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I decided 20 years ago when my first dog was a puppy that I was going to use treats as rewards (or motivators) when training my dog.
This is something that I’ve had great success with, and I continued using treats as rewards with the next 2 dogs I raised from puppyhood as well.
My 3 dogs (2 Lab mixes and 1 American Eskimo) have always been relatively easy to train, and they tend to mind quite well. I think using treats with training definitely helped with that.
How I use dog treats as rewards:
- I give my dog a treat every time he does something “right” without me asking him to — like shaking his fur before coming inside after peeing in the rain, sitting and waiting patiently for the word “OK” every time we approach a crosswalk whenever we’re on a walk.
- I also give my dog a treat every single time he does something “on command” when I ask him to — like when learning a new trick, shaking his fur when I ask him to after he’s been playing in a pile of leaves, being patient while getting a bath or trimming his nails (not his favorite things to do).
Here’s a helpful tip for deciding when to give your dog a treat or not, based on whether your dog “worked” for it and has, therefore, “earned” a treat:
If I ask Lily to sit, and she sits, she DOES NOT get a treat. She’s not working for it. She knows that command like the back of her hand. She’s done it a million times. It’s automatic. If, however, I ask her to sit and stay as we answer the door, she gets a treat for that. Not because she doesn’t know how to sit or stay, but because doing so in the face of TWO NEW HANDS TO PET HER is really hard. She has to work at that, so she gets a treat. When I try to teach her something brand new, she gets not just a treat, but a high value treat — something to create incentive to work hard and learn this difficult new thing, rather than giving up or getting bored and walking away. — Holistic Dog Training
The end result is… after using treats as rewards when training my dog, I don’t have to ask (or tell) my dog to do very many things these days — he mostly does them on his own at this point.
So the number of treats he gets in a day is far less than the number of treats he got when he was growing up and learning new behaviors. But there’s no denying he still gets a lot of dog treats!
However, since I break them up into smaller pieces, I don’t have to worry about giving him too many extra calories or affecting his appetite for regular dog food. It all seems to balance out quite nicely.
Overall, rewarding my dog with treats is a win-win for both of us.
High-Value vs Low-Value Dog Treats
As in the example above, I too give my dog low-value treats most of the time and reward him with high-value treats only on certain occasions.
My dog is incredibly treat motivated (yet he doesn’t beg!), so the low-value treats alone really do motivate him to do just about anything I ask him to do.
The high-value treats are the ones I use only rarely to reward highly unusual behavior that is good — because I want him to know that he will be rewarded dearly if he chooses to do this behavior again in the future.
Here are a few examples of the times I use low-value dog treats:
- I want my dog to always come back in the house willingly and happily, so I give my dog a treat after peeing or pooping outside. (I keep a box of low-value treats near the back door, and he waits patiently until I give him his treat after returning inside.)
- After we’ve gone for a car ride and I’ve parked the car in the garage, I want my dog to run toward the house door, rather than run out the garage door looking for exciting things to smell and play with. So I always give my dog a treat before he enters the house. (I keep a box of low-value treats near the garage door that leads into the house, and he runs like the dickens to get to that treat box each time!)
- Any time my dog is learning a new command or behavior, I give him a treat whenever he responds favorably to that command or behavior throughout the day. (I keep low-value treats in various locations in the house. He views these as surprise moments when he gets rewarded.)
- Since I reward my dog randomly throughout the day — not just for anything, but for exceptionally “good” behavior — I keep boxes of low-value treats in the following locations in our home:
- At my husband’s desk
- At my desk
- At my husband’s nightstand
- At my nightstand
Here are a few examples of the times I use high-value dog treats:
- The most common one is when it’s really late at night, we’re all in bed, and the dog gives me the sign that he needs to go outside. I encourage him to “go outside quick” and he’ll get a “bacon.” (That’s what we call the Chicken Jerky dog treats.) That usually motivates him to pee or poop quickly, then rush right back in the house — rather than exploring the perimeter of the fence line like he usually does, or worse yet, barking loudly at something in the yard late at night while the neighbors are asleep.
- Another time I choose a high-value treat over a low-value one is when he has done a new (desired) behavior with little or no effort on my part. I definitely want to encourage him to do that behavior again on his own, so a surprise high-value treat shows him that he’s done something highly rewarding and worth doing again.
- Since I reward my dog infrequently with the high-value treats, I only keep them in 1 location:
- In the dog food station area in our kitchen
One thing’s for sure… between the 2 main entrances to our house, and the places we hang out the most, we are always within reach of a dog treat!
