But my dog isn’t food motivated
Luvk9s Dog Training uses positive reinforcement training to teach dogs new and dwesirable behaviors.
With positive reinforcement, we reward the behaviors we want repeated and ignore or redirect the behaviors we don’t like. Rewards should be something your dog loves which is usually food or treats. Rewards can also be activities your dog loves, such as chasing a tennis ball, going for a walk, taking a ride in the car, playing fetch or tug or being petted by their favorite person.
Positive trainers initially use food when training a new behavior because it easily allows quick repetitions of the cues you are trying to teach. It’s a lot easier (and less time consuming) to reward a dog for sitting with a food treat five times in a row as opposed to tossing a ball for a game of fetch five times.
But what if your dog isn’t food motivated?
All dogs are food motivated
Like humans, dogs need food to survive. But there may be times where your dog isn’t interested in food (just like humans).
If your dog isn’t interested in food, make sure your dog doesn’t have some underlying health issue that may affect his desire to enjoy food.
What’s the next step if your dog has no underlying health issues?
Troubleshooting – 10 questions
In a recent webinar, Louise Stapleton-Frappel, a well-known accredited professional force-free dog trainer and behavior consultant, suggested asking yourself these ten questions to help determine why your dog may not be interested in food as a reward.
+Are you free feeding? If your dog has access to food 24/7, there may not be any motivation to work for it.
+ Does your dog like the treats you are using? Training treats should be small, smelly and easy to chew and swallow.
+ Do you know your dog’s hierarchy of rewards? In your home, you may be able to get your dog to work for his regular food, but in a distracting environment (like a group class), you may need something incredibly high-value like dried chicken hearts, hot dogs or cheese.
+ Do you realize that what your dog finds reinforcing in some situations may not have the same value in other situations? Stapleton-Frappel notes that “in the morning, I love a cup of tea but in the afternoon, I am much more likely to fancy a cup of coffee! Varying the reinforcement consequence that is offered, will also help overcome satiation – at some point, we have all eaten enough of that delicious cake but that doesn’t mean that we would say no to a piece of chocolate!”
+ Have you over-used the treats at the top of your dog’s hierarchy of rewards? If you use high-value treats too often, your dog may stop working for lower-value treats. Save the high-value treats for more difficult tasks and environments.
+ Do you have your dog’s full attention, and do they have yours? Is your training session too long? In an hour-long group class, your dog may need a short break.
+ Are you expecting too much of your dog? Your dog may do a great sit-stay at home but may not be able to do the same sit-stay in the middle of downtown.
+ How are you delivering the food? Most dogs don’t care for having the reward shoved into their mouth. Hold the treat a few inches away so your dog can reach for it. Vary the delivery; place it on the floor, toss it into your dog’s mouth or toss the treat off to the side so he gets to chase it.
+ Are you inadvertently “devaluing” the treat? A former boss of mine warned the staff trainers never to work their dogs if they were in a bad mood. Food delivered when you are obviously not happily engaged with the dog can devalue the reward and make the dog less likely to work.
+ Is your dog feeling fearful, anxious or stressed? Most dogs will not eat or take a treat if they are stressed. Dogs that are highly aroused or excited are also often not interested in food.
AKC.org notes that “most dogs find food reinforcing! Using treats during training is the best way to guarantee that your dog will repeat the behavior you want. After all, you keep going to work because you keep getting a paycheck, right? Your dog is more likely to sit if he often gets rewarded for sitting!”