How To Train A Dog That Isn’t Motivated By Treats
I get asked this question ALL the time!
Between that and the people who simply don’t want to use treats, because they think treats are bribery…..
Ironically, if you use treats correctly, they are far from bribery!
Food is also a primary reinforcer, meaning it is something that your dog needs to survive.
A secondary reinforcer is something that your dog is taught to want.
In human terms, secondary reinforcers are money, grades, and tokens (these things are not needed to survive).
Secondary reinforcers require deliberate or specific linkage to a specific behavior.
Why All Dogs are Motivated by Food
All dogs or animals are motivated by food, because they need food to survive.
Without food, animals starve.
Meaning, that at some point, everything is motivated by food.
Why Does it Seem That Your Dog is NOT Motivated by Food?
There are a couple of reasons that it seems that your dog isn’t motivated by food.
He has access to food all of the time and is never hungry.
If a dog has access to food, toys, and treats continuously, he is satiated and bored of food.
Food has no meaning to him, because he has never lacked it.
Let’s say I take my coworker out to the buffet for dinner, and she eats until she is completely full.
But the whole reason I took her to dinner was to ask her to work for me on a day that she already has something planned.
So I offer to take her for ice cream right after dinner, if she will cancel her plans and work for me…
Because she is already satiated, she is not likely to be motivated by ice cream.
Your dog suffers from the same condition.
If he has access to food, toys and treats whenever he wants, they are not special, and he sees no reason to work for them.
If he skips two meals, he will be much more likely to work for the food that you offer.
Distractions, especially when they come in the form of fear or stress, decrease the desire for food.
I have a fear of heights.
Even if I was nearly starving, I couldn’t eat teetering on a scaffolding on a skyscraper in NYC.
The distraction, stress and fear would be too much for me to be able to care about food.
In essence, the primary reinforcer of feeling “safe” would be more important than that of food.
If your normally food motivated dog cannot focus when he is too close to a distraction, you should step back until he is more comfortable.
Always build a firm foundation on your obedience AT HOME, before adding distractions!
Your Treats Suck
The better the treat, the more likely your dog is to want it.
Again, it is crucial that your dog doesn’t have access to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants it!
But your dog is going to be more likely to be motivated by boiled chicken or dried liver than he is to be motivated by his own dog kibble.
If I want fantastic obedience, I need fantastic treats or rewards!
Know your dog!
Just like people are motivated by different foods, try different things and figure out what your dog likes best!
My dogs like my liver recipe found here.
Affection Usually Doesn’t Work
You don’t know how often the average person wants just “affection or praise” to get their dog to listen while training.
Affection and praise is not a primary reinforcer, meaning your dog can live without it.
Even if you condition your dog that affection and praise can be important, it is not likely to help him work through distractions.
Truthfully, even though my dogs love me, they don’t work simply to please me and to get some affection and praise from me.
They like affection and praise, but a squirrel or chasing the neighbor kid would be a better reward than my affection and praise could ever be.
Essentially, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie don’t exist.
In order to motivate a dog, it is best to find a primary reinforcer and teach him to work for his own good and his survival, while adding praise and affection!!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.