How do you provide your dog with motivation, but health as well?
Ideally, you will have a variety of healthy treats mixed together so the dog doesn’t know what he is going to receive. Many dog owners use one dry treat, "Oh, my dog loves these" but it is good to mix it up. Once distractions enter the picture, the dry treat is of little interest. The key is variety and aromatic, the training becomes less about “I am going to get bisquit but I'd rather sniff this squirrel trail” and more about receiving a surprise tasty reward. Dogs who seem to love a dry milkbone at home usually reject it outdoors and lose focus.
What if they are not food-motivated when distracted?
If your dog is not very food motivated when distracted, do not feed them before a training class, lesson, outdoor adventure (or give them a very small portion of their meal). A hugry dog is more food motivated therefore more attentive. Even if your dog/puppy is food motivated, do not feed them a full portion before training or outing, give half or less until after training outing. If a lot of treats are given during a session, such as when a dog is learning a new behavior or working around distractions, you will want to downsize their next meal so they don’t over indulge.
Cut treats tiny, about the size of a tictac for small dogs and pea sized for large dogs. You must be able to access them very quickly. You can keep them in your pocket, fanny pack, nail apron, or a training bait bag available at your pet store or online. If a reward is delivered more than a second late, the effect is diminished. With both rewards and consequences, timing is crucial.
High Value Treats: Absolutely invaluable for working outdoors and with dogs that are highly distractable. Roast beef, string cheese or cheddar, chicken, turkey, lunch meat, chicken hot dogs, hamburger bits. String cheese and meat cut in long strips are very useful for loose leash walking training. If you have a dog that is a "snapping turtle" ouch! you can wear deer skin gardening gloves, cut the treats in long narrow strips, or use a wooden spoon or paint stir stick smeared with peanut butter or cream cheese. Be sure you never give your dog peanut butter with xylitol sweetener, it is deadly to dogs.
Medium Value: Natural Balance dog food (comes in a tube like a sausage) great to cut up for treats (dogs LOVE beef)! Solid Gold jerky, Wellness soft treats, Zukes, Ziwi, Real Meat soft treats chicken jerky (great to keep in pockets of jacket) or salmon Jerky, soft training treats or freeze dried lamb lung from local family owned pet store.
Very Low Value: Kibble (either a different flavor, same brand or same flavor, different brand) Cheerios or whole wheat tortillas (cut or tear into little pieces), hard tiny treats such as Wet Noses.
NOTE: A spoonful of plain whole milk yogurt or cottage cheese helps with digestion, as does goats milk, probiotics, digestive enzymes, or canned pumpkin. If your dog is prone to loose stools or has a sensitive stomach, this is especially helpful.
What to avoid:
Please avoid treats from the grocery store and read the label at the warehouse/big box pet stores to avoid sugar, corn syrup, corn, artificial colors, and other harmful fillers and chemicals. If wheat, corn, or soy are the main ingredient, avoid. They are fillers, often allergens and not super tasty. Hard treats are usually less desirable because they are low value (won’t motivate a distracted dog) and crumble (dog stops training to sniff crumbs on the ground, and take a long time to eat (crunch, crunch, crunch). Also, dogs are more likely to get them stuck in their throat. Dogs get very excited about positive reinforcement training and swallow or inhale large pieces, then cough them up.
Eventually, treat delivery can and should become random. They should not be used just as bribery. But we all like getting reinforced for good behavior and hard work! No Freebies! What motivates your dog? Praise, petting, play, food. Don’t give it away for free, let them earn all the good things they enjoy!