Ask A Vet: How Do I Train My Dog When He's Not Food Motivated?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: How do I train my dog when he's not food motivated?

A: Most dogs have three things they really want in life and are therefore willing to work for:

1.   Food
2.   Play/toys
3.   Attention

In order to train a dog, you take his motivation and you supply him with what he wants if he does what you want. Some dogs care more about food or toys than others. So the question is what are you offering as a reward? The food reward might not be valuable enough for some dogs. That means you need to cut down on his diet a bit and use a higher value treat for training rewards.

If your dog is not eager to work for food you can do a few things:

1. Find what he is crazy about: chicken, steak, cheese – often you'll find even a non-food motivated dog sitting in front of you begging when you are eating something, unless this is chocolate or something else unhealthy.

2. Keep your dog a little hungry before a training session (feed meals after).

3. Every dog needs to eat. You can use his kibble to train him – if he has to work for his kibble he will be more motivated to perform a command for you.

4. Find what else motivates your dog: A ball, squeaky toy, rope toy, etc. Take your dog shopping and let him choose the toy and use that as the reward.

5. Use verbal praise and petting as reward – if you use your love deliberately when your dog is performing a command, then he will be more attentive to your verbal praise and pets. It is a timing game. You will ask your dog to sit before you pet him; if he doesn’t he will not get attention, and if he does he will get a ton of love from you.

How do you train your dog?

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