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There are many ways to reward your dog for a job well done. Throwing a tennis ball might be great at the end of a long “stay,” or a romp in the backyard after practicing “wait” by the door. But food treats are often the most convenient and effective way to influence your dog’s behavior. Here are some tips for choosing the right dog treat for the right situation.

Fast-Eating Dog Training Treats

When you’re teaching your dog new behaviors, it’s important to keep them motivated and interested. One of the easiest ways to do that is with a high rate of reinforcement (how often you give rewards). In order to give your dog lots of treats in a short period of time, you need to choose ones they can eat quickly.

If your dog gobbles up their treat immediately, you can move to the next repetition right away. They will stay interested and get lots of practice in a short amount of time. But if your dog spends several seconds eating each treat, that means more time waiting between repetitions. You will either have to increase the length of your training session and risk having your dog lose focus, or practice fewer repetitions per session.

Keep Dog Training Treats Small

Small dog treats are key to keeping a training session moving along. Even for large dogs, a pea-sized treat is plenty. For small dogs, you can use even tinier pieces. Some commercial treats are far too large. Look for tiny treats, or cut larger ones into small bits before your training session begins. You might feel like you’re cheating your dog, but as long as they’re getting something they love, they won’t care if it’s just a tidbit or the whole wiener.

Japanese Akitainu getting a treat from a young woman outdoors in the fall.
©zphoto83 -

Tinier treats are also kinder to your dog’s waistline. Particularly when training is intense, like with puppies or dogs training for specific sports, your pup might be eating handfuls of treats each day. Keeping treats small means fewer calories consumed. It also means your canine companion won’t get full before the session is over.

Soft and Stinky Dog Training Treats

Soft dog treats are also great for training because, compared to crunchy ones, they’re easier and faster for your dog to eat. Biscuits can be fine for one-off rewards, but during a training session, waiting for your dog to find every piece that’s crumbled to the floor means time away from teaching.

Soft treats are also smellier. Every dog has a hierarchy of rewards, and most of them would put smelly items like cheese or bacon up at the top. You might be able to get away with using kibble as a reward in your quiet living room, but in a more distracting location, you should pull out the stinky treats your dog adores.

Changing Up Types of Treats

Just as your dog likes certain treats more than others, they might also like a variety of treats. Dogs can become bored with the same old treat. If you notice your dog’s enthusiasm is fading, change to a different reward of equal or greater value. You can even use several different treats during a session, so your dog never knows what type of delicious morsel will be coming next.

Food For On-the-Spot Dog Training

Sometimes you want treats on hand for impromptu training — for example, reinforcing good behavior around the house, like lying quietly on a dog bed. In these cases, having food in your pocket or a dog treat bag at all times will allow you to provide an immediate reward.

AKC Canine Retreat CGC
Photo by Pix 'n' Pages ©American Kennel Club

Perishable treats like leftover chicken simply won’t work. Look for nonperishable treats that you can carry around, such as freeze-dried liver or jerky treats cut into tiny pieces.

Slow-Eating Dog Training Treats

Sometimes treats should last as long as possible. Teaching your dog to love their crate, helping them pass the time while you’re out of the house, or encouraging them to lie quietly beside you while you watch TV are all perfect situations for a long-lasting treat.

Look for chewy treats like bully sticks that your dog can savor. Alternatively, use dog toys you can stuff with food. A Kong can be filled with cream cheese or peanut butter for a time-consuming treat. Or plug the end, fill it with broth, and put it in the freezer for a snack on a hot day.

Related article: Big Game Safety Tips for Dog Owners
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