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5 Easy Ways to Increase Your Dog’s Food Motivation

Lack of food motivation is a common complaint and can make training with your dog frustrating. 

  

If you’re an owner of a picky pup, you aren’t alone. But, don’t let your dog’s current lack of a treat tooth stop you from training. Chances are, a small change in your dog’s daily routine will help find their inner chowhound.

Here are five easy things you can start doing to increase your dog’s food motive

1. Set a Feeding Schedule

If your dog is free-fed, it’s time to get them on a feeding schedule. Food significantly loses value when it’s always available. Plus, your dog probably won’t be hungry when you want to train if they graze throughout the day. Feed your pup 2-3 meals a day (unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian) and pick up their bowl after thirty minutes, even if they didn’t finish. Your dog should adjust quickly to their new meal schedule, giving you the ability to plan training around mealtimes. You can also use a portion, or all of a meal, as training rewards! 

2. Try Different Treats

The treats you’re using need to be valuable to your dog. You’ll need to experiment to find your pup’s preferred flavors and textures. Harder tricks need a higher pay so it’s important to know your dog’s favorites. Kibble works just fine as a training treat when you’re practicing known skills at home. But, you’ll probably need something better for teaching new skills. Training around distractions, or in new environments may call for some favorite treats. Save the really good stuff, like cheese and hotdogs, for big challenges and stressful situations. 

3. Recognize and Accommodate Stress

Sitting for a kibble in the waiting room at the vet’s office is a big ask. In these situations, your dog is just too nervous to eat. It isn’t that they don’t want to – they just can’t! Every dog has their own fears and familiarizing yourself with canine body language will help you to read your dog’s stress level. Knowing your dog’s fears gives you the ability to plan ahead so you can bring some extra tasty treats the next time you have to go somewhere stressful. 

4. End Lessons on a High Note

Training lessons that end in frustration are usually too long. Try your best to end every lesson before your dog is too tired or frustrated to continue. Otherwise, your dog may form a negative association with training. If your dog loses interest in the middle of a lesson, try taking a break before interest is lost. For example, if your dog happily works for 4 minutes before losing interest, only train for 2 to 3 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.

Give your dog time to relax, play, drink, or quickly take them out to go to the bathroom. Training will once again become fun and you’ll soon be able to work with your dog longer between breaks. 

5. Use Toys as Reinforcement

You don’t have to use food to train. Most behaviors can be practiced or taught with a toy, especially if your pup is more playful than hungry. Toss a toy for a quick game of fetch or tug instead of using treats. As an extra bonus, this is a great opportunity to practice a release cue, such as “drop it”.

If your dog won’t work for food, don’t dismiss it as a lack of food motivation. A few adjustments can go a long way in making your training sessions more enjoyable.


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Ann Marie Silverberg

Ann Marie has been working with animals professionally for over a decade. From dogs and cats to pigs and turkeys, her many positions in animal husbandry have taken her from volunteering in animal shelters to veterinary medicine. She recently started her own training and behavior consulting business in Massachusetts, Brainiacs Dog Training. www.brainiacsdogtraining.com | brainiacsdogtraining@gmail.com | facebook.com/brainiacsdogtraining

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