One of the first things I learnt when I entered the crazy world of dog training was the different levels of training treats.
Being a typical Beagle meant that sometimes Luna would be happy with something, and then the next day wouldn’t bother even sitting for it. We quickly had to think up and organize her treats into levels so that if she was starting to lose focus we could mix it up for her. I never thought I would have the same issue with the Border Collie, Cynder, but she can also be a bit selective on what she will work for on a specific day.
Why Have a Treat Order?
Having different levels of treats also allows for that extra special reward for a really good job, for instance, a recall under complete distraction (3 or 4 dogs hanging around) or a trick that they’ve never learnt before. As you progress with learning a move or trick using a positive reward based training method the treats are slowly phased out until you are giving them random rewards mixed with praise at other times. This also helps to reduce the ‘will only work for food’ mantra.
How to Determine the Treat Order
You can determine the treat level system for your dog quite easily, have your dog on the lead and place two different types of treats on the floor just out of their reach. Let them see the treats for a good 10-15 seconds and then release them from the lead, make a note of the order in which they eat the treats. Try it again a few times and see if you get a consistent result. Make a list of treats that you can refer to if you ever find yourself at a loose end!
From my experience there are six different levels of treats and the order in which they are preferenced can change from dog to dog, but this is a general guide and the level in which the Beagle and the Border Collie prefer their treats:
- Kibble – Fairly low down on the list, and only really used if there is nothing else available, is their everyday kibble. They get it for free twice a day (though not without sitting patiently first) so why work for it? Plus it’s usually hard and requires chewing which can mean distraction!
- Cat kibble – For similar reasons as dog kibble this one is pretty low down on the list (though they don’t get it everyday, actually usually not at all unless we just happen to have gotten some in a pack or something and can’t find someone to give it to). As cats are fussy eaters their kibble is generally coated with a layer of tallow which gives it that little extra appeal to dogs.
- Extruded Treats – This category includes treats which are made from meat, but generally highly processed (and often full of salt). Treats like beef, chicken or liver treats can all be types of extruded treats. They are an ok occasional treat, but a bit fiddly as you would want to cut them up into smaller pieces first, even then a little bit of chewing required so your dog may lose focus.
- Semi Moist Treats – A few different things fall into this category. Biscuits, chicken treat balls and the like. When we first started training Luna we used many treats that would have been classified as semi-moist which worked well at the time, but again, Luna would lose focus due to the chew factor, etc. When we made the switch to higher value treats it was such a shock the difference it made!
- Moist Treats – This is probably the level of treats that we use most often and even have sublevels of treats in this level as well. The main treats which we give are: Devon(luncheon meat), Strassburg and Boiled Chicken. The first two in only small portions as they can be high in salt, but we find this stuff really works a treat! It can be cut into small enough pieces and is quick and easy to devour which means you can move straight on to something else.
- Raw Meat – If you can handle it, raw meat is one of the best treats out there and can be used for really high rewards. I would only ever use this one for some really hardcore training and very sparingly so it always has that appeal. Things such as diced steak (cut into small enough pieces that can be eaten quick) or a chicken neck (which can be reserved for a really awesome recall or something as they take a little bit to chew) really work well in this category.
The best kind of treats are small (so that they don’t fill up quickly), don’t break apart easily (if you drop some treats, generally they will go scavenging for it and get distracted from the task at hand) and keep them motivated to continue training. It’s important to note that not all dogs will be treat motivated and instead prefer a game or praise. This is perfectly ok and means you can get creative with rewards. Also, remember to use a bridging word, such as ‘yes’, when training as this lets the dog know that a treat is coming and whatever they just did is the right thing! We will be talking more about this at a later stage!
Big thank you to Nicole Beasley of Planet K9 for her assistance with the treat levels!
What treat have you found work best for your dog? or if they aren’t treat focussed, how do you keep them motivated?