or other type of reward system. However, the type of reward depends also on the intention of the training if we are shaping a new behavior, by giving toys or so called вЂњlife rewardsвЂќ to our dog, this may decrease the rate of reinforcement or serve as too much of a distraction to the dog.
Since there are a few general rules about how to use toys as a type of reward and which type of toys to use, etc. I have created a separate page on the website to help you through the principles of using a toy reward for dogs for more details click here.
TIP: Avoid using treats that crumble on the floor, otherwise your dog will spend more time disengaged or distracted from you and checking to see if either of you have dropped any crumbs, than actually working with you each time you reward him.
What size of reward to use?
The size of the reward varies accordingly to the size of the dog. The rule of thumb is for the size of the reward to not be too small that the dog simply doesnвЂ™t feel or notice it (or if he seems confused about whether or not anything at all has actually been delivered to him) it also cannot be too big, because if the treat is too big the dog will spend his time chewing it which will delay other exercises, and the dog will learn to disengage from us while eating, and will quickly get full and wonвЂ™t be as motivated to work.
The optimal size should be enough that a dog can chew it one or two times and the piece of food is gone, this way he will stay actively participating with you in order to get more.
How to properly deliver the treat?
There are a few important concepts when we are talking about delivering the treat:
- How to physically hold the treat in your hand
- How to deliver the reward
- Proper positioning of the treat in regards to the dogвЂ™s position
How to properly hold the treat
The proper way to hold a treat is in your palm held down with your thumb. There are two reasons for this first of all, you are avoiding getting inadvertently bitten by the highly motivated dog, which is more likely to occur if you are holding the food with the tips of your fingers, and the second reason is that you can form a small cup with your palm allowing your dogвЂ™s snout to push inside for the treat, even though he canвЂ™t actually reach the treat until you let it go with your thumb.
How to deliver a reward
This is useful in clicker training (or marker training) if you are luring your dog into positions or if you want to manipulate his body posture. This is also useful as a tactic to hold his attentiveness if you are counter-conditioning certain situations which I will describe in detail on the page about counter-conditioning.
The second part of delivering the reward is the actual way of delivering it. There are three ways, delivering it right up and into the dogвЂ™s mouth (as you would if you were rewarding a вЂњgoodвЂќ guiding marker, and you wanted your dog to remain in the position), or you can create a little energy/excitement burst and deliver the reward while moving about with your dog engaged (like after you have released the dog from a series of commands, for example), or tactically placing food in certain spots (or delivering it in certain spots) as a part of free shaping to help your dog clue in and advance faster.
Depending on the type of reward, one of the ways to deliver it, that is still used in many dog sports, especially Schutzhund, is that the toy reward is delivered in such a way that the dog has to вЂњcatch itвЂќ in the air, simulating prey. This is a very important part of delivery since it builds satisfaction and motivation for the dog.
Many people that use clicker training or marker training miss this point, and then deliver the food right to the dogвЂ™s mouth every time. This may become boring or even frustrating for a dog if our training wasnвЂ™t properly planned and the dog is having issues figuring out what he is supposed to do. Because of this, the whole concept may end up being about the treats themselves, which is wrong, the reward should be about the treat and the interaction with the handler or it may become too frustrating and the dog may start avoiding future work.
Think about it for a moment from a human perspective. Imagine that you spend your whole day painting the house, and then your spouse comes home, looks at the walls and with the same dull expression on their face as in their voice, they say вЂњgreat, dearвЂќ. How would you feel? Now, if your spouse comes home excited and exclaims, вЂњWow, this is so awesome, it looks great!вЂќ also showing that excitement through their body language, of course you will feel proud and excited. The same goes for our dogs.
Regardless of the type of reward, make it into a mini-event every time you can when delivering it, after all that is why it is called a вЂњrewardвЂќ.
As mentioned above, the only time that you would deliver the treat right to your dogвЂ™s mouth in clicker training (or marker training) is when he is in a position that you donвЂ™t want him to break, like a long sit or down, or in some exercises, where the treat has to be delivered in such a fashion to help the dogвЂ™s advancement. In these cases, you will pair the reward delivery with the guiding marker (вЂњgoodвЂќ or whatever word you are using) and avoid excitement, in order to encourage your dog to stay on track.
There is another time in which you would use this delivery method, and that is while desensitizing and counter-conditioning. During this process, you want your dog to stay calmer and you donвЂ™t want the reward to become too disturbing for the exercise, but again, that is different than with clicker training for basic obedience, which is what we are discussing here.
Positioning the treat matters
The last important segment with regards to the type of reward is the positioning of its delivery. In many cases the positioning of the reward will help your dog clue into the final goal much faster, or in some cases, it will help keep his posture in a certain position.
For example, if you are training the вЂњfrontвЂќ command, where your dog comes and sits in front of you, and you always reward him with your right hand slightly to the right of his head, your dog will start sitting crooked towards your right hand side. No matter how much you are clicking at the right moment with the correct timing. The presentation of a treat will drive the dogвЂ™s position, not the clicker. In order to avoid these вЂњconflictingвЂќ situations you should:
- Always make a habit of rewarding your dog with either hand, interchangeably, so that your dog knows that the reward is not always coming from the same side. In the case of the вЂњfrontвЂќ exercise you should reward your dog right above his head to keep his posture straight. Presentation of the reward (as much as possible) should always be done in a way that is reinforcing or stabilizing certain behaviors/postures.
TIP: Always keep in mind that the dog is doing what we ask him to do because of the reward, at least in the beginning of clicker training (or marker training), and all animals tend to follow the source of the treat, which will be your hand, your bait pouch, pocket, etc. even if that behavior itself wonвЂ™t bring any reward. If you are using a bait pouch and it distracts your dog too much, place it at your back or your side. Or switch the treats over to your pockets instead.
Once your dog has a clear picture that he will receive a reward as a result of successfully performing an exercise and being given the release marker or click, combined with the right placement of the reward, this type of unwanted behavior will phase itself out. Using the right type of reward for your dog will help him stay motivated to work.