Best Dog Training Treats
As for the best dog training treats… I’ve always used Biljac frozen dog food.
I learned about Biljac from the puppy training school I took my dogs to. It’s what the dog trainers used themselves when showing us how to train our dogs.
Each day right before class, they gave us a dog training treat bag (actually, it was a Home Depot apron) filled with Biljac treats. They showed us how to use the Biljac liver treats to motivate our dogs to perform basic commands — like sit, stay, come, heel, and leave it.
I figured if those small, soft, squishy treats worked so well in class, then they should continue to work great when training my dog at home. And they did! As a result, I’ve never swayed from using Biljac when training puppies. I honestly believe they are the best dog treats for training.
If you don’t want to use the Biljac (or you can’t find it where you live), pretty much any pellet-sized soft morsels will work great for dog training purposes.
The most important features to look for in dog training treats:
- Size – you want small, pellet-sized morsels for 2 reasons:
- During training, you’ll be giving your dog a lot of treats. You don’t want your dog to get full… or fat!; and
- Smaller treats are easier to maneuver in your hand and in front of your dog’s nose.
- Smell – the smellier, the better! Why? There’s only 1 reason:
- You want something that your dog immediately smells and recognizes as a tasty reward. (Liver is usually the best flavor for strong smelling dog treats.)
- Texture – you want soft and squishy dog treats that can be easily manipulated for 3 reasons:
- They typically have a stronger scent that dogs love;
- Your dog won’t have to spend much time chewing in between bites — so your dog can continue to nip off tiny bites of the morsels (like micro-rewards!) throughout the entire training session — it really helps, trust me; and
- Since dog training treats are used both as “lures” and as “rewards,” you only want your dog to get a tiny amount of dog treats from your hand each time. For example, when used as a lure, you’re not doling out an individual treat for performing a desired action, but rather you’re letting your dog nibble tiny portions of the treat while being led to perform the desired action (like “heel”), or while mimicking what you’re doing (like “climb over this obstacle”).
Basically, any soft/moist dog food or dog treat would work well as a dog training treat.
By the way, Biljac also makes liver treats specifically for training purposes. I’ve used them, and I like them a lot. (So do my dogs!) They’re not nearly as easy to mold and shape in your hand during training as the (thawed) Biljac frozen food is, but the Biljac treats are handy because they’re so small to begin with. I have a large 90-lb. dog and even the tiny Biljac treats work wonders at getting his attention!
The Biljac treats come in a couple of different pellet sizes:
- Regular Biljac treats (called Original Recipe)
- Small Biljac treats (called Little Jacs)
Still, for the price, the Biljac frozen dog food (thawed) is the most economical option for dog training treats. Depending on how often you’re training your dog with soft, smelly training treats in hand, one bag of Biljac frozen food will last anywhere from a month to several months.
I actually repackage the Biljac liver pellets into smaller plastic baggies and re-freeze it — so I can grab a bag that will last about 2 weeks in the fridge. You could even repackage the Biljac using those smaller snack-size plastic bags and have single-use portions available at any time!
And since the Biljac dog food is stored in the freezer until you need it, it’s nice knowing that you’ve always got some dog training treats on hand.
Two nice bonuses with choosing Biljac frozen dog food:
- It’s so aromatic and meaty smelling to your dog, it makes a great disguise for medication — like when giving your dog a pill.
- It packs quite nicely inside a Kong toy — which is great when you’re stuffing Kongs with tasty treats for your dog.
I like to help Dog Parents find unique ways to do things that will save time & money — so I write about “outside the box” Dog Tips and Dog Hacks that most wouldn’t think of. I’m a lifelong dog owner — currently have 2 mixed breed Golden Aussies that we found abandoned on the side of the road as puppies. I’ve always trained my own dogs and help friends train theirs, as well. Professionally, I worked at a vet and have several friends who are veterinarians — whom I consult with regularly. (And just because I love animals so much, I also worked at a Zoo for awhile!) I’ve been sharing my best ideas with others by blogging full-time since 1998 (the same year that Google started… and before the days of Facebook and YouTube). My daily motivation is to help first-time dog owners be better prepared from the first day your new puppy enters your home. I like to help dog owners understand what’s ‘normal’ and what you can expect in terms of living with and training your dog — how to get through the ups & downs of potty training, chewing, teaching commands, getting your dog to listen, and everything else that takes place during that hectic first year! When I’m not training, walking, grooming, or making homemade treats for my dogs, you will find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites). To date, I’ve written over 600 articles for dog owners on this site! Many of them have upwards of 200K shares.