Dogs have preferences for food just like people! While true that some dogs will happily work for anything, most dogs have a favorite food. However, this preference may change week to week. Dogs know what is a “normal” treat and what is a “special” treat! While a dog may work for a normal treat, we may be missing the benefit of a special treat! When we communicate with rewards, we might not be communicating what we think we are or as well as we could with a different reward.
What Makes a Treat Special?
We have always encourage our students to bring multiple types of treats to a training session. Whether that’s homemade salmon cookies, roasted chicken, or the stinkiest treats money can buy, the more treat option you have the better. Most of our students know what treat is enough to keep their dogs’ attention. And, they know what treat makes their dog highly motivated to work. That second type of treat is worth it’s weight in training gold; we want to know what will kick our dog’s motivation into the next gear. Generic kibble might get your dog to cooperate, but using a treat that is new, stinky and desirable can keep your dog engaged. It’s a standing joke that whatever is in Diane’s pocket is of the highest value! Someone else’s cookies are almost always better after all.
As a matter of fact, t’s not just dog’s that have favorite treats…check out this Ted Talk excerpt with Dr. Frans de Waal which demonstrates reward preference and an example of a “higher value” rewards.
Explore Your Dog’s Treat Options
The underlying principle to shaping is there is a desire to earn the reward; so as trainers, it’s our job to motivate our canine partner with a desired reward! We recommend exploring your dog’s treat preferences to maximize the benefits of a reward. While two treat options is good, with a little bit of extra work we can have multiple treats available for our dogs to choose from. It’s an easy, fun way to engage our dog’s in their own development. You’ll never know when a novel reward might lead to a training break through, and we know having more options for rewards improves your training session quality.
Try it out and let us know what you discover about your pup!