by Dr. Ian Dunbar
I'm going to answer this question. I promise! I'm going to give you the answer that you are looking for but not right away. Before I can do that, I have to give you an answer you probably weren't looking for because it's the most important answer and it's the answer you need to hear!
But first, how would you evaluate what makes a training treat good? I'm a scientist so I answer questions using clear and measurable criteria. When it comes to the quality of a training treat, I would say the most important factor is: How useful is it for improving a dog's behavior? I mean, it's a training treat, right? The whole essence is about training your dog, right? If that's the criteria we're using, then the answer is clear, but perhaps unexpected.
The Unexpected Answer
The #1 criteria that makes a training treat ‘good’ is you: the trainer! The WAY you use a treat is hands-down the most important factor. When do you show your dog a training treat? Before or after the dog’s response? How do you hold and move the training treat as a lure? How many treats do you give? And most importantly, when do you give the treat to your dog as a reward?
These are just some of many important questions and I've spent my entire career trying to give dog owners the answers because these are some of the most powerful principles in dog training.
You are probably here because you want to know about the characteristics of the training treats themselves, and what you should look for when you are selecting a Good Dog Training Treat. I will answer that question. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware that the treats themselves don't train your dog, YOU train your dog by using training treats as lures, rewards, and distractions, but never as bribes.
So how do you select a great training treat?
The Best Dog Training Treats are Healthy and Well-Balanced.
Of course, this should go without saying. However the majority of commercial dog treats are overloaded with salt, fat, sugar, and preservatives. They're junk food. They're candy. And they're not good for your dog. But they don't need to be unhealthy! All dogs intrinsically like food so you can use any food as a training treat and so, it makes sense to use food that is healthy, well-balanced, and free of unnecessary chemicals.
In fact, you can use your choice of kibble as the primary training treat. And lucky for you, these days there are a good number of high-quality, well-balanced, air-dried kibbles, including one of my favorite's. Yes, you guessed it right: Jiminy's!
If you want to use your dog's regular kibble for training, and you certainly should, it means you shouldn't feed large meals from a food bowl. Aside from being physiologically and psychologically unhealthy, regular large meals devalue the kibble to be less motivating for training.
Instead, use a portion of your dog’s daily ration of kibble to teach your dog to sit, settle down, bow, high-five, walk on leash, or to pee and shush on cue. You can stuff the rest into hollow chew toys and give them to your dog to entice and reinforce your dog to settle down, quickly and quietly. In the wild, much of a dog’s raison d'être is foraging for food. Feeding from chew toys gives dogs a hobby to calmly and quietly pass the time of day.
The Best Dog Training Treats are Aromatic.
Dogs are all about smell so one of the most important qualities about a training treat is … how it smells. You want a treat that smells irresistible to your dog. Ask your dog, “Do you like Jiminy’s?” Move one of their treats up and down in front of the dog’s nose, and if he nods in agreement, he loves Jiminy’s, and you have attention, engagement, and control.
The basic concept behind lure-reward training for cuing specific behaviors is using an aromatic treat to control the dog’s nose and so, be able to easily lure the dog’s body into any position (Sit, Down, Bow, Rollover, etc), and move the dog in space (Come, Heel, Go to Your Bed, etc.)
For example: 1. Say, “Sit”, 2. Move the treat/lure backwards over the dog’s muzzle and as the nose goes up, the butt goes down… 3. Sit and so, 4. Offer the treat as a reward.
In addition to using regular kibble for training, also use higher-value training treats for special occasions, such as housetraining, cuing Shush, or teaching your dog to love children, strangers and other dogs.
The Best Dog Training Treats are Convenient.
Convenience is King. If treats are greasy (hotdogs, chicken, cheese), crumbly (biscuits), evil-smelly (dried fish), or too difficult to break into tiny pieces, they will be difficult to use.
You want treats that you can easily slip into your pocket and they won't make a big mess, or go bad, so you can have numerous short training interludes throughout the day, most as short as a quick Sit, or longer Settle Down.
I love air-dried treats. They're aromatic, not messy and seldom spoil if kept dry.
The Best Dog Training Treats are Small (Or easily made small).
Most commercial dog treats are ridiculously huge in terms of size and calories. Jiminy’s kibble and Chewy Training Treats are the ideal size to use as lures and rewards for teaching basic manners, i.e., teaching dogs what we would like them to do, (teaching ESL), and rewarding them for doing it, so that they want to do what we would like them to do.
When teaching basic manners, we phase out the necessity of food lures within one or two sessions and then dramatically reduce the number of food rewards, by asking more for less, and by using far more powerful Life Rewards.
However, when teaching dogs to enjoy being handled and examined (ears, muzzle, paws, rear end, etc.), and to feel confident around people, especially children and strangers, other dogs, other animals, busy sidewalks, noisy streets, or skateboards, etc., we’ll often use a couple of hundred food rewards per session.
Moreover, using treats to desensitize your dog to potentially scary stimuli, to build confidence, and to make your dog feel more comfortable is a lifetime endeavor. Consequently, small treats are essential.
This is where Jiminy’s Training Treats are so effective; their unique, flat and thin, shape is ideal for easily breaking each piece into four or eight. Hence, just 25 pieces gives you 200 training treats!
What Kind of Treats Should You Use to Train Your Dog?
So here are the guidelines I would use when it comes to selecting a training treat:
Find a high-quality, well-balanced, air-dried kibble to use for teaching basic manners. When addressing fear-based issues, then you'll want to use their entire daily allotment of food, plus some aromatic training treats and so, finding a high-quality kibble is essential.
Look for special-occasion treats that are small, flat , thin, and easily broken into smaller pieces. Jiminy's treats all these criteria.
Finally, don't feed kibble from a bowl. Instead, hand feed most kibble in training and stuff the leftover into hollow chew toys to give your dog a hobby.
May the force of food be with you. Happy Training!
Free Dunbar Academy Training for the Jiminy’s Community!
If you'd like to learn more about how to use food effectively to improve your dog's behavior, we have a special offer for the Jiminy’s community! Simply sign up for a 1-month free trial of the Top Dog Academy using this link.
You'll get instant access to all of my online dog training courses, seminars, and workshops, plus tons of other training resources like flowcharts, checklists and worksheets, and you'll learn HOW to use dog training treats effectively, so you can turn any piece of food into a Good Dog Training Treat.
In fact, you'll even learn how to use your empty hand as a Good Dog Training Treat. I often train dogs using "air treats" that I pull out of thin air!
About Dr. Ian Dunbar
Dr. Ian Dunbar:
Ian is a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and dog trainer who received his veterinary degree and a Special Honors degree in Physiology & Biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College (London University) plus a doctorate in animal behavior from the Psychology Department at UC Berkeley.
One of Ian’s claim to fame is that he’s consulted on a variety of movies—full length features, documentaries and animation (including Pixar’s UP , ”Squirrel!”)