12 Best Puppy Training Treats to Motivate Your Dog
With the variety of dog treats on the market, how do you know which are the best puppy training treats to motivate your dog? I'm going to let you in on a little secret. When it comes to puppy treats for training, one size does not fit all!
I’ll bet you didn’t realize that there are different levels of treats that should be used when training a puppy. And you might be wondering how different treats can affect your dog’s motivation.
As an example, let’s think about puppy training treats in terms of money and the skills that your dog learns to perform as jobs or tasks. If I pay you a dollar for doing a challenging task or a chore you dislike, will that be enough to motivate you to do it again? What if I paid you $100 to do that same task? Would this change your level of motivation? Well, the same concept applies to our dog’s training.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don't use treats to bribe my dog to do something, but I do reinforce the behaviors I like by rewarding them, sometimes with petting or verbal praise, or even a play session. Many times when I'm working on teaching a puppy a new skill, I use training treats to help them understand what I like and what I'd love for them to repeat. The training treat is a quick and easy motivator – a way to provide a reward while continuing the lesson.
And, when the task is tough, or a dog is having a harder time understanding what needs to be done, it's best to pay out with a higher reward. We leave less valuable treats for the simple tasks.
Before we get into the best training treats, a word (or two) of caution. First, training treats can upset a puppy’s sensitive tummy, so we always recommend starting out with a puppy’s kibble as a form of reinforcement instead of going straight to a training treat.
Next, when you're training your dog, you don’t want to overfeed them. So the rule of thumb for healthy nutrition is to ensure that training treats comprise no more than 10 percent of a puppy’s daily caloric intake.
Because I tend to use a lot of treats in the beginning, I make sure to subtract the amount of kibble used as training treats from the amount of kibble I would normally serve in a meal. That way, you can avoid overfeeding your pup.
And when you do decide to use puppy training treats, don’t feel like you have to give the whole treat or multiple treats every time your dog performs the desired task. Most of the training treats on the market can be cut in half and some even into quarters so you can still reward your dog without overfeeding.
The Best Puppy Training Treats to Motivate Your Dog
Low-Value Puppy Training Treats
For most dogs, kibble or dry biscuits are considered low-value treats. Low-value treats are appropriate reinforcements for skills your dog already knows or simple tasks performed in a distraction-free environment.
The low-value treats we use and recommend are:
- A few bits of dog kibble
- Old Mother Hubbard Dog Biscuits
- Buddy Biscuits
- Charlie Bears Dog Treats
However, if your dog is exposed to distractions or the task is new or difficult, these low-value treats aren't going to cut it.
Medium-Value Puppy Training Treats
Medium-value training treats are predominantly used in everyday training sessions and usually have a bit more moisture content than low-value treats. They come in a wide variety of protein sources like duck, lamb, chicken, and beef. So you can choose a new, interesting flavor that’s different from your puppy’s normal food.
And here’s a tip when it comes to training treats: If it's smelly or slimy, it's probably going to pique your dog's interest.
For medium-value rewards I love:
- Zuke's training treats
- Tricky Trainers
- Crazy Dog – their small training treats can be cut in half or quartered depending on the size of your dog.
- Wellness Soft Puppy Bites
- Blue Bits by Blue Buffalo
- Bil Jac soft dog training treats
High-Value Puppy Training Treats
High-value training treats are used when introducing a new behavior, training in highly distracting environments, or teaching more challenging tasks. They’re usually extra-smelly, moist or freeze-dried, and something your dog only gets during training.
You might be wondering what's considered a tough task that warrants a high-value treat. Two tough tasks you’re probably really familiar with are the recall or “Come” and “Leave It” commands. You want to teach your dog that it's far better to come running back to you or leave something potentially dangerous alone than it is to run away from you, guard or hoard the interesting new item, or pay attention to all the other distractions going on all around them.
The best high-value training treats are:
- Freeze-dried liver (most dogs go nuts for freeze-dried liver)
- Red Barn Rolled Dog Food – I cut the roll into disks and then into tiny pieces. This is a very economical way to provide high-value treats because it can be cut to use some immediately, and you can freeze the rest for later.
- You can also use a training technique called jackpot rewarding when your dog is working on a new skill. This means instead of giving out just one piece of kibble to treat your dog for a good job, you can give two or more, depending on the level of difficulty. If the task is tough, you can give your dog more than one piece to really send home the message that what they just did was much better than anything they did before.
BONUS: 2 Pro Tips About Puppy Training Treats
I absolutely love to use mealtime as training time since there's a whole bowl of kibble, or as I say, each piece of kibble is a training opportunity. While not every mealtime has to be about training, it is a great time to reinforce the “Sit” and “Stay” commands.
We want to reinforce all the behaviors we want to see more of. At some point, you may want to wean your puppy off training treats and reward desired behaviors with petting, verbal praise, or even a play session to maintain your dog’s motivation. However, you may have to go back and do some refresher training, and there may be times when your pup doesn’t seem to be performing tasks as well as they did before. And at these times, you may need to reintroduce reinforcement training treats.
That said, you should never stop reinforcement treats for the tougher tasks you want to ensure your dog does well. For example, I never stop rewarding my dog with training treats for the recall or “Come” command.
I want them always to get rewarded for coming back to me. And these are great instances where you can use jackpot rewarding. Jackpot rewarding sends home the message that they really did a good job.
With all the other commands, I eventually wean off giving treats when my dogs know how to perform them in every kind of situation.
For your convenience, we’ve provided links to some of the best puppy training treats on our Products page.
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.