I use treats AND toys the same way. Best to have both rewards in my bag of tricks. Tiny treats (real treats, real small, HUNGRY dog) can be rewarded fast, swallowed fast, and training can immediately continue so dog is still focused and learning.Toys are great for training in drive. However, when teaching new behaviors from the start, toys generally give you a much lower rate of reinforcement and a much greater time between repetitions. This makes the learning process go much slower and can make teachings some behaviors very difficult. Ideally, one would want to work towards a dog who find both treats and play/toys to be rewarding. Like I said, you can improve on on what you have as far as drive goes.
An example is that I introduce agility equipment and behaviors such as 2o2o using food. I need a higher rate of reinforcement and to work on more precision than just toys would allow. Once the dog is confident and consistent, my preference is to use a toy to reward. I also use the toy to teach weaves because it encourages more speed, drive and takes the focus off the handler.
I'm all about the toy because of the excitement and drive it can add for the training. But a rousing game of tug as a reward is a HUGE break in the training. As is throwing a ball out and away from me (and what we were working on).
So I use the treats (clicker too ) a ton when teaching the finer details and building on a new behavior. But once they get it, it's all about the toy/tugging to reward for a good behavior and to keep the dog interested in continuing the session. Nice rewarding break as a reward.
100% of the time when I've seen treats not work:
- Dog isn't hungry (skip meal before training, 2 meal if that works better) you should be using tons of rewards so your dog isn't starving, and you feed normal meal AFTER the session
- Handler uses low value treats (to the dog). Doesn't matter if I pay $20 for some great dog treat, if my dog isn't interested it's low value TO THEM. Generally my fridge and my food is WAY higher value to my dogs than anything in the dog food aisle/pet store. Hotdogs, sharp stinky cheese, liverwurst, MEAT and MEAT, tortellinis, pizza.....
- Handers do not treat frequently enough. Using treats is FEEDBACK to our pups that they are brilliant! And if instead of using the treats constantly (in the beginning) so our pups learn to engage and keep trying cause a treat will come in a sec, we only reward a FINAL behavior every 3 or 4 minutes when WE think they FINALLY got it right. Heck, you rather get a paycheck every week or every other month!