My Dog Won't Take Treats During Training. What Can I Do If My Dog Doesn't Like Treats? | Pupford
September 30th, 2023
Filed under Training
Have you ever offered your pup a only to have them turn their nose up or run away? If so, you are not alone! We often hear pet parents complaining that their pets are not food motivated or don’t like treats, especially during training.
is one of the most effective ways to reinforce good behavior in any dog positively. Unfortunately, not all dogs respond well to treats. If the dog truly has little to no food motivation, he simply will not perform the cues and behaviors asked of him.
We have explored some common reasons your dog won’t take treats during training and what you can do to improve the process.
COMMON REASONS DOG WON’T TAKE TREATS DURING TRAINING
Before we dive into each reason specifically, here are some reasons dogs don't like treats:
- Low value treats
- Your dog is overweight
- Your dog isn't hungry
- Your dog is stressed
- Your dog is unwell
- Training sessions are too long
- Treats aren't their highest reinforcer
Now, let's look at each reason below. ⤵️
1. YOU’RE OFFERING LOW-VALUE TREATS
Often, dogs are called “stubborn” or deemed to be lacking food motivation when, in fact, they’ve actively been trained to shun all but the . A generic dog biscuit might not be doing it for your pup, but a fresh-off-the-grill piece of chicken or a chunk of cheese might be enough to get their stomach’s attention. Therefore, doing reinforcement sampling before starting your training session is advisable. It will help you determine the kind of treats your furry friend would respond to in a particular training environment, which may depend primarily on their taste preferences.
To do this, gather 3-5 different kinds of treats. Maybe chicken, cheese, and different . Start with one in both hands and see which treat your dog goes to first. Repeat this with the treat they chose and a new treat. Keep on continuing this until you get a good sense of what treats your dog prefers.
2. YOUR DOG IS OVERWEIGHT
If you have an , they may not be motivated to work for another treat. They follow a straightforward philosophy - You don’t need to work and learn if you don’t have the energy to engage. Likewise, your dog might not respond well to treats if it is overfed or continually pampered. Whether your vet has informed you or you suspect your dog has added too much weight, you should promptly identify the reason behind the weight gain so that you can manage it effectively. Apart from the , other low-calorie but flavorful treat options include , watermelon, apple slices, and green beans. Remember to keep treats to 10% of their daily caloric intake and reach out to your veterinarian for additional help here.
3. YOUR DOG ISN’T HUNGRY
Dogs that are “free fed” or given constant access to food may be more difficult to motivate. The value of a treat depends on how much your dog wants it when you offer it. Try to feed your dog at specific times of the day. It will help you determine when your doggo is likely to be hungry with a higher chance of being willing to work for the reward.
4. YOUR DOG IS STRESSED
If your dog is healthy but unwilling to eat, it could be a . Many environments could stress out your dog, such as a busy street, crowds, small children, noises, other dogs, etc. It would help if you realized that the ability to eat is an indicator of how secure your furry friend feels in their current routine and household. If your doggo is too stressed to accept any treats, there’s a high likelihood that it is only learning to tune you out in favor of the stressful environment.
5. YOUR DOG IS UNWELL
If your dog usually responds well to treats but is now avoiding them, they could be sick. Schedule an appointment with the vet. Before assuming dogs who don’t take treats are spoiled, it’s essential to rule out potential medical problems. is often one of the dogs’ first signs of illness. It could be a matter of tummy troubles, a painful tooth, or some underlying medical disorder causing a dog to feel “off.” If your dog normally takes treats during training, and now, out of the blue, he’s no longer interested, suspect a medical problem with the furball. Dogs don’t just stop taking treats for no rhyme or reason, so give him the benefit of the doubt.
6. TRAINING SESSIONS ARE TOO LONG
Each pup has a different threshold on how long they can stay interested in a training session, but a good rule is to After 5 minutes, you can give your pup a quick break and then pick it up again… if they are ready for it.
As far as ending your sessions goes, it’s also important to leave them wanting more. For example, your dog may lose interest in taking treats if the training sessions are too long.
Another tip is to end the session on a positive note. For example, end the session if the dog performs the behavior correctly; do not delay the process. By ending the session when they’re still ready to work, they will go back to the session with enthusiasm later. However, if you end when they are already tired of it, they may be reluctant to work in the future.
7. TREATS AREN’T THEIR HIGHEST-VALUE REINFORCER
If none of the above seems to apply to your dog(s), they may simply just need another reinforcer. We will talk about this more in the next section, but all dogs are different so it only makes sense that what they will consider rewarding is also different!
WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOUR DOG DOESN'T LIKE TREATS
There are many ways to motivate your pup if he doesn’t like treats, and you can combine these methods too.
1. WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR DOG’S BOAT
When training non-treat-motivated dogs, the key is finding something your dog is interested in. Whether it’s , a box, a certain smell, another person, or another animal, find something that brings over-the-top joy to your dog. Spend time throwing balls to see if your pup has a strong instinct to chase, and then take the time to teach them to fetch. This is your first indicator of a possible alternative to using treats during .
2. LET THEM EARN IT
Stop any table snacks or food with a low nutritional value for your dog. In other words, no more human food for your pup. Remove any free food as well. The aim is to switch your puppy’s mindset from food being something with no value to something that has to be earned. Sometimes, don’t even give your dog food in a bowl, as this also makes it too accessible. Instead, put some of their food in a puzzle toy so that they need to “work” to get it out.
3. PUT THEIR NOSE TO WORK
Unfortunately, for us, humans, dogs love smelly things. In fact, the stinkier, the better! For this, you would want to look at treats/chews that contain something with a strong smell, like dried liver or tripe.
4. CHANGE UP THE ENVIRONMENT
So, your dog has mastered specific cues in the living room, but when you’re out in the world, it’s like they forget all they’ve learned. That indicates that it’s time to move training to a new environment. Start with less distracting environments, like an empty park, and move up to more distracting environments as your dog progresses.
RECAP OF DOGS & PUPPIES THAT AREN'T FOOD MOTIVATED
Treats can be great motivators, and it certainly helps increase a puppy’s food drive. Still, just like humans, dogs can be motivated by different things.
Building trust and a strong relationship with your puppy means learning to understand what makes them excited and what makes them go “meh.”
Here's a recap of some things to try if your dog isn't motivated by food or treats:
- Find unique reinforcers like toys, fetch, etc.
- Let them earn it, remove human food
- Use nosework
- Change up their environment
What has helped your dog who doesn't seem interested in treats? Tell us in the comments!