As a dog trainer, I usually come across many dog owners stating that their dog is not really interested in food so they are struggling in their training. Whilst I understand that every dog out there is an individual and each of them has their own personality and needs, it is important to say that food is something that all living beings need to survive.
To begin with, I am glad when I meet people willing to work with their dogs by using reward-based methods and that is something I always expect my clients to do if they wish to go ahead with my training plans.
Food is usually the first option when we start the training. Sometimes, it can be the dog’s kibble and some other times (depending the environment) it can be a high value treat that the dog wants to work so that they gain it.
As it is stated above, food is important for all living beings.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created a pyramid of prioritized human needs. This hierarchy suggests that a number of basic needs need to be met before we move to the next levels that include safety, love, self-esteem and self-actualization.
Taking into consideration this hierarchy of human needs, Linda Michaels – Dog trainer and behavioural consultant – created a pyramid of dog needs that is actually very similar to the human needs.
One of the basic needs in a dog’s life is food. Dogs cannot proceed to the next levels if their basic needs haven’t been met. It is very important to understand that if we want a highly food motivated dog.
Most dog owners when they bring the puppy/adult dog home, they start feeding them through the bowl and what is even worse is that some of them free feeding them by leaving the food bowl available all day long. These methods can lead to a dog that gets bored of their food. The most important thing is that the food can lose its value and the dog will stop caring so much about it so you will end up relying on high value treats even in low distraction environment (at home or garden).
If you start rewarding the dog with high value treats for a behaviour that is happening at home, you won’t have a lot of reward options when you want to practice the same behaviour in a park or in a busy road that is full of distractions. We actually need a reward that the dog will want to work hard in order to get it and this why a high value treat needs to be used for very distracting environments and situations. Some dogs are more interested in toys instead of food and that is absolutely fine, but play is something that is included in a higher level of the dog’s needs (social needs) whereas food is essential for their survival (biological needs).
My Personal Suggestion
My advice to all dog owners out there is to make their dog’s food count. Dogs’ natural instinct is to search for food and not have it ready in a bowl. This could make them get easily bored, resulting to unwanted behaviours (chewing inappropriate things, attention seeking behaviours, barking, destroying furniture etc). Dogs like to forage and scavenge and they love sniffing and searching for their food. Remember, food is a primary need for all living beings.
Use interactive and food dispensing toys, puzzles or activities that will help them use their natural instincts and their sense of smell (consult a dog trainer to help you with nice and smart ideas for that).
In this way, your dog will have more interest in their food meaning that you can use it as a reward in their training! Keep them mentally stimulated and make them work for their food. I’m sure they will appreciate it and it will also make your training much easier and more efficient.
Give this tip a try for a couple of weeks and see if it will make them more interested in their food.