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What If My Dog Isn’t Food Motivated?

Using food as a reward is a huge part of positive reinforcement dog training. But what if your dog isn’t food motivated?

Often dogs that don’t seem to care about treats just need a little extra help. You can learn how to use food in a way that excites them and gets their attention. 

Positive reinforcement training isn’t just about treats. If your dog truly doesn’t care for food, you can use other rewards and tools to teach them to love learning. 

Is Your Dog Overwhelmed? 

Do you remember how hard it was to eat breakfast on your first day of school? You may have been so nervous that you couldn’t even think about food. 

When a dog becomes stressed, possibly because they see a cat across the road, their heart rate accelerates and blood flows to their muscles and the action centres of the brain, away from the digestion system. 

That’s why your dog might be thrilled to gobble up their kibble at mealtimes, but will totally ignore it when you offer it as a reward when you’re at the park. 

The bigger the distraction, the better your food reward should be. You might not be able to call your dog away from a cat if they know you have kibble in your pocket, but if you have roasted beef or turkey, they might find it easier to listen. 

But sometimes you could dangle a rare steak in front of your dog and they’ll still ignore you. 

Is Your Environment Too Distracting?

It’s important that you set your dog up for success. 

Letting your dog loose in a field full of gophers with little recall training and expecting them to come immediately when called, is like expecting a kindergartner to do calculus. It’s just too hard. It’s not that your dog isn’t food motivated, they’re just not yet up for the challenge.

If you use high value rewards and train in low-to-moderate distraction settings, your dog will get accustomed to listening to you. Over time, you’ll build good habits so your dog can become reliable off-lead. 

Non-Treat Rewards For A Dog That Isn’t Food Motivated

You don’t always have to use treats to reward your dog. 

Dogs who are on restrictive diets and those don’t like treats can learn using positive reinforcement too. 

Toys can be just as rewarding as treats. You just have to find the right toy. It could be a ball that bounces just right. Or, it could be a brand new stuffed toy that you only let your dog play with during training sessions. 

You can even try dog toys made out of genuine rabbit pelts or sheepskin. The scent of real fur drives most dogs nuts. 

If you’re teaching loose-leash walking, allowing your dog to move forward can be enough of a reward in itself. When your dog pulls, stop walking. When they walk politely at your side, keep going, or even pick up speed to keep the walk exciting. 

Don’t underestimate the power of verbal praise. Throw a little party when your dog gets something right. If the sound of the words “good dog!” makes their tail wag, it can be a great motivator. 

Even petting can motivate your dog. There’s nothing like a good backscratch for a job well done.

More Dog Training Help From Healthy Houndz

Now that your dog is excited to learn, you can teach new skills and work on unwanted behaviours. If you need more help, get in touch with Healthy Houndz for private dog training in Toronto and North York.

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