Help! My Dog Doesn’t Work for Treats

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My Dog Doesn't Work for TreatsWhen it comes to dog training, almost every article you read suggests using food or treats as an incentive, especially with positive reinforcement training. Food is a great motivator for most dogs but every once in a while, I get a comment or email from a reader saying their dog doesn’t work for treats. What? How can it be that some dogs aren’t motivated by food? Those tasty tidbits are like magic wands that can be pulled from your pocket to mesmerize and control your pup’s behavior. Well, at least until they gobble them down. So what’s going on with these dogs that just aren’t interested in treats? Here are eight possibilities.

8 Reasons Your Dog Doesn’t Work for Treats

1. Your dog isn’t hungry.
If you free feed your dog or they’ve just eaten a full meal, they might not be interested in even more food. Your pooch will be more motivated if you train when they’re hungry.
2. Your dog’s not impressed with your offering.
Some people offer pieces of dry food from their dog’s mealtime ration to limit calories, but your dog might not find their normal food all that exciting. Since dogs work harder for food they like, buy some yummy-smelling training treats or try some small pieces of meat or cheese. Some dogs will even turn down one type of treat if they smell or think you have something better. Experiment to see what your dog really loves.
3. Your dog is anxious or scared.
When a dog feels threatened, stressed or is in a high state of alert, they usually won’t take food and will often turn their nose away from it. This can be a useful way of reading your dog’s emotional state.
4. Your dog is overexcited or distracted.
This can happen when your dog finds something in their environment more interesting than the treats you’re offering. Make sure you start training at home, around little or no distractions, then gradually increase the level of distractions.
5. Your dog has a negative association with treats.
This usually happens if you’ve lured your dog into a situation they perceive as negative by using food. For example, luring your dog into his crate before leaving the house or luring them towards something they fear. This type of luring can cause dogs to associate the treat with the negative event and they may avoid taking treats in the future.
6. You’ve abused the power of treats.
If you’ve fooled your dog by pretending to have a treat in order to get them to come to you or follow a command, they soon learn to distrust you and may no longer be motivated by treats, even if you have one.
7. Your dog’s breed isn’t particularly food motivated.
Some breeds (like labs) are very motivated by food and will take a treat even if they’re full. Other breeds aren’t as food motivated or they may be motivated by play or other drives. If your pup will work for toys, play sessions, praise or belly rubs, that’s great too. It’s all about discovering what motivates your dog.
8. Your dog may feel sick or have a medical issue.
If your pup has an upset stomach or the type of treat doesn’t agree with him, he’ll probably turn it down. If this is unusual behavior for your dog or he’s not eating at all, contact your vet to see if he needs to be examined.

While I’m on the topic of using treats for training, here are a few extra tips.

A few more treat tips!

  • If your dog listens and follows commands consistently, but only when you have a treat, it’s time to start weaning your pup off the treats by giving intermittent reinforcements. Offer praise, petting or something else your dog loves while slowly reducing the number of treats for that particular command.
  • After your dog is reliable and weaned off treats for a command, an occasional treat as an intermittent reward is a great way to reinforce their reliability. Even though Haley reliably comes to me when called, an occasional surprise treat keeps her running back to me with enthusiasm!

Dog Sitting for TreatFood is a primary reinforcer for dogs; they need it to survive and it’s a powerful reward that can be used to shape all kinds of behavior. If your dog doesn’t work for treats, try some of the tips above and let me know how they work.

Have you ever had a dog that wasn’t motivated by treats? What worked for your dog? Share your tips and thoughts in the comment section below!


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My Dog Doesn't Work for Treats

36 Comments on “Help! My Dog Doesn’t Work for Treats”

    • I’m not real motivated by treats. Mom has to keep changing the treats so I don’t know what might be coming, and she has to keep upping the value. I’ve never been a real big food dog. I eat slow no matter what the meal, just not so into food. The only way I do get a little motivated is with random treating and always changing the treats.

      • That’s why you have a fantastic figure, Emma! Thanks for sharing your tip about changing the treats to keep things interesting.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head about offering treats and then not giving one. If I say “cookie” to get them to do something, they get one. Mine get excited for any food even pretzels so I have no motivation problems 🙂

      • It’s so funny that you mentioned pretzels, Mary. That’s about the only thing that Haley won’t eat besides lettuce and celery. Pretzels are yummy so I have no idea why she snubs them, lol!

    • I have had labrador retrievers in the past, and now I have a golden retriever. All of my dogs have always loved food and treats. My labs used to like things like apple slices but my golden turns her nose up at any kind of fruits or vegetables.

