Maximize your Dog's Food Motivation
Updated: Jan 18
Food is one of the most versatile and powerful ways we can train our dogs. But what if your dog isn't very food motivated? I have some easy tips that will help improve your dog's desire to work for food that does NOT involve fasting your dog.
Have a serious look at your dog's weight. It is absolutely critical that your dog is at a healthy weight for their overall health and well-being. The Body Conditioning System will help you determine if you need to reduce your dog's overall food intake. I recommend keeping a measuring cup with your dog's food so you can measure the exact amount that you are feeding per meal. It is also a good idea to check with your vet to see if there are any underlying medical issues that could be contributing to their lack of appetite or weight problems. Dental and thyroid issues are just two examples of things that can contribute to your dog's weight and desire to eat.
Do you feed your dog twice per day? Scheduled feeding is infinitely better than leaving a dish of food out for your dog all day. If your dog is used to being free-fed, offer them food for about 10 minutes twice per day to help them get on a feeding schedule. A healthy dog will not starve themselves, so it is okay if they skip a meal as they get used to their new routine.
Do you add things to their food to make it more flavorful? If you add things to your pet's food to make it more appealing, I would recommend that you stop that immediately if your dog has motivational issues around food. I usually find that people give their dog additives for two reasons: they think their dog needs to eat more, or they are trying to show love to their dog through food. If you think your dog needs to eat more than they already are, they probably are overweight or they have an underlying medical problem. If you are trying to show your dog love through food, I recommend trying the Bowl Free Challenge instead!
What kind of food rewards are you currently using? I always try to train with the "lowest value" food first in a low distraction environment, and I will only increase the value of food if I absolutely have to. If you start your dog on high-value treats, such as hot dogs and cheese, why would your dog want to start working for anything less appealing?
The size of your food rewards also matter. Large-sized dogs generally need treats that are the size of dice, while smaller dogs can have pea-sized treats. However, small dogs still might need a larger-sized treat for specific training activities. I don't recommend using food pieces that are so large that your dog will take time chewing each piece before swallowing. Most dogs enjoy soft treats, which also happen to be ideal for training.