Treat testing is a fun and beneficial activity for you and your Pup! It helps you hone in on what will work to keep your Pup’s attention and keeps them always coming back for more!
Do you have a dog that is really food motivated and will eat anything?! Setting up a treat tasting will help you both learn what treats rank supreme and which ones are just ok, as most dogs have a preference. Or you might even learn that anything edible will get their attention, which is great! If you have a dog that seemingly has no interest in treats, presenting them with a treat test will help you both discover the joys of food and might result in them becoming more food motivated! If you have a Pup that is downright disinterested in food rewards, try rewarding them with affection, games, or praise… but I bet if you try hard enough, you’ll find an edible treat they love!
You can pop into your local pet store and pick up things that you think your best friend would enjoy. You could even bring them along and let them sniff something out on their own. Anything your dog doesn’t like can be donated to a friend, family member, neighbor or a local shelter. You can also set up a “treat exchange” with friends- each of you buy two packs of treats and get together for a treat tasting extravaganza!
When you get home with your new treats, try them out by doing some easy training exercises in your living room and see what your dog is the most interested in. Perhaps they enjoy the crunch of a chicken liver, a moist peanut butter chew, or the or the stickiness of a salmon skin. Every dog is different, so go into this test without any expectations.
This activity can be done in one afternoon, but is best spread out over several days. You can try out your new treats in a variety of locations with different distractions and see how they respond and which treats they respond to best! This will help you discover what treats will keep your dog interested and listening to you, especially when they are learning new behaviors or cues. Having them skip a meal may be beneficial to you, as most dogs are much more interested in food rewards when they’re hungry. You can either use their breakfast as their reward, or feed them when you are done with the treat test and back home.
Imagine if every time you did a “desired behavior” you were presented with your favorite treat… say every time you get home from a long day of work someone hands you a Butterfinger. The first day home you’d probably be excited “Oh my favorite candy bar! All I did was go to work and do my job and I get a Butterfinger? Awesome!” Going to work might become more exciting, knowing you’re going to get a Butterfinger when you get home (I know, this is a silly analogy but you have to pretend like you have the mind of a dog!) After a few days you’d probably get sick of a Butterfinger as your reward, but then BAM! Day four you get home and someone hands you fresh French fries! “Oh! How exciting! I was getting bored of Butterfinger but now you’ve switched it up and surprised me with a totally different treat! I should keep going to work so I can find out what my treat is at the end of the day!” Switching up the treats, and knowing what your Pup’s favorites are will keep them engaged and interested!
One very important reminder: the more expensive the behavior you are seeking, the more payoff should be rewarded for the behavior. If your Pup is a pro at sitting when asked, you wouldn’t give them an entire wheel of cheese just for performing a sit in your quiet living room with no distractions would you? So then on the other side of the spectrum, would you give your Pup a piece of everyday kibble for recalling to you in the midst of chasing a rabbit? The reward has to match the effort of the behavior!
And one side note: you may hear some trainers say that treat rewards are lazy, but building a relationship based on positive reinforcement helps your Pup feel safe and creates a trust between the two of you, so they are much more willing to do what’s asked of them. Using positive reinforcement means you are always on the lookout for those positive behaviors and keeps you involved in your Pup’s life, which makes your bond much stronger.
Some treat examples (these may be deemed low or high value, depending on the individual Pup):
- Boiled chicken
- Baby food
- String cheese
- American cheese slices
- Dehydrated meats
- Apple slices
- Training treats