This is something I hear all the time. Well fluffy isn’t food motivated so I’m not sure how this clicker training will work. Well first of all if you decide that your dog isn’t food motivated than you are giving them a reason not to be. Go into training with an open mind and this will help your dog do the same. A few tricks for getting those picky eaters to be motivated.
First, stop free feeding your dog. What that means is stop leaving a full bowl of food out at all times. By leaving food out at all time the dog knows he or she can eat whenever they want making the treats in your hand way less valuable. We instead want to teach the dog to work for his or her food. I recommend hand feeding when your first start training. The dog has to work for every morsel of food. Weather it is simply for sitting politely or more advanced behaviors. By hand feeding you are teaching the dog a couple of things. One, you as the owner are awesome because you provide all of the food. Two, the dog is forced to earn instead of getting it for free. I like to think of it as a spoiled kid who gets everything versus a child who has a healthy understanding of what it takes to get what he or she wants. Three, you are going to get a dog that offers more and more desirable behaviors because you as the owner are there to reinforce said polite behaviors. Don’t make excuses hand feeding isn’t really that time consuming. Take 30 minutes out of your day and few days a week and I assure you, you will have a better behaved dog and a better relationship with your dog too.
Second, make sure you are using high enough value treats. Dry biscuits are not very motivating, and neither is junky mostly made of corn and sugar treats. Sadly there are a ton of treats of the market that are almost all filler and preservatives. So do your dog a favor and read labels. If the treat claims to be bacon flavored, bacon should be the first ingredient. As a general rule I stay far away from treats that list corn of any variety as the main ingredient. I prefer to use real meat as training treats. Dogs need a protein rich diet so if we can provide that our dogs are going to function better. Ask you deli guy to cut the deli meat as thick as possible and then cut the meat into small pieces. I also like freeze-dried meat; turkey hearts are something I haven’t had any dog turn down. Get creative try different treats and see what your dog prefers. My personal dogs love apples and cheese, which are fairly inexpensive and easy to come by. Training treats can be cut into very small pieces, I’m talking no bigger than you pinky finger nail, and yes even for those Berners and large breed dogs out there small treats are better. If we use huge treats the dog is going to get full faster and therefore be less motivated. Use small morsels to keep your dog engaged and motivated.
Third, we have to look at the dogs stress level. If a dog is in over his or her head with stress, eating isn’t going to happen. So we need to pay attention to first what is making the dog so stressed. Is it new people, new dogs, strange sounds? Once we identify what is causing the dog stress then we need to train in non-stressful situations. Some dogs are not ready for a group class right off the bat and that is okay. Set your dog up for success and train in comfortable situations first and then slowly work your way into building confidence in not so comfortable situations. Breaks are key for a dog that tends to get stressed. If you overload the dog they will shut down. So keep training sessions short and sweet so that your dog can retain what your are teaching them.
Don’t give up on training because you feel your dog isn’t food motivated. Try these simple steps and I hope you will have some luck, if you are still having trouble getting your dog to work for food try using toys to get them motivated. If you need back up contact a qualified positive reinforcement trainer!
Rachel Laurie, CPDT-KA