Search Menu
Young beagle chewing on a dog dental treat
©Christian Buch -

AKC is a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you purchase a product through this article, we may receive a portion of the sale.

What’s your favorite thing? What’s your spouse’s favorite thing? How about your best friend? Co-worker? Are they all the same? Probably not.

Your dog has a different favorite thing too. What motivates one dog isn’t necessarily what motivates another dog. But food is a motivator that most dogs love. Using treats during training is one of the best ways to guarantee that your dog will repeat the behavior you want.

Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding your dog for the things they do right. But, not all dog treats are created equal. Some dogs will work for pieces of dry cereal or a hard biscuit. But for many dogs this is like expecting a toddler to find broccoli rewarding. Training with positive reinforcement has the added benefit of creating a dog that wants to be trained, but it’s defined by the receiver. This means your dog gets to choose what is most rewarding to them, not you. The more distracting the environment in which you’re training, the more motivating the treat needs to be in order to keep your dog’s attention.

Beagle sitting waiting for a treat being held above his head.
Darkcloud/Getty Images Plus

Defining a Hierarchy of Rewards

When first starting out, it’s important to make sure the rewards you’re giving your dog are more exciting than the environment around them. If you’re working on a skill your dog already knows at home with few distractions, you can probably get away with giving them a low-value treat. Examples of these include kibble, carrots, ice cubes, green beans, or hard biscuits.

When working with your dog in a distracting environment or on a skill they find challenging, higher value treats may be necessary. Medium-value treats, such as commercial training treats, cheese, or jerky-type treats, are a good option when training in your yard or another familiar environment with few distractions. If you’re training in an environment that your dog finds particularly distracting, like the park, it might be time to bring out some high-value treats. Most dogs would define these as dog-safe foods, like a piece of chicken, hot dog, hamburger, deli meat, or liver.

Remember, these aren’t static and not every dog follows this breakdown. Offer different food rewards to find out what your dog likes best, and build your dogs’ reward hierarchy from there.

Siberian Husky gently taking a treat from a hand.
©koldunova_anna -

Training in Distracting Environments

When teaching something new or practicing in a new environment, increase the value of your treats. As with any treat used for training, make sure you use small pieces! Treats should be pea-sized or smaller so your dog doesn’t get too full.

When in an unfamiliar environment, your dog’s job is harder. Just like you would expect to get paid more for doing a more demanding job, your dog should be paid more too. The more often you reward your dog when he does what you ask, the more likely they’ll do what you ask in the future!

Related article: Expert Tips for Successful Dog Training
Get Your Free AKC eBook

10 Essential Skills: Canine Good Citizen Test Items

Whether you are planning on getting your dog CGC certified or just looking to learn more about the test this e-book is a great place to start.
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download