Ice Cream Vs. Brussels Sprouts: High-Value Foods

Last week I talked about why we use food in training and addressed some common concerns with that (check it out here). The topic of using food in training lends itself to talking about “high-value” foods, so let’s do that! 

Some of the common phrases I hear from clients when discussing high-value treats are:

“Everything seems like it’s high-value to him!”

“Can’t I just use his kibble?”

“Does it really make a difference?”

Like many dogs, I, too, love eating almost any food. Sure, there are a few things that I don’t like but on the whole I’m not picky. The core component of the above statements is that those pets are not picky. But there’s a big difference between being not picky and not having any preference. 

I like both ice cream and Brussels sprouts. However, there is a difference in my preference level between those two foods. I will choose ice cream over Brussels sprouts almost every time. I like ice cream more; it’s more valuable to me. Our pets are the same way. They may like a lot of different types of foods, but that doesn’t mean there’s no preference between them. There’s a difference between ice cream and Brussels sprouts even if you’re not picky.

Does high-value make a difference?

Yep. We don’t have to look any further than our own salaries to know that. Would you do the same job for less value (i.e.: money) in return? Not likely. If a behavior is not adequately reinforced then it’s less likely to happen in the future. And, when we’re talking about working through fear and anxiety, the value is even more important. You’re more likely to get quicker, longer-lasting results by using a higher value reinforcer. 

What should I use for high-value treats?

Only the learner decides what’s reinforcing to them. While ice cream is more valuable to me than Brussels sprouts, a lactose intolerant person or someone on a vegan diet would likely disagree with me. We need to ask our pet what they find more valuable, and we can do that with a food preference test. Check out the video below to learn how to do this:

Because dogs and cats are carnivores, meat-based foods are a good place to start for food preference testing with your pet. Check out some of our go-to options below (Disclosure: These are affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)



Now what?

  • Get a few different foods and start testing! What’s your pet’s treat hierarchy?
  • Experiment with using different values of foods in your training. How do different reinforcers change the outcome of your training?
  • Share your results with us on our Facebook page!

Happy training!