Knowing Your Dog’s Currency
No matter what stage of training you are in, it’s important to establish what foods or dog treats your dog likes and how they will respond to them. Creating a tiered list by treat value will help you know which treats to use in different situations, depending on the value the treat holds to your dog. For instance, asking them to leave a squirrel alone and only giving them a piece of kibble in return is unlikely to motivate your dog to come back to you in the future.
High-Value Dog Treats
These “high-value” treats are at the very top of the treat tier. You will want to save these for introducing new concepts, recall training, or in any situation that may be particularly distracting to your dog. Ideally, you will only use these foods or treats in training situations so that your dog associates them with learning, and most importantly, listening.
Best High Value Treats
- Freeze-Dried Meats: My dogs go absolutely nuts over Vital Essentials freeze-dried beef tripe and turkey. I can use these as a top-tier reward, and they also travel a bit better than the cooked meats I’ll use at home.
- Chicken: Although it takes a bit of preparation, cooked chicken keeps well in the fridge and can be broken up into tiny strips for easy distribution. I usually cook a couple of chicken breasts in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20/25 minutes.
- Peanut Butter: This can be a bit hard to distribute but can be used for nail trims, baths or can be incorporated into a lick mat. You can put some peanut butter on a spoon to lick as a reward for any behavior you are looking to reinforce. Just make sure it is free of xylitol!
- Stella & Chewy’s Treats: Freeze-dried beef hearts may sound icky to you, but they will make your dog quite the happy camper. These treats don’t smell funky like some other brands I’ve tried in the past, so these are a great option to bring your dog running straight back to you.
Medium-Value Dog Treats
Having medium-value treats in your arsenal is beneficial as these can supplement your high-value training. After introducing a new concept, you can begin to go down to medium value treats as a reward once your dog shows some level of comfort with the requested behavior.
Best Medium Value Treats
- Chippin: For a high-quality, nutritious, and environmentally friendly option, look no farther than Chippin’s dog treats. These are a new favorite in my house as they have a number of flavors and added health benefits that make them enticing to my dogs.
- Zukes: Easy to break up, lots of flavors to chose from, and large quantities make Zuke’s a staple reward for all of my dogs.
- Merrick: Similar to Zuke’s, these treats can also be broken up into tiny pieces while remaining tasty enough to reinforce good behavior.
- Dehydrated Sweet Potatoes: Another healthy, homemade option that is still delicious to your dog is freeze-dried sweet potatoes. You can make these into slices or tiny bits, depending on if you want to use them as a treat or a longer-use chew.
Low-Value Dog Treats
Low-value treats are generally saved for instances where you ask for a solidified trick, are in a low distraction environment, or are phasing out treats altogether. I’ll use lower value treats interspersed into my treat bag as well to keep my dog guessing while we are working on an already introduced concept that just needs some routine reinforcement, such as heel.
Best Low Value Treats
- Pet Botanics Training Rewards: To get the most bang for your buck, these treats come in packs of 500 and are awesome to stock up on. I try to break these up into a couple of smaller pieces and use them for interval training, such as reinforcing place or heel.
- Kibble: Depending on your dog, you may be able to get away with giving them their kibble as a reward for certain behaviors. I will use kibble to reward basic commands, such as place or sit, especially before feeding a meal.
- Any treats that they get frequently or have gotten used to having often
Time For A Taste Test
If you are unsure which treats will make your dog go crazy, take some time to conduct a taste test with them by placing different types of food in your hands. Let your dog sniff your hands and reward them with the one they show the most interest in. You can also do this when practicing basic commands that they already know. Most dogs will show a difference in how fast they lay down when they know they are getting a piece of meat versus a normal biscuit treat.
When establishing the values of the treats, it is also important to think about treat calories and ease of delivery. If working on loose-leash training, make sure to have tiny pieces of whatever you are using so that way you can get it to your dog’s mouth quickly. Nothing can be more annoying than having your dog hyper-focus on the treat you accidentally dropped while trying to walk and treat at the same time.
Attaching the appropriate treat value to the behavior you are teaching will ensure success and also keep you from spending a ton of money on premium treats. Make sure to keep in mind the caloric values of treats as well and adjust your regular meal feedings as well.