How do you choose the right training treats for training your dog? Have you tried and struggled to find treats your dog actually likes?
Today I’m sharing with you exactly which treats I use as a professional dog trainer with my clients, as well as what factors to look for so that you can pick out the best treats for your individual dog.
Why does using the best dog training treats matter?
From a dog training perspective, the one word answer is this:
When it comes down to it, all dog training relies on motivation. No motivation, no training!
How your dog feels about your treats determines how motivated your dog is to listen to you. So, in order for any training you do to be effective, your treats must be highly interesting to your dog.
Let’s face it; you’re not going to get very far if you’re using lackluster treats. Your dog training experience will be slow, frustrating, and unproductive.
Your dog decides what they find motivating or not. And every dog is different: they have their own levels of interest in food as a whole, and they have their own taste preferences.
So the very best training treat for every dog will be a little bit different. It may require a bit of trial and error to discover the training treat that works the absolute best for your dog.
First, ask yourself: What kind of training will I be doing?
Will you be training your dog at home? Out on a walk? At the dog park? Or in a crowded venue for show or competition? Or maybe all of the above?
Keep in mind that the more distracting the environment, the better your treats need to be in order to keep your dog’s interest. (Again, “better” is subjective and determined by your dog.)
I suggest finding a range of treats of different values that your dog will work for in different situations. For example, maybe after gauging your dog’s interest in several options, you decide to use commercially made training treats for manners practice at home, freeze-dried liver treats during nail trims and grooming, hot dogs on walks, and cheese as a super special “jackpot” reward.
What you should look for when choosing the best training treats
Here are the key things I look for when choosing a training treat:
This is THE most important criterion by far. (If your dog isn’t motivated by your treats, then what’s the point?)
Of course, every dog is different, but for the most part, “treat value” from your dog’s perspective goes something like this (from least to most valuable):
If you’re practicing obedience at home, then you can get away with using a less valuable treat (some dogs will even work for kibble). But even then, you’ll probably want to have a higher-value treat handy for when you need to train your dog in more distracting situations.
It generally holds true that the more valuable the treats you use, the better training results you will get.
This is especially true when it comes to rather difficult or “expensive” behaviors for your dog. For example, if you want your dog to come when called with speed and enthusiasm, make sure to pay that behavior with treats your dog goes absolutely crazy for.
Soft and easy to chew
Usually, you’ll want to avoid biscuits or hard treats for training. Soft treats are easier for your dog to eat, which means you won’t have to stand around waiting while your dog chews. And, soft treats tend to be smellier, which helps captivate your dog’s attention.
Small, bite-sized pieces
The smaller your training treats are, the better. Smaller individual treats means your dog will be able to train longer without getting as full. Smaller treats are also quicker for your dog to eat so you can keep up the training pace.
If your dog is not super food-motivated, then pay close attention to the size of treat. You’ll want to use as small of treats as possible to help keep your dog engaged with you for the duration of your training session.
Many training treats come pre-cut into small pieces that are perfect for training. Others may be larger but can be easily broken apart or cut into smaller bits, i.e. jerky-style treats.
Doesn’t crumble or fall apart
Trust me – it is not fun realizing you lost half of your training treats because they crumbled to dust while in your treat pouch. And, crumbly treats can be messy.
The best training treats are soft, but not so soft that they don’t hold their shape. Treats that disintegrate, stick together into one giant treat blob, or turn to mush in your pouch are a hassle.
The best dog treats for obedience training
The truth is that there are SO many great options of dog treats to choose from. But because there are so many options, choosing one can feel pretty overwhelming. That’s why I’m sharing the treats that I have personally put to the test over the years working with shelter dogs, clients dogs, and my own.
When shopping on your own for training treats, my advice is to focus on the qualities I listed above…
…And remember that what matters most is that your dog LOVES whichever treats you train with.
Store bought training treats are a great all-around choice
If you don’t know what treats to start with, I recommend treats labeled as “training treats”. These usually tick every box – they are small, soft, smelly, convenient, and hold their shape well. Plus, most dogs find them appealing enough to hold their interest in a variety of training situations. So in most cases, they’ll do the trick whether you’re practicing manners at home or training on the go.
Dog Trainer's Choice: Best dog treats for general dog obedience training and everyday use:
How do I know which treats my dog likes best?
Once you’ve gathered several treats for your dog to try, it’s time for a taste test! You can tell how your dog feels about the treats by paying close attention to your dog’s body language.
Here are some tips for evaluating your dog’s interest in a certain treat:
- Offer your dog a treat from your hand. Will they take it? (If not, then you already know that you’ll probably have to try a different, more valuable treat.)
- Watch your dog’s facial expression and body language after eating the treat. Does their face brighten up, eyes wide, ears perked, tail wagging? Do they stare at you expectantly, hoping for more? Or do they seem uninterested, with no real change in their expression?
- Watch your dog’s behavior. If your dog really loved the treat, they will stare at you, and they may follow you around, hoping you’ll dish out another treat. Or they might try things like sitting, pawing, or even barking to ask for more. On the other hand, if your dog walks away uninterested, or if they pay no attention to you after the treat, then you’ll want to find a different treat for training.
- Do an outdoor taste test – Gather several treat options and take them with you the next time you walk your dog. In the middle of a walk, call your dog over to you and offer them one of the treats. You may find that treats that interested your dog indoors hardly interest your dog anymore once you’re outside. Ideally, you’ll find a treat that captures your dog’s engagement even in an outdoor setting.
Best training treats for picky dogs
Is your dog turning up their nose at store bought treats? Or does your dog stop caring about them as soon as there are other distractions around? Then it’s time to upgrade your treats.
When choosing a food reward for a pickier eater, think “people food”. Real meat or cheese are my go-to rewards for choosier dogs. (Note: Make sure any food you feed your dog is dog-safe! If you’re not sure, please consult your veterinarian before feeding.)
Here are some super-duper high-value “human food” suggestions for dogs that are less motivated by food:
Grocery store or home-cooked treat ideas:
- Cooked chicken
- String cheese
- Deli turkey
- Hot dogs
- Block cheese i.e. pecorino romano
- Scrambled egg
- Tuna fudge (recipe from Upward Hound)
- Canned spray cheese
Other high-value dog treat ideas:
- Freeze-dried organ bits such as freeze dried liver, lamb or beef lung, tripe, chicken hearts, etc.
- Freeze-dried treats or meal toppers like Pure Bites or Vital Essentials
- Dried fish i.e. sardines, sprat, minnows
- Soft foods in squeeze tubes, such as soft dog food, spray cheese in a can, Kong Easy Treat, PB mixed w/ water, liver paste
- Dog food rolls like FreshPet or Redbarn
I’m willing to bet that even a dog with a selective palate can find a food from these lists that they will enjoy!