11/11/2021 - Advice
How to reward a pet who doesn’t seem to be motivated by food.
If you have a dog who is food motivated, you are lucky. You have an easy and reliable way to reward your pet during training. From a dog trainer’s perspective, it’s always a little harder when we have dogs in our classes who aren’t so food motivated. Their families can sometimes struggle to get them to engage in training if they aren’t interested in the reward on offer. But all is not lost, there are several possible solutions to this challenge.
Dogs are much like humans in that they all have individual likes and dislikes. Finding out what makes your dog tick can unlock new potential for your lives together.
Try motivating your pet with new tastes
If you find that your dog isn’t interested in the treats you are using for training, the first thing I would ask you to consider is “do they actually like the food you are offering?”
Maybe, if you are using their usual kibble (dry food), it just doesn’t cut the mustard as a training reward.
Try offering a variety of different foods. These could be dog training treats, fruit or veg, meat, cheese or fish. You may find that your dog DOES enjoy some foods as a training reward.
Some dogs crave variety. Having half a dozen different types of food in your treat pouch and mixing them up can keep levels of motivation high.
If you’re not sure which foods are your dog’s favourites, try putting a different option into each well in a muffin tin and see which order your dog chooses to eat things in. Experiment with where you place each food as some dogs always go for the nearest wells first. It can help to place the muffin tray on a non-slip, quiet floor if your pet seems at all nervous.
Focus on the delivery
If your dog still isn’t a particularly foody hound, you may be able to increase the motivation from a food reward by delivering it in a more exciting way. You could, for example, teach your dog to catch. Many dogs find this exciting and rewarding. Or, you can flick the food reward for your dog to chase.
For some pets, using a toy such as the Kong Ballistic or the Tug-e-Nuff Clam with a food reward inside can help to increase food motivation.
Alternative rewards to motivate your pet
Once you’ve established that food really isn’t your dog’s thing, then it’s time to explore other options for rewards. Have a think about what your pet really seems to enjoy in life, and see if there is an option to adapt that as a training reward.
Touch can be used as a reward if your dog enjoys it. Maybe a tickle behind the ear or under the chin will be a good motivator for your pet? Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t want to work for a touch reward as many pets get distracted by the environment and aren’t as interested in strokes when they are out and about.
Verbal praise can be a really powerful motivator for some dogs. When they get something right, have a little celebration with them and let them know how clever you think they are. Other sounds might work too. Diggory Dawg loves a round of applause when he gets things right.
Experiment with verbal rewards by varying tone of voice and how high-pitched and excited you get.
Play is a great motivator for lots of dogs. If you have ever seen police sniffer dogs training, they are often rewarded with a ball or a game of tug at the end of a search.
What games does your dog like to play that you could use as a training motivator? If you are using a toy reward in a group class, please be careful to avoid things like throwing the ball towards classmates. And keep the ‘game’ nice and short so that your dog doesn’t get over-excited.
Environmental rewards can be really powerful as often there’s something in the surrounding area that our dogs really value. Can you send your dog to “go sniff”? Play with a canine friend? Jump over something? Roll in the long grass, or dig in the dirt as their reward?
Discovering your dog’s most effective training reward
An interesting game to try with your dog, to see how they respond to different types of reward is to pick a cue that your dog already knows and does reliably. “down” for example.
Choose a low distraction environment such as inside your home.
Ask your dog for your chosen behaviour 6 times in a row, giving a food reward.
Make notes - putting a tick each time they do the behaviour and a cross for any times they don’t.
Repeat this, with the same cue and in the same place but using a different type of reward.
Once you have done a set of 6 with each reward type, compare your dog’s responses. Did they work more reliably for one type of reward over another?
You could then ‘proof’ your results by trying this game in other, more distracting environments to see if your dog responds better to different rewards in different circumstances.
Help and support with training your dog
At Nosey Barker we want our training to be fun and reward based to ensure the best outcome for our furry friends. Finding a range of different rewards that work in different situations can be a really valuable tool in your training repertoire. If you have a non-foodie dog, don’t despair. Given time, and a bit of experimentation, you WILL find something that works. We’re here to help and support you either in person, or through our online training community.
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