Treats are often one of the basic staples that come to mind when one thinks about modern dog training. We want to motivate our dogs to do as we ask, and what better motivation than a tasty snack? Humans are much the same in this regard. Let’s face it, you’re probably a little more likely to try something new if there’s a dish of your favorite dessert waiting for you when you’ve finished.
But, how hard would you work for a plate of lettuce or a plain piece of bread?
I like to make that comparison because it’s easier to think in terms of human motivation. All the time, I see well-meaning folks bringing regular ol’ Milkbone biscuits with them to training class. I applaud them for bringing treats and for rewarding their dog, but I also pose a question. How hard would you work for that? Does it smell good? Is that treat motivating enough that you’d obey the same commands over and over and over to have a piece of it?
Generally, the answer is no. And that calls for a change. I’m not here to police your trips down the treat aisle, but I do have a few tips for those of you who are hoping to get the most out of your pup’s afternoon snacks.
One of the top criteria, apart from choosing a treat that is safe and healthy, is to select something with a strong scent. It’s no secret
that dogs love stinky things, so choosing something like salmon-based treats is going to engage their sense of smell. Another thing to look for is size. Small treats, or treats that can be broken easily without crumbling, are ideal. You’re going to be handing out a lot of those suckers, so tiny pieces are going to save you money and save your dog from having to stop and chew up a bone after each successful command. It’s also important to keep in mind the caloric value of the treats you use. High-calorie, high-fat treats aren’t going to be the best option for a pup on a diet.
Another option is to skip store bought treats all-together and shop in your own kitchen. Plenty of dog treat recipes are floating around online, but some household staples are quick and easy to use too. I like to use small chunks of turkey, occasional tidbits of string cheese, and sometimes even Cheerios when I’m working my own dogs. Cheerios are a good base treat to occasionally reinforce what they already know, cheese is perfect for introducing tasks, and turkey is the jackpot treat for when they succeed at something new. That same idea of treat tiers should apply no matter what type of treats you choose. Always have a jackpot ready – you never know when your dog will stumble onto the perfect behavior, and you don’t want to be without a reward when they do.
Odds are, your dogs want to make you happy – they just don’t always know how. It’s our job to show them the ways, and the road to success is going to be much smoother if everyone stays motivated along the way. Always leave room for dessert, but always work for it too.
Director of Training at Happy Dogs