There are so many options when it comes to using food in dog training and what might be a high reward dog treat for some might not be right for your dog, that moment or the behaviour you want to train. In this article we will discuss the six things we should always consider when using a high reward dog treat in training our pet dog.
Will my dog digest this ok?
Make sure you are not introducing too many new foods for your puppy or dog in one session. Introduce one new type of high reward dog treat at a time and give at least 48 hours or longer to check that this new food is ok for your pup’s digestion. We generally favour plain single ingredient items such as dehydrated meat or cooked meat. Avoid store bought treats which have long lists of ingredients including preservatives. Also avoid processed or salty meats such as devon or bacon. Talk to your vet if you are unsure.
Is it safe for my dog?
This follows on from the point above, but did you know there are lots of human foods that can be toxic to dogs? While this isn’t a complete list of toxic foods, it is a good guide of some of the dangerous ones for your dog. If you are unsure if something is safe for your dog, err on the side of caution and don’t feed it to them until you can check with your vet.
If you are giving your dog something to chew on, we like chews that are simply dried animal parts with no preservatives. We love Clear Dog Treats who are based right here in Brisbane.
We don’t recommend using rawhide chews due to the risk of dogs choking. Fortunately there are many raw hide free options, including all the chews from Clear Dog. For any chew please supervise your dog closely as there is still a potential risk they may break off a chunk and choke on it.
We often get asked if this type of training will make the dog fat…well any dog will get fat if they are fed too much. We recommend getting your dog to work for their food. This means they are only fed their daily food allowance via training activities or food enrichment toys. Measure out how much food your dog needs for each day and use this for the day – this way you know how much you have fed them and can change it accordingly to maintain a healthy weight.
Will my dog want to work for the food?
There are many types of reinforcers for our dogs. When we are thinking about reinforcers we need to think that it is something that our dog will want to work to get access to. A reinforcer is not just something that our dogs find pleasant. I find most food pleasant, but I will put in effort and work to get access to cheese, most seafood and chocolate. Your dog will have their own list of food they find pleasant versus the food they will work to get access to. This list will also change depending on the situation.
What is reinforcing will change – mix it up!
You know your dog loves chicken and come to class with a big bag of cooked chicken. You spend all class only giving your dog chicken and by the end, they have had so much chicken it stops being reinforcing. Just like if someone kept giving me chocolate bar after chocolate bar. Keep it interesting for your pup. Bring a mixed bag of treats so they don’t know what you are going to bring out next.
Pick easy to handle high reward dog treat
For adult dog treat training we want our treat sizes to be approximately the size of a baby pea. For puppy training, half of the size of a baby pea is ideal. We don’t want our dogs to become full five minutes into the class – small treats will help prevent this.
Make sure your reinforcer matches the difficulty of the skill your dog has performed
Too often we don’t get the behaviour we want from our dogs because we are pretty stingy with our rewards. Imagine you worked a 12 hour day for a job you didn’t really feel that passionate about. You are exhausted at the end of the day. Your manager comes over and tells you that you did a good job (some verbal praise). They also tell you that you won’t get any money for this work. Apparently you should just want to do the work to please them and get more verbal praise. Will you turn up for work tomorrow? Our dogs are the same. If we reward behaviour with a reward our dog finds valuable, we will get more of that behaviour. But if we don’t reward for behaviour we want, that behaviour will be less likely to happen again. If you are not rewarding your dog in some way, you may be having this behaviour repeat due to negative reinforcement – read more about this here and why we don’t recommend this style of training.