The concept of positive reinforcement training is quite simple. You ask your dog to do something, they do it, they get rewarded for it! I mean, there's obviously more to it than that, but you get the idea. There are lots of different ways to reward your dog. Everything from a nice ear scratch to playing tug can be a rewarding for your pup. We tend to use treats because they are easy to carry around, dogs like them, and we can give a bunch of them in one training session which leads to the dog learning more quickly because he is being rewarded a large number of times. It may surprise you to learn that not all treats are created equal. Some treats will be more desirable than others and while some dogs may be highly motivated by a particular food item, others may find it unappetizing or uninteresting
We refer to this as a treat's value. Treat value is an important concept in dog training. It refers to the degree to which a dog finds a particular food item rewarding and motivating. Dogs, like humans, have individual preferences when it comes to the taste, texture, and scent of food. Treat value also depends on the dog. Some dogs will eat their kibble happily all day long, others will only work for some chicken. Therefore, it's essential to understand what makes a treat high or low value for a particular dog.
High-value treats are those that a dog finds incredibly rewarding and will go to great lengths to obtain. Examples of high-value treats include cooked chicken, cheese, hot dogs, and freeze-dried liver. Low-value treats, on the other hand, are less motivating and may only elicit a mild response from a dog. Examples of low-value treats include plain kibble, carrots, and green beans.
The value of treats can vary depending on the dog's age, breed, personality, and individual preferences. Some dogs may be highly food-motivated and will work tirelessly for a small piece of cheese, while others may prefer toys or praise as rewards. It's crucial to experiment with different types of treats to find what works best for your dog.
While treats are an excellent tool for dog training, it's also important to be mindful of the number of treats a dog is receiving. Excessive treats can lead to weight gain and health problems such as diabetes, pancreatitis, and dental issues. Therefore, it's a good idea to limit the number of high-value treats and supplement with low-value treats or praise when possible.
Here are some tips to keep dogs healthy while in training:
Use small treats - break high-value treats into small pieces to stretch them out and avoid overfeeding. A treat can be cut to about half the size of your thumb nail.
Balance treats with regular meals - ensure your dog is getting a balanced diet and adjust their food intake to account for the treats they receive during training.
Use low-value treats - supplement high-value treats with low-value treats such as vegetables or kibble.
Consider the calorie content of treats - choose low-calorie treats or adjust meal portions accordingly to avoid excessive calorie intake.
Use lower value treats for easier training scenarios and save the high value treats for the really hard stuff.
Once a dog has learned a task successfully, you can implement "real life rewards." For example, instead of giving your dog a treat every time they sit, they can instead be rewarded by getting to go out for a walk, getting to go into the back yard, getting to chase a ball, etc... These other rewards can be just as reinforcing to a dog as treats, maybe even more so for some dogs.
Understanding the concept of treat value is essential for successful dog training. Each dog has their own preferences when it comes to treats, and it's crucial to find what motivates and rewards your dog. While treats are an excellent tool for training, it's important to keep your dog healthy by limiting the number of high-value treats and supplementing with low-value treats or praise. By following these tips, you can create a healthy and rewarding training experience for your furry friend.