by Amelia Pizzi CPDT-KA
I recently attended a webinar by Kathy Sdao called "But My Dog Isn't Food Motivated!" If you've ever said that about your dog, keep reading!
A joke was made that the title of the webinar should have included "...yet!" because ALL dogs are food motivated. Dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds, and temperaments have one thing in common: they need to eat. Here are some of the tips I took away after this session:
The first tip, and one I often tell clients, is to set meal times for your dogs. Giving them unlimited access to food at all times can not only cause health issues like obesity, but can mask other concerns because you don't know if/when/how much they've eaten. Aside from that, it causes food to lose value because it is always available. Meal times also help regulate potty habits!
I find that having a measuring cup ready inside the dog food container helps since I can measure and portion their food easily for 2 or 3 meals per day, at roughly the same time each day. At first they may not eat right away so I give them a few minutes before I pick the food up and try again at the next meal time. If your dog is consistently refusing food, please talk with your vet to rule out any health concerns.
The second tip is not to reinforce the behaviour of refusing food. If Fluffy doesn't eat breakfast and you add some wet food to entice her, then she learns that if she waits a bit she gets a better treat. If your dog doesn't want their breakfast, give them something they want to eat to for lunch (ex. mix some wet food with their kibble) and again for dinner. Soon enough they will be excited about meal times again!
Tip number three is that once you have your dog eating on a regular schedule, you can use part of their meals for training around the house. Start with having them eat some food from your hand with no pressure to perform. Then at the next meal ask them for an easy behaviour like "Sit" or hand target, then feed them from your hand again. Building up the dog's confidence will make it easier for them to take treats when you are training.
You can also get them used to working for their food through toys like Kongs, Kong Wobblers, Tricky Treat Balls, West Paw Toppls, or other puzzle toys. Working for part of their food is a great way to add enrichment and mental stimulation.
Finally, once your dog gets the hang of working for food at home, you can take your training on the road! Bring some high-value rewards like bits of meat, cheese, or liver treats. Set them up for success by starting in a comfortable environment and asking for behaviours they know well.