The Scoop on Training Treats
When talking about treat value, make sure to consider the value from the dog's point of view. It doesn't matter if you think a particular treat should be the most valuable if your dog prefers a different one. Usually we can tell by a dogs reaction to different treats in the same situation which they prefer more. It is a good idea to create a rough ranking of treats so that you can choose the treat that best suits the situation.
Generally we can classify treats into Low, Medium and High value treats. Low value treats are those that your dog will accept but aren't anything very special. Usually kibble falls into this category. High value treats are those treats that your dog gets excited to see, and will do almost anything for. Treats in this category tend to be meaty and smelly.
Here is an example of treat values for two different dogs illustrating how there can be some general trends but also some variation between individuals.
Matching the Treat to the Effort
Another way to keep an eye on calories is to use low value treats for work requiring little effort such as practicing inside your home and reserve the high value treats for work that requires a lot of effort such as learning a difficult skill or working away from home.
You can usually take a portion of your dog's meal that you would normally just put in the bowl for free and use that as rewards during your training practice instead if you are practising at home. But don't be stingy! If your dog needs to put out a lot of effort to accomplish a task, reward them for that effort. It will encourage them to do it again.
Saving Money - Making Treats
If you are so inclined, there are many great homemade treat recipes available. One that I have tried is making treats in silicone pyramid pans. You turn the pan over, exposing the hollow underside of the pyramids. Pour your batter in the hollows, smooth off the top to remove the excess and bake. Once done, roll up and stretch the pan to dislodge all of the tiny treats - no cutting required.
Mythbusting - Feeding People food will teach my dog to beg
Feeding your dog from the table will teach your dog to beg at the table. Feeding your dog when you eat snacks on the couch will teach your dog to beg when you eat snacks on the couch. Our dog's noses are amazing, they already know our meals smell good. Using food we would eat as treats while training will not change their behaviour around the table. I can say this with confidence, having used people food as treats for 20 years while having dogs that lie in their bed during meal times rather than begging.
If you have one family member that feeds from the table, and the rest don't - I bet you have noticed that your dog sits by that person during meals. Or sometimes under the highchair if you have a toddler that thinks it's fun to drop food on the floor.
So don't let concerns about begging at the table deter you from finding some nice, high value treats for your dog!
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