One of the questions we get asked a lot is “How do we train dogs that aren’t food motivated?”
Dogs who are fed on a regular schedule or who have 24/7 access to food in a bowl tend to be unwilling to work for food. They’re thinking, “Why work for something I get for free?”
But just because a dog isn’t willing to work for food doesn’t mean we don’t train. There’s a lot of training you can accomplish with a dog who’s not food motivated!
We’ve compiled a list of 7 things you can do with your un-motivated dog…
Just like lifting weights in the gym, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things. If you’re unsure of how to do these tasks, we recommend reaching out to a professional trainer. All of the training items we recommend below can be found on our Amazon List HERE.
Let’s get started! In no particular order:
#1 The Art of Doing Nothing
This involves teaching your dog to be okay with being bored! Tether your dog to you in the house using a 3/8″ x 6′ slip lead, and teach your dog to come along wherever you go in the house. You don’t talk to your dog or give commands, you simply use leash pressure and body language to communicate. (Training tip: the less you talk to your dog, the more he’ll listen!). This behavior is instrumental in reducing anxiety in dogs.
#2 Crate Manners
Teach your dog to enter, wait and exit the crate on command. Use the slip lead to guide your dog. Good crate manners are key to having a well-mannered dog.
#3 Treadmill Training
Teach your dog to walk on a moving treadmill. Use the slip lead and a harness to guide your dog and use calm, reassuring praise to let your dog know he’s doing a good job. Stay the course: Most dogs freak out initially, but once they get moving they tend to relax and focus on the task at hand. Learning to walk on the treadmill is a great confidence builder.
#4 Confidence Building
Confidence building is best done through some sort of physical activity. Teaching dogs to jump over a barrel, for example, is one example of confidence building. Another one would be walking across a ladder laid horizontally. Or going across a wobbly bridge. You’ll want to start with something easy (climbing onto a 5 gallon pail, maybe) and keep doing that one thing until your dog is good at it (rock star status!), then move on to something a little bit harder (like jumping over a small hurdle). Confidence building is all about changing your dog’s mind from “I can’t do that” to “I did it!”
#5 Breed Specific Jobs
There’s nothing better than watching a dog do what he was bred to do. For example, it’s super rewarding to bring a Border Collie out to the sheep pen and watch his eyes light up. Letting a dog do something that’s genetically hardwired for him to do is very rewarding to the dog. No treats needed! If you have a herding breed, or a protection sports breed (such as a GSD), let them do something that makes sense to them. It’ll bring out their confidence and provide a good mental/physical outlet for their energy.
If you haven’t heard of the flirt pole, you’re missing out! The flirt pole is another great way to bring out your dog’s natural prey drive in a controlled manner to have fun together.
#7 Leash Pressure
Leash pressure is an important concept for dogs to learn. When your dog has a leash and collar on, and you pull on the leash, the dog’s natural opposition reflex says “Pull against it!” which leads to seriously annoying leash pulling. There’s nothing worse than a big dog dragging you down the street, am I right? One of the first things we teach in loose leash walking is the concept of leash pressure and how to work with it not against it. We have a YouTube video for this. Click here to view. We have plans to make new videos, so if that link expires go to our YouTube page for updated videos: ValorK9Academy.
I hope these ideas help. Stay tuned for our upcoming post: “Tips for motivating an un-motivated dog” for ways to build your dog’s food motivation.
Amy Pishner is the Head Trainer for Valor K9 Academy, LLC. She is triple certified and specializes in Puppy Training, Basic to Advanced Off Leash Obedience and Behavior Rehabilitation Training. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.