Although this might sound strange to some of you Labrador owners out there, some people genuinely do find they offer their dog a treat during training……and shock horror, the dog doesn’t want it! I know, I’ve not experienced this with my dog either. But I HAVE seen it in other dogs.
When we talk about motivation in dog training, we often automatically think of treats. We may go to a training club or puppy class, we produce the treats we bought at the pet shop earlier that day, our puppy or dog turns his nose up in favour of saying hi to his puppy neighbour, and we are aghast! WHY on earth is this puppy not eating treats?? ALL dogs want food…..right??
Right. They do. All dogs are motivated by food to some degree, it’s in any animals interest to EAT, it’s survival. It’s hard-wired into all of our brains that we need to eat, and we gain pleasure from being satiated by food too. What we really need to look at is why on earth some dogs will refuse food when offered, if they’re so motivated to gobble everything?
Here’s some ideas:
- Anxiety – dogs will most certainly refuse food if they’re feeling stressed, the fight/flight response will kick in and the instinct is to not be weighed down by food, but to be prepared!
- They’re full – sounds too simple doesn’t it? But if you put a huge bar of chocolate in front of me after a big roast dinner, I’d likely turn it down (maybe). Do you free feed your pup/dog? He really doesn’t need to worry too much about where his next bit of kibble is coming from if you do, he’s likely full 24/7
- Quality of the treat – distractions are all around us, if your dog knows he’s only getting a bit of kibble that he also had for his breakfast, he’ll also have for his dinner, he’ll also have tomorrow, and the day after……well….booooring. That dog over there is far more interesting!
- Aversion – quite simply they don’t like the taste, or they feel a bit poorly
So…..there are ways and means around these little dilemmas! These are just a few ideas as to why you may think ‘my dog isn’t motivated by food’. Granted, there are many breeds out there who DO find a game of tuggy or a throw of the tennis ball just as rewarding as food, but this isn’t to say they are not food motivated, you just may find a toy is just as an effective (if not more effective) reinforcement tool in your training.
So, a plan:
- look at the anxiety/stress levels of your dog in certain situations
- try different value treats (possibly higher value for high distraction areas?)
- alter feeding pattern (slightly less in the bowl and slightly more in the treat pouch for training?)
There are many more ideas to try, if you would like more information or help just get in touch!
NOTE: If you are in any doubt or worried at ALL about how much your dog eats or is avoiding eating please consult your vet in the first instance.