One of the simplest ways to train a dog is to offer them something they want in return for the expected behavior. Usually, the reward comes in the form of treats. But how do you train a dog who is not motivated by food?
It can be a bit harder to train a dog that’s not motivated by food, but it’s not impossible.
Why would a dog not want treats?
Before we get into how to train a dog who doesn’t want treats, let’s look at why a dog might not want treats. There are a few reasons, and a better understanding of the reasons can help with your dog training.
Your treats aren’t tasty
The first reason why your dog might not be responding to treats is that your treats might not be good. We’ve all seen a dog’s mouth water over a piece of your dinner. You’ve also probably seen a dog put a “treat” in its mouth and drop it on the floor.
Some treats just don’t taste good. Your dog may not be a connoisseur, but they probably know what tastes bad. Your dog may also be training you to offer them tastier food. Sounds silly, but dogs are smart and find interesting ways to communicate their wants and needs. The best way for them to show you they don’t like something is to not accept it.
If you offer a low-quality treat and follow it up with a better treat, your dog is learning that if they hold out they’ll get something really good. If your dog is doing this, you should probably stop increasing how “good” the treat is. Before you begin a training session, show your dog what they’ll be rewarded with. If they don’t want it, take a break and try again later with a better reward. Once you figure out what your dog will work for, make that their default treat.
Your dog’s overweight
There’s not too much to say here. If your dog is overweight, they may not care about any treat you offer them. An overweight dog is already getting “treated” too much since they’ve put on so much weight. Using more food to try and train them isn’t going to be a solution. You should probably also work toward getting your dog to a healthier weight. If you cut their food to a healthy amount, they may once again be motivated by treats.
Your dog is stressed
There are times where your dog may be overwhelmed and not ready to take a treat. This state of stress may be caused by a frightening situation, or your dog may be having too much fun. Stress can manifest from good and bad situations, but your dog probably won’t be thinking about food if they are stressed.
Here are some indications that your dog is stressed:
- Changes in body posture
Your dog’s breed is not motivated by food
Sometimes when a dog doesn’t take food-based rewards, it’s just genetics. Certain breeds are known to love treats and will do almost anything to get them. Terriers, herders, and guardians on the other hand might not care at all about treats. These dogs will need to be motivated using alternative methods.
How to train dogs who are not motivated by food
Some dogs just don’t seem to care about what kind of treat you give them. For other dogs, you can make some headway by taking a few easy steps.
Make your treats irresistible
If your dog isn’t motivated by food, the first thing to do would be to look at what you’re giving them. It’s no wonder your dog won’t eat your treats if your idea of a treat is a crumbly, flavorless rock. Try to offer them something that’s a bit better. Look for a softer treat in a flavor they might like.
Another great choice to treat your dog is a piece of cooked chicken. It’s easy to grill a small chicken breast and cut it into many small pieces. This is a tasty treat and is about as good as it gets. You could also try peanut butter, cheese, or other meat as long as your dog isn’t allergic to these foods.
Train without distractions
If your dog isn’t willing to perform for treats, maybe take a look at where you are asking them to perform. Are you working with your dog in a busy park with many other people and animals passing by? If this is the case, your dog probably can’t focus enough to do what you’re asking of them.
Try training your dog in a quiet space with few distractions. See if you can entice them to do what you ask for a nice reward.
Switch treats for play
Lastly, if your dog isn’t training well because they don’t want treats, try to think of something else to give them.
Playtime or snuggle time is a great way to reward your dog for a job well done. For many dogs, their favorite toy is a much better reward than a treat. Use that to your advantage and train your dog using what they want.
If your dog is not motivated by food, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to get a little more creative in how you reward your dog.