    • I love this post for so many reasons. First, I remember years ago when I was walking reactive Shermie and I was taught to have treats, etc. BUT when he’s over threshold he won’t eat treats! And no one really told me that would be the case and I freaked out. AND for my guys I always know that if we’re in a place like our house then they either need to poop or have an upset stomach if they put their nose up to treats!

      • Now you have me wondering, Christine. I’ll have to notice if Haley turns down treats when she has to poop too. I was thinking about what you said about Sherm being over the threshold. There have been several times that I didn’t realize Haley was uncomfortable until I tried to give her a treat. It’s been a helpful insight for us too.

    • I have found that Natural Balance dog food rolls work wonders for training my dogs. I buy a big log, cut it up and freeze what I don’t use immediately. The dogs absolutely love it and it can substitute for their dinner too. To really spice things up, I rotate the flavors each time. At agility practice with my less food motivated dog, I always keep a squeaky toy on me too, to regain that focus. 🙂

      • I bet they absolutely love the natural balance rolls and it’s nice that if any goes unused, you can just feed it for dinner. Haley eats Natural Balance dry food, but I’m going to pick up a roll or two for her and try that for a special treat next time! I think they have her duck and potato formula in rolls. Great tip, thanks!?

    • Rita will work for GOOD treats, but not just any ol’ treat! 🙂 I’m glad she will work for treats, because I know some dogs will work for a game with their favorite toy, or something like that – but she’s not all that into playing!

      • Rita’s pretty smart to hold out for the good stuff, haha! It’s funny watching Haley play “find it” for different treats. If I used the good treats, she works much harder and finds them quicker.

    • Number two is a huge one for Max. He is a very picky eater and we had to go through several types of treats before he responded. Still he prefers human food way above any dog treat so we often use cubes of bread or unseasoned meat (his favorite foods). Number five is a good one to remember. I’ve often tried treats to lure him into the bath. It never works though. He outsmarts me and just walks around the pool to me, instead of through it.

      • I’ve tried the old “let’s get in the bath” routine with treats too and it takes some pretty yummy food to get Haley to jump in the tub, haha! ?

      • I think it’s wonderful that you and Sam have the opportunity to cheer up so many patients and staff at your local hospital. It must be so rewarding to do something so positive and I’m sure Sam enjoys getting all the attention, plus yummy treats!?

    • My pup Missy is super motivated by food, always has been. Her brother Buzz is more selective than her – or should I say WAS more selective. Back in our kibble feeding days, he’d turn down his food and treats (other than bully sticks) a lot. This hasn’t happened anymore since I started feeding a raw diet and only offer single-or limited ingredient, high value treats.

      • That’s so interesting about Buzz. I think he was trying to tell you something with turning down the kibble, right? Our pups are pretty smart!?

    • I have Labs so they’ll work for any kind of treat. However, I was able to build a toy drive in one of them – our very shy and sometimes uncertain Shyla. Learning to tug has been fabulous for her. I used Denise Fenzi’s methods to teach her to love tugging, and now it rivals treats as a reward. (and she wouldn’t even grab a tug toy with her mouth when I first met her!).

      • That’s fantastic! There’s still a lot of people that think tug-of-war is dangerous for dogs, and that could be true for certain dogs, but most dogs love it and don’t perceive it as a dominance play if they win. Our pups learn so much through playing and it really helps with bonding. It’s great that Shyla doesn’t need constant treats for rewards too!

    • I had to laugh at your comment to Mary about lettuce and celery. The first time Chops got to meet his cousin Abby we were fixing dinner and I knew Abby loved anything that came her way from that magic spot above her. I also knew Chops wouldn’t eat celery, lettuce & cauliflower. That is until Abby scarfed up a nice piece of lettuce. His ears went up and the next piece went in his direction and he pounced on it. Then we tried celery. If Abby wanted it so did Chops. There’s a reason we call them our “kids”. Thank you for an always great blog.

      • That’s so funny! I still can’t believe how much Abbey loves her leafy greens, lol. The next time you bring Chops down, I’ll bring Haley over to see if she’ll be convinced to scarf down some lettuce or celery with the two of them.?

    • You have mentioned 8 most common issues. Normally dogs are not that type of animal to refuse any kind of treat. I think the medical issue is the main issue from this 8 issues. Tricks should be impressive otherwise the dog will not like it. If anybody is facing this kind of situation please contact your vet. I have a nice post on this topic that might be helpful for them as well. Thanks!

    • Hi! I have enjoyed your website. I just adopted a 2 year old flat coat retriever and he is pure joy. We are very active together and he is so well behaved but I want him to learn fun tricks to keep his mind at work. The problem I have had so far..he just wants to cuddle! Such a problem to have I know! He is not very treat motivated but more just wants to cuddle before/during/after teaching. What do you suggest for this?

      Thanks!

      Emily and Cruiser!

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