You’ve probably had a time where you’re trying to praise your dog and hand them a treat just to have them reject the treat. This could be because the dog has been pushed past a point of stress and so they cannot even think of food. However, more than likely the treat you are trying to use means very little or nothing to your dog. More and more you will hear dog trainers and training books mention using “Jack-Pot” treats for those things you really want to encourage and enforce. This is in those books usually in regards to house training and leash training.
That “Jack-pot” doesn’t have to be food though as not all dogs are food driven. A dog could be mainly praise driven and only needs food in the most distracting of situations. Or a dog could be play and praise driven and care nothing for food. Or if they are food driven, they might accept a regular biscuit while in the house and yard, but needs something more special when on walks or at a park. You need to figure out what incentive drives your dog within the first few weeks and months of owning so that you can encourage your dog the most efficiently.
Also, as I mentioned briefly above, one form or type of encouragement might not be enough. I like to think of their encouragement like their paychecks. A person wouldn’t want to get paid $2 for something that should be a $100 job. In the same realm of thought, one who gets paid $100 for a $2 job might then ask for $200 on a $4 job. To put back into dog language, don’t give them the freeze-dried liver every time they sit and don’t give them a plain dog biscuit when they focus on you as another dog walks right beside.
This not only shows them what is most important to you, but it gives them a hierarchy. You can occasionally use a high value treat on a day-to-day action but if you use it too much, that treat will lose its value. Rather, if you use a high value treat on a very random schedule for daily actions you will enforce that action. This is the same train of thought that backs a “variable-interval” reward schedule for encouraging actions that have already been trained through positive methods.
It’s also important to use your dogs incentive to encourage them because even though a freeze-dried liver treat might be a “Jack-Pot” for your Pit-Bull it may mean nothing to your new Australian Shepherd who is encouraged by play and praise. For them a jack-pot could be being able to play tug for 10 minutes or a “Good Dog, that’s it” in addition to being pet for a moment or two. To them you are using a low value treat ($2) for a big ($100) job.
Once you’ve found your dogs appropriate incentive and discovered their own hierarchy of encouragement you’ll be able to see the change in how your dog reacts to training!
Here are some great resources on positive training and reward enforcers. Note-some of the “conditioning” links are very much relating to people, this is because this enforcement works on all animals, including Humans.