Treat Size, Value & Quantity

When training, we want to give the animal a taste of something good as a reward, and keep them wanting more so that we can practice over and over. If we gave a dog a steak for sitting he would be full, and leave. If we give him a bite of steak for sitting, we could practice sitting 20 times before he becomes full. We always want to use the smallest amount possible to reinforce behaviors. A good general rule of thumb is:

1/4 to 1/2 the size of your smallest fingernail. 

However, this varies by the size of the animal that you are working with, for larger animals like horses, break treats to about the size of a nickel, or provide a teaspoon amount of grain for each repetition. For small animals like birds try to keep treats to a singular piece of grain.

No matter the size, certain types of treats are going to be more valuable to your animal than others. It is important to make sure that the paycheck matches the task at hand. While kibble may work at home where your dog is calm, when training in a new environment we may have to take something higher value like cheese or chicken.

It is a myth that training with food will make your animals overweight. Using food in training is about strategy, and using your resources to your advantage. Use your animal’s regular meal when and where you can. Rather than feeding from a bowl or bucket, hand feed your animal and use that food to reinforce behaviors. Practicing behaviors every day will create a strong habit for your animal.

Remember:

•Different things can be rewarding for different animals, food is the easiest to provide, and the easiest to control, but some animals prefer other reinforcers like access to the outdoors, rides in the car, play, toys, etc.

•Your animal must decide the value of the reward, meaning although you may like chicken, your dog may not like chicken when stressed, and maybe he prefers beef. Try many things and make a list of what your animal likes to eat, and what they will work for.