How do you train a dog that is not treat motivated? A Complete Guide

Get Better Treats

Sometimes, your dog may seem unmotivated by food because they aren’t impressed with the food you’re offering. Dogs that regularly receive treats for no particular reason other than being adorable may be uninterested in working for the same. Tempt them with something extra tasty like real cooked meat, cheese, or even peanut butter as long as they don’t have dietary restrictions.

The Importance of Ruling Out Health Problems

I wasnt aware of what conditioned taste aversion was until the day my dog, out of the blue, started refusing food. My dog just didnt want to have anything to do with the food offered despite previously gulping it down like there was no tomorrow. Of course, this episode raised a huge red flag and promptly triggered a vet visit.

Since my dog was older, the vet chalked it up to aging. She said that as dogs age, they may lose a bit of their sense of smell and start to get picky. While I had heard about that before, I didnt feel that was the case, so I expressed my doubts to her.

She then mentioned something about dogs with IBD, which is likened to irritable bowel syndrome. This latter theory made sense to me, so I inquired about investigating it further. We were referred to a wonderful board-certified internal medicine veterinary specialist. Meanwhile, I tried to tempt my dog with different foods. This seemed to work but only momentarily. What my dog would eagerly eat one week was refused the following week. I knew something must be wrong.

We found out that our dog was suffering from a mild case of pancreatitis. It was mild enough to not cause a total loss of appetite but significant enough to cause nausea and a moderate loss of appetite. This explained a lot of things, such as why my dog was lip-smacking at night.

My dog also developed taste aversion. My dog would be enticed by new food, but as nausea set in, that food would become associated with nausea, so my dog would no longer like it. A new food would be offered, and this situation would repeat over and over again until we exhausted several food options. With the right medication and a diet change, my dog went back to eating as before. (Later on, we discovered that my dog had cancer, which also contributed to the appetite loss.)

Rule Out Medical Problems

Sometimes, your dog may not be food-motivated because something is impacting their appetite overall. If your dog’s lack of interest in food is sudden or out of character, you could be dealing with a medical problem rather than a motivation issue. This is especially true if you notice other signs like lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea. See your veterinarian if that’s the case.

How to Train a Dog Who Isn’t Food Motivated

This dog-training article about food motivation (see below) was written almost a year ago, and yet trainers still struggle with clients and others that insist their dogs are not food motivated (or worse – using food for training leads to euthanasia – yikes!) But seeing this article pop up on the K9aggression Facebook feed reminds that these myths and beliefs are still being perpetuated.

If you are new to training, you might be confused about who’s opinion to listen to. Or maybe you have been taught that training with food is just plain wrong. But before you get started, be aware that we all have an unconscious tendency to look for evidence that supports our beliefs and reject evidence that doesn’t.

In an ideal world, we acknowledge this, and then try to form an objective opinion. Nothing is perfect, but this is what science attempts. Reading about this tendency, hopefully gives you pause for thought.

But it’s pretty safe to agree with the trainer from Paws for Praise, that without nourishment, we die. The search for food is hardwired in our brains, just as the pleasure we get from being satiated by food is as well. So if you think your dog is not motivated, perhaps click through to her article My Dog Isn’t Food Motivated….Really???????? and see what you think:

Years of research on dog aggression and how dogs learn certainly indicate that there are certain circumstances where dogs will not take food. Sometimes it’s because a dog is highly toy obsessed motivated (like some herding breeds). But usually when dogs don’t respond to food, it is almost always due to the food choice, the dog being full, or a result of the dog is too close to the thing that has kicked his fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) response into gear.

If your dog isn’t not responding well to food, it may have more to do with your techniques than how food does not motivate your dog.