Treats are about positive incentive for your dog. Variety isn’t essential as much as finding something your dog likes. Ideally, you’ll find a ‘high value’ treat, that your dog gets properly excited about getting rather than an ‘ok’ treat.
For example – I usually have a brand of dried small treats that I like, which are great for in the pocket for when training your dog to sit at a red light, recall drill at the park or with reinforcing other commands.
However for ‘proper training’ we get the big guns out – from experience this is (and depends on dogs):
- Bits of liver. (Can ‘dry’ them in the oven).
- Bits of boiled chicken
- Shredded ham. (Packet of, tear up with your fingers).
- Tripe sticks. (Many pet shops sell these – they’re one of the better options for putting in your pocket as they’re quite dry).
- Original Beef Jerky (My dogs favorite).
Seems to me that some dogs (mine included) really like cheese. I’d suggest avoiding giving them that generally, because dogs aren’t as good as humans with processing fat (and some are lactose intolerant). So it’s not so bad as an occasional treat in moderation, but probably not great for a training session.
The reinforcement in training works because the dog links “Behavior A” with something good happening. Sticking to the same reward every time really helps the human most: We know that giving the dog a certain treat is something he likes, so we can have an easy go-to-measure we can use as a reward.
Rewarding him with words and attention would most likely work just as well, but both are tricky: we are already giving the dog attention while training anyway, and our tone of voice can change subtly just because we have had a ‘bad’ day. So, treats are typically always good. (Or, in case of clicker-training, the click!)
For training, I would set aside the more special treats anyway. If your dog gets tired of those, then chances are you are overfeeding or over-rewarding him.
For the choice, let your dog guide you. If you feel like he is getting tired of what he gets, change it up. If you try a new treat anyway, and discover that he loves them, set them aside for training. If your dog seems totally happy with what he gets, just stick to it, and make life easier for yourself.
The key point is: It is up to the dog to decide if something is an actual reward or not.
So you have to know your dog and see if he’s working “enthusiastically” or not. If he’s distracted, sniffing around, not wanting the treat or taking the treat without really paying attention to you and going back to its business it means that the value of the treat is not high enough.
Make it worth working with/for you. I find it easier to work with home-made dog treats: pieces of chicken, or other kind of meat, pieces of hot dogs, etc.
Beef jerky seems to be irresistible for any dog. Even if dogs are not obligatory carnivores, proteins are always a good choice, chicken doesn’t have too much fat, and you have total control on the quality. Then you can reduce the amount of dry/wet kibble you feed him.
It is super easy to have not only their favorites handy but also some variety, and, from personal experience, I think it always helps because he gets extra motivation discovering what’s new today if you switch things up often enough.
I’m buying different sorts of commercial treats just for my own convenience: I don’t have anything to prepare, I buy only dry treats, that are easy to carry in my pockets, etc. Looking at the ingredients entering the preparation of these treats I’ve never been able to conclude that some are really healthier than others unless they specifically say so.
I usually just buy randomly, see if he likes it and in any case I really limit my use of these treats: doesn’t make sense to feed him excellent quality food and then give him too much commercial treats with the likelihood of unhealthy ingredients and”random” composition.
A side note concerning other types of rewards: yes, praise and toys are good rewards but I use that only for informal training sessions (when may not have any treats with me) or to reward a big chain of behaviors (for example: if your dog is heeling correctly, you can do some complex exercises and reward him with a rawhide (or rawhide free chew) or toy at the end).
But treats are really the reward of choice because it is convenient, and it doesn’t distract the dog too much.