The Importance of High-Value Training Treats & How to Use Them

Written by: 

Tanya Lim, CPDT-KA, is a certified professional dog trainer and the founder of Family Pupz, a Dog Training & Doggy Doula Services Company, based in Denver, CO.

Tanya specializes in positive reinforcement and force-free training and she works with puppies and adult dogs and their families, teaching everything from basic manners to helping resolve behavioral issues. And, via her award-winning Doggy Doula® service, Tanya helps expecting families and their dog(s) prepare for the introduction and integration of their baby into their home and their lives.

To learn more about Tanya and Family Pupz, including their digital courses and information about their podcast, The Family Pupz Podcast, you can visit their website at


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Whether you are teaching your dog basic manners (“sit”, “down”, “stay”, etc.), fun tricks (“spin”, “roll over”, “beg”, etc.), or addressing your dog’s behavioral issues (i.e. separation anxiety), using the right training treats can SIGNIFICANTLY enhance your dog’s learning experience, ensuring lasting retention and mastery of those skills.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of rewards I use in dog training, what high-value treats are and why using them can supercharge your dog’s learning, and how to effectively incorporate them into your training routine.

What are the Most Common Types of Rewards that We Use in Dog Training?

We typically place rewards in 3 main categories: 

  • Food Rewards: These are small pieces of food varying from kibble to freeze-dried meats and organs. 
  • Toy Rewards: Some dogs prefer toys over food. Most commonly, we use balls, rope or squeaker toys to reward the dog with a round of fetch or a game of tug.
  • Life Rewards: These are things in life that the dog likes, such as praise, pets and access to fun activities, such as a walk in the neighborhood or park.


How Do We Rank Rewards in Dog Training?

The best way of knowing what specific rewards your dog is motivated to work for is to try out a variety of food, toy and life rewards in order to learn about their specific and personal preferences. 

I encourage you to make a list of at least 3 items in each category above. This will help you better understand how you can use these different rewards to your advantage while training. 

That said, it is easier to start with food rewards and then move on to the other categories once your dog has learned the skills and behaviors you are looking to teach.

(Pictured: We went on a hike with our dog Zippo last weekend, and we brought The Beef and Sweet Potato Jerky Bites from ButcherBox For Pets with us to test them out.  Long story short: He loved them.)

Food Rewards

The truth is that the majority of dogs are highly-motivated to work for food, and for this reason, treats are the preferred rewards used in positive reinforcement dog training, as it’s a clear and unambiguous way to communicate to our dogs that what they just did is a behavior that you would like them to repeat again in the future.

(Pictured: Our dog Zippo recalling to me.  I like to surprise him by randomly cueing and rewarding a “come when called” during a hike. It’s a great way to maintain this crucial skill no matter what environment we’re in.)

Furthermore, since dog treats are typically small in size, that allows you to rapidly reward your dog no matter where you are, and because dogs can typically eat them so quickly (and eagerly), we can move on to the next rep or skill rather quickly, ensuring that you maximize the number of opportunities for them to “get it right”.

(Pictured: Zippo loves to catch his treats, which adds a bit of “play rewards” to our reinforcement strategy.)

It is essential to know what your dog is most motivated to work for, so if you believe that your dog is willing to do just about anything to play fetch with you, you should use that reward as a crucial part of your training plan.

How Food Rewards Can Vary In Value

  • Low-Value Food Rewards: These are typically treats that your dog may be interested in at home, such as their dry food or different types of dry biscuits, but may choose to ignore when around distractions, such as other dogs. These are great to use when first teaching new skills at home and when practicing in quiet areas.
  • Medium-Value Food Rewards: These are typically commercial training treats with a longer list of ingredients, such as treats made out of pumpkin, blueberries or peanut butter. The dog may be more excited to work for these, but they may still have their limitations when it comes to motivating the dog to train in difficult situations such as coming when called during play with other dogs, or sitting when very excited to greet someone. 
  • High-Value Food Rewards: These are typically made out of real meat and organs and are typically healthier than other treat options. High value food rewards come super handy when we are looking to provide the absolute best reward for a job well done in a difficult (noisier, busier, full of distractions) context. 

How to Choose the “Right” High-Value Treats For Your Dog:

  • Nutrient-Rich: Opt for treats that not only taste good but also provide nutritional benefits. Look for options that are rich in protein and low in additives, ensuring that your dog receives a healthy reward for their efforts.
  • Variety: Rotate different types of treats to maintain your dog's interest. While consistency is essential for training, offering a variety of high-value treats prevents your dog from getting bored and keeps them enthusiastic about the training process.
  • Size Matters: Choose treats that are small enough for your dog to consume quickly without losing focus on the training task. Small, pea-sized treats are ideal for frequent reinforcement during extended training sessions.

When to Use High-Value Treats in Dog Training?

A good rule of thumb is to remember to match the difficulty of the environment to the value of your rewards. 

For example, you can use low and medium-value food rewards when training your dog in your home, in your neighborhood during quiet times, and with minimal distractions. But when it comes to training your dog in busier environments and around plentiful distractions such as other dogs, people, squirrels, skateboards, etc., using high-value training treats can make all the difference. 

A common sign that there is a discrepancy between the value of your rewards and the difficulty of the environment in which you are training is if your dog ignores, or even dodges, the treat you are using, and instead focuses on the other distractions that are present in the environment.

In these moments, it is super common for some dog parents to conclude that their dog “doesn’t like treats” and in some instances, to stop using them altogether, when the reality of the situation is that they are not using a high enough value treat in order to motivate their dog to get excited about dropping everything else to pay attention to them

When done right, you should be able to pull out a high value treat at any time, and in any place, and be confident that you’ll be able to get your dog’s attention, as you’ve conditioned them to believe that paying attention to you will always lead to good and delicious things!

That said, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always need to use the highest value treats during training, but it is a great starting point as you work on building your dog’s skills during their training journey.

Incorporating High-Value Treats into Training:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Use high-value treats to reinforce positive behaviors. For example, whenever your dog successfully follows a cue or exhibits good behaviors, reward them immediately and enthusiastically with a treat. Using positive reinforcement allows you to strengthen the association between their actions and the reward.
  • Capture and Reward Spontaneous Desirable Behaviors: Be attentive and acknowledge when your dog exhibits a desirable behavior. It’s super common for dog parents to only acknowledge their dog when they are exhibiting undesirable behaviors, so the next time when your dog sits calmly, refrains from barking, or exhibits any other positive behavior on their own, seize the opportunity to reward them with a high-value treat. This encourages the repetition of these behaviors in the future (this works for the other humans in your life too 😉).
  • Gradual Phasing: As your dog becomes more proficient in a particular skill or behavior, you can gradually reduce the frequency rewards of high-value treats. Transition to medium and lower-value treats, or use play, praise and affection while maintaining a consistent positive reinforcement approach. This ensures that your dog continues to respond positively even when high-value treats are not present.

It’s vital to remember that your dog won’t understand the words that are coming out of your mouth until you give those words meaning. And the best way to give your words meaning is by using high-value treats, like those from ButcherBox For Pets, to clearly let your dog know when they are doing the things that you want them to do.

By choosing the right treats and incorporating them strategically into your training routine, you can start really communicating with your dog, strengthening your bond with your dog, and setting the foundation for a well-behaved and happy canine companion 🙂

Happy Training!

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