Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal and today I'm going to talk about food treats. Food is what behavior is called a primary reinforcer. You don't have to train a dog to like food. So it's very valuable as a tool for training. For best results in a training session an owner should have a variety of food treats of varying value to the dog and all in very tiny sizes. The highest value treats for dogs are often stinky and juicy like canned anchovies or sardines. These treat are the canine equivalent of $100 bill, something that will stop them in their tracks and inspire them to perform for you even in the face of distractions. Use these treats, only when training really challenging behaviors.
Then there are high value treats, ones that are very appealing for the dog in all but the most distracting environment. Maybe the equivalent of a $20 bill. This might include canned chicken, bits of steak or meatballs, bits of cheese, dried liver or bacon. Even low value treats such as ordinary kibble, crackers, pieces of carrot or fruit have some value when training. They can be used in the trail mix to keep the dog from getting bored of a single type of treat and in low distraction environments.
We like using real food for treats. If you buy commercial treats, avoid the ones that contain artificial preservatives and colors and really crummy ingredients; like animal fat, wheat gluten, meat by-products and propylene glycol. It's also critically important for the treats to be small like the size of the nail on your pinky.
The treat should be small, because in an average training session you want to be able to feed lots of them without making the dog to full or ruining his diet. Food treats are an easy way to make a big impact on most dogs. Even tiny puppies are immediately drawn to and motivated by tasty food. When used properly as a reinforcer for desired behavior food treats don't caused begging or bad behavior. Give it a try.