High Value Rewards: What, When, Why

When using positive reinforcement techniques to train your pet, high value rewards are critical to success!  The goal of using high value rewards during training is to ensure the behavior you want from your dog happens again and again.

What do you mean by high value rewards?

Rewards can be a treat, more playtime or affection, and even going on walks or getting access to other activities she can only do with you.

The definition of a “reward” is something your dog loves. But that might not be your idea of a reward! For example, not all dogs like to be pet, particularly on their heads or roughly.  Some dogs would love to be sprayed with the water hose, it would be a “reward” for them, but other dogs would definitely view that as a horrible punishment!

Some dogs would rather play Frisbee or with a ball than eat treats.  I always try to find a variety of rewards to use with dogs in training, but food rewards are usually the most universally and consistently valued.

Each dog is different, so you’ll have to experiment with treats to see which ones work for your dog. Here’s a list of treats I’ve found to be “high value” for many dogs in the past:

String cheese, turkey hot dogs, meat-flavored baby food, unseasoned cooked chicken, cooked unseasoned low sodium turkey, cream cheese, peanut butter (no xylitol!)

When do I use high value rewards?

High value rewards are useful in many situations! High value rewards should always be used to reinforce any recall behaviors and also when working in situations where the dog seems stressed or distracted (like a vet’s office or other new environments). I normally recommend using “medium level” treats for teaching or reinforcing cues like sit, down, and hand targeting – but remember that your dog still decides if that’s worth working for in any given context.


Why do I need to use something “high value”? Isn’t kibble good enough?
Every dog is different – it’s important to find what’s right for your dog!