There are so many ways that we can engage with our dog when we are training, what we use as a training aid is dependant on your dogs preference.
Some LOVE their food to the point that they will almost turn themselves inside out to gain what you have in your hand. Then there are others that will give your Uba treat a sniff then turn away with that look that says "You can't do better than that??"
There are many breeds or mixes of breeds that have what is known as a high prey drive or retrieve drive. These are the dogs that toys are your best form of reward and focus puller.
So your homework will be: Who is your dog? Who are they really? What rocks their world? Have you conditioned your dog to engage with you through play? Is there a toy that just really ticks all the boxes for them? Or do they not have any inclination to play with toys?
If the latter is the case then you will need to find a training treat that really does attract them. Have a range and swap them around. Work out what works well and reliably but keeps the dog at a steady level of concentration.
Safety warning: Many of the products on the market today are brought in from China.
They are low cost for bulk quantities and readily available from most retail outlets.
READ THE LABEL. What have they used in the ingredients? What have they used as a preservative?
What have they been treated with to appease Australian Quarantine laws?? The answer to all of these questions is often quite frightening with devastating results for your dog. If you would not eat it yourself then do not use it on your dog! If it looks and smells like plastic then why would you feed it to somebody you love??
Research what is safe and why not add beneficial ingredients to their diet through training treats?
I have been developing a range of jerky and biscuit treats that incorporate super foods, (organic where possible) and so far have been very successful even on very fussy dogs. My recipes incorporate seasonal produce, home grown organically along with free range eggs and whole milk.
The flours are kept to a minimum and are whole grain, gluten free such as Besan and Buckweat.
Sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, kale, silverbeet add vital nutrition while working very well as a lure.
The Jerky meat is simply sliced thinly, marinated in soy (to help preserve) then dehydrated. A lengthy process and work intensive but well worth the result as I can now use my lures and know that they are very safe as well as being more effective than the commercial products. I have to keep the jerky locked up as there have been a few thefts already! This from dogs that usually turn their noses up at most treats I have tried on them so far.
USING THE TREATS
The concept of a 'lure' for a dog is pretty much the same as what you would use for fishing. It needs to attract the dog attention and get it's body to follow it. With dogs though we do not use hooks!!!
We want to capture the behaviour not the dog itself!
Some treats are so highly rewarding that the dogs ability to hold a thought is impaired by it's overwhelming need to have what you hold. They then throw random behaviours at you in the hope that one will work to gain what they need. We need to find out what works for your dog on that day, in that moment. Dogs are not machines, tastes change, needs change.
Levels of anxiety directly effect the dogs appetite and ability to concentrate as well as problem solve. Ambient temperature, how hydrated is the dog? How fatigued are they?
Also consider that trinity of training, Distance, duration and distraction.
So take a look at your training kit, do you have a broad range of lures? (treats) Is there something in that bag for the dog that is reliable? That the dog will always want and feel that they have gained a reward for a behaviour? That they will offer that behaviour again and again even under distraction because they really want what you have?
Then we need the 'jackpot' treat, that reward that says to the dog you have hit the mother lode here buddy. ( try jerky!) That what you have just done for me is awesome, a complex skill that required your dedication to complete. The attitude of you as the trainer needs to reflect the value of the reward and the recognition you give the dog for the skill they have just learned.
A note of caution here, DO NOT just become a Pez dispenser! Poking treats at a dog to overcome every behavioural issue is a trap that will lead you up the wrong path. Use a balanced approach of YES and NO to let the dog understand what is an appropriate response to a stimuli and what is not.
The correct use of treats is as a lure to condition a response to a command, that is our aim. Using a suitable treat for your dog as a part of the pattern of learning can then enable you to teach the dog to offer different positions according to where you move that lure. Engage the dogs nose, then where you move that lure is where the dog will follow. Think of it as a dog magnet!
If you allow the dog to get a snout full of scent then hold the treat up and above the dogs head then the dog will naturally look up and the bum goes down into a 'sit'. Tie this movement with the sound you want to use as a command and there you go! For a stand then pull the food forward in line with the dogs nose, guiding gently with your other hand. this can then teach the dog to 'stand'. A drop or down can be achieved by getting the dogs nose onto the treat then pulling your hand down between their paws and then moving the hand along the ground back towards the dogs hind feet. The dog will then crouch and lie back into a drop by simply following the lure.
A 'forced' drop where the trainer pushes the dog down into this position through pressure alone can confuse a dog. A nervous dog is likely to bite you for your efforts. Once a negative association is gained through inappropriate techniques it is a long road to come back to a willing response from the dog. A forced sit or a stand can have a confusing effect on the dog also but it does not seem to be as overwhelming as the forced drop. If a dog will work for a lure and it is safer for you and the dog then why not use it?
Once you master the dog magnet concept of luring have some fun with it! Teach the beg, roll over, dance, head down, on your side etc etc etc!
If you can condition your dog to have an excited response for a toy then you will have an incredibly powerful reward system. One that works in high distraction environments, is reliable and has the ability to hold the dogs focus even if it has aggression issues etc. You can then have an energetic play session after the release command to burn off some of that angst.
If the love of your dogs life is his stomach then you will need a range of options to suit their whimsy of appetite. The higher the value of the reward for the dog then the more reliable the response and also the more the dog engages with you to achieve the outcome you both want.