Dog Training Tip – Match The Treat to the Trick

Mr. Handsome the chocolate lab and Honey the golden retriever know the value of matching the treat to the trick.

Mr. Handsome: I think she wants us to come inside. I bet she has cookies.
Honey: If we hang out here a little longer, we might score some chicken.

Honey will sit just for the chance to sniff a piece of fuzz that may have rolled over a cookie. She’ll break the sound barrier during her recall just because I’m standing next to the fridge.

But ask Honey to walk through an agility tunnel or stand on a wobbly surface? Time to bring out the filet mignon or line-caught salmon smoked by virgins on an island in the Puget Sound.

If I want Honey to do something hard, I need to match the treat to the trick.

What Tricks are Hard for Your Dog?

Your dog’s energy level, concentration, raw-intelligence, and confidence will affect what tricks he finds harder to learn. Heck, the time of day, weather, and his mood will too.

Before you start a training session, think about what tricks will be hard for your dog.

Don’t bother writing a list, at least not in pen. Because day to day, hour to hour, the list may change.

Match the treat to the trick when dog training.

This cart is scary. That better be some darn good cheese you got there, woman.

Honey finds agility features challenging. But it’s less challenging if there’s a cheeky foster dog doing things first and getting her treats.

On a day when we’re working on hard things, I need to bring out high power treats.

What Treats Most Tempt Your Dog?

Honey is definitely food motivated. And she eats some unusual things:

  • orange sections
  • kale
  • sweet potatoes
  • raw squash
  • grapefruit rind (well, she doesn’t eat it so much as she likes to carry it around the yard)

But when we’re working on tricks that involve her jumping up on things or surfaces moving under her feet, I bring out only the most tempting treats:

  • salmon
  • cheese
  • chicken
  • peanut butter
  • and doggy crack itself, liverwurst

If Honey does something she finds hard, she deserves a particularly yummy treat. I wouldn’t expect her to climb a ladder for a hard cracker. But I must use liverwurst to convince her to put two paws up on the first rung.

Train  Your Dog Month Challenge

We’re getting Honey read to live on a sailboat for a week this May.

Not only will the floor move under her, but she’ll have to figure out how to move from a moving boat to a moving dinghy. And she’ll have to get used to relaxing on an angled surface as we sail.

Match the treat to the trick when you're training your dog.

Okay, you got me to walk the plank. What’s my treat?

The January Train Your Dog Month challenge is a good excuse to start early to get her ready.

I hope you’ll join us by joining the Train Your Dog blog hop starting Friday, January 31. Write about your training goals and link up with us.

Don’t blog? Post about it on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter and share the link.

And when you’re working on training, don’t forget to match your treats to your tricks. If you want your dog to learn to ride a unicycle, you should at least be springing for Kobe beef.

Unless your dog is a particularly motivated lab. Then you might get away with chick pea training treats.

Your Turn: What treats do you bring out to motivate your dog to learn tough training goals? Heck, what treats do you bring out to motivate yourself to learn something new?

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  1. Good points about the different value to treats. Jack will do pretty much anything for anything, but Maggie is a bit more discerning because of her underlying fears. I have been remiss in my training goals for the month, so thanks for the reminder!

  2. You are correct. Mom upped the anti to hotdog pieces to get Bailie to focus better at school last week and it worked pretty well. Why go out of our way for a boring same old, same old treat.

  3. Vlad & Barkly's Dee says:

    V&B seem to agree on value. The best of all are Zuke’s Lil’ Links Rabbit. They have a thing for rabbit, and they’ll do anything for it. Like Honey, they eat oranges & clementines (especially love Halos), but that doesn’t work for Barkly for a reward. Barkly’s picky, but Vlad will do anything for almost anything that he can eat.

  4. With Kolchak the trick isn’t finding what is high value enough to motivate him, it’s finding what is low value enough to allow him to FOCUS while we work. He has a tendency to go wild over a high value treat and we get NOTHING done.

  5. Maya and Pierson are definitely food motivated. It doesn’t take much food or special kinds of food to motivate them either. I usually use low calorie treats for training and give multiple treats if they did something particularly hard. I should say, though, that not all tricks get treats. For example, the “play dead” trick is rewarded with belly rubs.

  6. liver cake is my favourite:-)

  7. Love the chick pea. Justus works best for a squeaker toy; food is OK, but squeakers are FABULOUS.

    Minimal training but did walk WillE on leash with his prong collar last night. I don’t like prong collars, but his family had been using it and he is a BIG, strong dog with a HUGE scent drive. WillE was a peach, loose leash most of the way. HOORAY.

  8. A very wise idea. However I have the problem that BD is just not food motivated. Mity would do anything for even the most boring of treats. but BD the other day I offered him some cheese while out on the walk – refused it twice! However if I have a tennis ball…!

  9. Jodi said it well. If the treat is too exciting we can focus on nothing but the food in hand. We are better off using low value foods.

    But some of my higher value treats? I use those for recalls. Otherwise I just have an excited, jumping lab who can’t focus enough to understand what I want from her.

    Thanks for the shout out Pamela! It’s a fun training challenge.

  10. A good thing to remember for sure. My girl is kinda opposite yours, sitting still is hard for her but she flew through all the weird agility obstacles the first time she saw them. But she does get bored, and when working on something challenging her ultimate favorite is when I pull out the food tube. Which is a great way to deliver the really messy tasty stuff. But sometimes that is too tempting for her. When running through boring basics she is happy to work for mix cereal or cheerios… cheese, kibble even. Honestly I am lucky if she chews them.
    I hope I can get things together to share what we have worked on tomorrow.

  11. My motivation for training Alfie is fear. Fear of being the only one in agility class who hasn’t done her home work 🙂


  1. […] Honey will sit just for the chance to sniff a piece of fuzz that may have rolled over a cookie. She’ll break the sound barrier during her recall just because I’m standing next to the fridge.  […]