How To Train A Dog That Isn’t Motivated By Treats

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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.

how to train a dog that isn't motivated by treatsFood 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

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!how to train a dog that isn't motivated by treats

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!!

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There are 13 Comments

  1. Nancy Moisan says:

    Megan works very well without treats but..not when she is focused on something other than me. She will stop chasing a squirrel when i give her the word,some other things its difficult getting to to look at me and break whatever got her focused away from me, she is a Sheltie, when they focus, they focus. Thanks Chet, for me when all else fails i could always mention a treat but not sure if shed catch on to that game and take longer to bring her attention bsck, when she learns she’ll be rewarded for being distracted. If i have the clicker with me, that works, she was not clicker trained but it would work. Shelties are so responsive, its the trick that works for her that works well. Love your emails and tips,

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  2. Nicole Alt says:

    I have a husky with latent, prey-driven aggression towards small to medium dogs that tempt or aggravate him, plus fear-based aggression, such as annoyance at 1 past vet office employee who had just started to try dremeling his nails; or if I need to groom (checking for fleas on ears not too long ago) in a way or area with which he’s uncomfortable. He can’t stand if a person OR especially a dog gives him a hard, fixed stare. If he’s not having a good day, that makes things 10x worse. Yesterday, if I had not had him tethered by a short, 2-foot leash that in turn attached him to *another store’s shopping cart, he could have easily latched onto a really small dog in a higher shopping cart* when he unsuccessfully tried lunging upward at it. When we go out anywhere, I use a harness on him that has patches saying “No small dogs,” but I was not wearing my thin sweatshirt jacket saying the same warning. Regardless, my dog was clearly not well-socialized by whomever was the first 1 or 2 owners. Do you think any part of his unpredictability is medical (beyond the typical traits of the breed), as thyroid issues exist in some dogs? Generally speaking, do you think he can be trained to be less severely reactive? My vet thinks he’s 6.5 yrs old already and he’s been with me for 2.5 yrs

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  3. Kim Cummings says:

    We have a dog that’s real loveable as long as you are paying attention to her. When you are done playing and start doing something else she comes up to nip you and also she bites companies shoes . It’s like she wants all the attention and she don’t want to share the attention. She’s 7mo old. She gets upset with us and pops and wets in our room or chews somethings of ours up. She’s a Austrian blue wheeler named Roxy. What to do?

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  4. Aurora says:

    Perhaps your dog should wear a muzzle when out in public as he is a danger to smaller dogs, pets and anyone who might give him a ‘hard stare’. It is your responsibility as owner of an aggressive dog to take steps to protect the rest of us from him.

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  5. Tammy Campos says:

    ACD and Aussies (any herding breed) needs training and a job to do. She is bored and begging to have a job. Try trick training. They catch on fast, its fun for both of you and gives her a purpose. It will also tire her mentally which is a plus if she isnt being properly exercised. A trained dog is a happy dog and a hi energy, smart breed like that will drive you nuts if you dont do something with her. Remember, puppies are tje easiest to train, they are like aclean slate and just eager to learn. By the time my Aussie was 7 months old she was bringing drinks from the fridge to me and my guests.

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  6. Mickey says:

    gotta comment on that kid of yours ! WOW !! She is like I was when I was little. I had 4 brothers and learned quickly how to defend not only me…but my brothers from bullies !! The neighborhood kids called me FLASH…not because I was a monster, but because they knew…you don’t mess with FLASH or her brothers :) Brought back fond memories. …that kid is something !~!!

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  7. Terri Carlos says:

    My Doxie is just over a year. I’m having a little difficulty getting her to not jump up on friends when they come to visit. I did the down training and she keeps all feet on the floor because she will do anything for food. Getting her to not jump up when excited hasn’t worked so well yet. Reading other people’s problems makes me grateful that is not such a big deal. However I do want her to learn better manners greeting company. Thanks Chet for all your help!

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  8. Nicole A says:

    Aurora: Your comment was not posted as a reply to mine, but clearly it is for me, even though I WROTE TO THE AUTHOR Minette, and NOT to her followers!! You seem to have acted like mine is a threat to all of society. He’s GOOD with people, even 1 year old kids.. and I DO own muzzles. You didn’t ask what I do or anything else, when you clearly don’t have the whole picture. It’s not like he’s a “bloodthirsty psychotic menace.” Go research huskies before slamming someone else’s.

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  9. Patricia says:

    My pup has digestive issues and is super sensitive to treats. We’ve been advised by the vet to feed only his kibble, which he struggles to eat. If food isn’t an option, then what??

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    Minette Reply:

    Food is always an option. Use canned dog food to make treats or as treats.

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  10. Phoenix says:

    Heelers are herding dogs, they need to work – and their job involves nipping the heels of their livestock in order to keep them in line, so stopping the footwear and ankle-nipping will be shear impossible because it’s been bred into them for thousands of years. At 7 months, she is also still a puppy. As for pottying indoors, I have no clue. Chewing stuff is puppy+boredom; she will grow out of it when she reaches maturity and calms down somewhat. In the meantime, provide better things to chew, like a large hock or marrow-filled soup bones from the grocery store. DO, however, express disappointment at the destruction of your personal items (I am down to about 3 bras out of ten since getting my puppies two years ago) so she knows that she should leave those things alone.

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  11. Phoenix says:

    Hi Chet, I have two LGDs that are both food and praise-driven (toys? What are they? Oh, you mean sticks? Lol!) I can teach one pretty much anything, but the other… Well, let’s just say it took 6 months to teach her “paw” and we figure her head is full of marbles, lol! Anyway, the marble-headed one has repeatedly shown natural herding instincts from as early as 11 weeks so I’d like to train her. But the only way she learns is from observing other dogs (she learned to “knock” on the door from my bf’s daughter’s dog, learned “sit” from my other dog and knows to “lie down” at meals also through observation, but still can’t do it by human command outside of meal context and she’s almost 2!) My other dog (same breed, different bloodline/breeder) is a natural tracker (on command as well) but i’m not sure if i should train her for herding just so the marble-headed one has an example to learn from. What do you think? The breed i have is the hungarian kuvasz.

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  12. Agnes says:

    All huskies have high prey drives, you cannot cure that. (The ONLY dogs that busted into my coop and massacred my chickens were huskies/husky crosses (3 of them in my neighbourhood; conversely, the pitbulls, labs, golden retrievers, mastiffs, spaniels that crossed onto my property always left my birds alone.) Huskies have a place, as a working dog in arctic regions pulling sleds and hunting for their owners, not as city dogs, unless you are welcome to pay to replace your neighbours’ dead cats etc.

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