Most dogs, if not most animals, are motivated by food. But not all food is ideal for training, and certain foods like crunchy dry dog bones, kibble, and jerky can take so long to chew that they become distractions and actually hinder your progress.
When training your dog, you’ll want to choose treats that are soft or semi-soft, and cut small enough to be consumed in one bite. They should be used to keep your dogs attention by giving her small tastes of the food, but not large enough where you have to wait for her to be finished chewing to continue. This means the “perfect” treat size will be different for different dogs, but between the size of a pea for small dogs, and a quarter for medium to large dogs is a good rough guideline.
Like people, most dogs have preferences in foods and will work harder for certain treats over others. You can even vary your dogs treats between sessions to see if they like certain treats better than others. Although it may seem like a good idea to train with only your dogs favorite foods, varying what you give them can bring out new behaviors that you can use to your advantage.
For example, sometimes it's better to use “low ranking” treats, like dry kibble or store-bought training treats to keep your dog from getting overly enthusiastic. This means you can reward your dog but still keep them calm and focused, and is an especially popular technique with dogs that are high-drive or excitable.
On the other hand, extremely high ranking treats, like cooked liver, bacon, steak leftovers, and cheese can bring out new behaviors in your dog or encourage them to work through far more complex tasks without becoming stressed. High value treats are commonly used with very fearful dogs, and when teaching new behaviors as the rewards are enticing enough to keep most dogs 100% focused on you.
The best dog treats depend on your individual dog, but popular favorites in the dog training world include:
Cut up hot dogs are one of he most popular dog training treats out there because of their ready availability (most gas stations sell them) and because even picky dogs tend to like them.
The ideal training treat is one that can be consumed by your dog in one bite or less. Besides helping to keep your dog focused, small treats also help with portion control and can ensure that your dog isn’t getting too much food during sessions. The smaller the dog, the more important this is to keep in mind.
For large and extra large dogs, like Great Danes, Mastiffs, and German Shepherd’s, treats should be cut about the size of a quarter, or half quarter. For puppies, always err on the side of smaller treats. Even if you’re working with a giant breed puppy, smaller treats will keep your dog from getting full too quickly and allow you to train longer.
Treats for medium dogs are similar to the size of treats for large dogs, and should be about the size of a quarter, or half quarter. For puppies or excitable dogs, use the smallest size treats you have.
With small dogs like Jack Russel Terrier’s, you should use treats no larger than a half quarter in size. This is the equivalent of a hot dog cut once down the middle, then sliced into thin half-moon shapes.
When using treats to train your dog, the sizes do not have to be exact, but the smaller and more consistent the size, the easier it is to make progress in your training. While larger treats can be used (as well as crunchy or dry treats, if that’s all you have on hand) you should expect to wait for your dog to finish chewing before you can continue your training. With already trained dogs, you can use virtually any treat as a nice surprise between sessions. Randomly rewarding your dog helps to keep them sharp and always giving their best effort, because they never know when a treat might be incoming.