Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Motivating the Non-Treat or Toy Motivated Dog

Today we covered how to motivate your dog in our article "Motivating Your Dog" however we didn't cover just how to motivate that dog, that doesn't like treats or toys. Here I hope to help you with just that.

There are a lot of dogs out there who do not like treats or toys. I've seen a lot of them. Using clickers and positive reinforcement, you need something that will motivate your dog. Dogs who don't like treats or toys puts a little bit of a damper on training.

First of all, lets start with the non-treat motivated dog. Ask yourself a few questions first to be sure you actually do have a non-food motivated dog.

  • Do you free-feed your dog? (Have food down at all times for them?)
  • Do you feed your dog, then try training them with more food?
  • What type of treats are you using?

If you answer yes to the first 2 questions or either one of them, this could be your problem. Instead of free-feeding or feeding your dog then training, portion out the dog's food and use his food during the training. Make him work for his kibble. It is healthier for him this way too.

If you answered no to either of those, and you've tried portioning out his food and still no results, ask yourself, what type of treats are you using. Try a variety of things! Cheese, hot dogs, chicken, beef, turkey, what ever you can think of! Make sure it's not toxic for the dog though, such as Grapes or chocolate. If your dog still is not interested what so ever, then I believe you can accurately say you have a non-treat motivated dog.

Now lets look at the non-toy motivated dog. If your dog is food motivated, but not toy motivated, you can use the food to train your pet to like toys by clicker training. You can also spike interest in toys by getting interactive toys you can put food into. Getting a dog to like toys is all about building the dog's prey drive. A good way to start this is with a simple rag on a rope. Twitch it around, pretend your playing with a cat. This will help spark a lot of dog's interest in toys, building on that prey drive that is already built into the dog. You can use a rag on a rope, or a simple long toy or tug on the end of the rope. I like attaching the rope to a long stick to get more action of the toy at the end.

For an example of what I'm talking about, I found this video. You might watch with volume down low as the pups are very excited and barking a lot. They are training these pups for schutzhund work so they are holding them back from the toy to further build their prey drive. You don't have to hold your dog back when doing this.

As you can see, this builds a lot of excitement in most dogs. I have a German Shepherd that has never been interested in toys, yet when I bring out this toy, she's always been nuts about it! Give it a try and see what happens. It might not work for all dogs, but it's still worth a try.

So, if you really do have a non-treat and non-toy motivated dog, you have to get creative! What does motivate your dog? What makes your dog happy? Perhaps it is simple praise and petting, perhaps it's brushing with their favorite brush, maybe it's being allowed up on the couch or bed. Do they like playing with other dogs? Sniffing in the bushes? Going on a walk? You can use all of these as rewards, simply have your dog do what you want first, click or say YES! and let them go do what they want to do, or invite them on the couch (if they are allowed).

A few examples here. Praise and petting is great because you can take that everywhere you go. Brushing, you can have your dog sit, click, and brush for a few seconds, then have your dog do something else to earn more brushing. Have your dog sit or down before you invite them on the couch or bed. Have your dog sit, down or walk on a loose leash before being released to go play with the other dogs, sniffing the bushes or going on a walk. Walks are great because you can use simple movement as the reward to anything you want your dog to do.

So, a non-treat and non-toy motivated dog is not impossible to train using positive reinforcement. Yes it makes it harder and you have to get creative, but it is still doable!

The book Click for Joy! is great for answering questions such as these. It's a whole book based on frequently asked questions by real people all about clicker training. If you have questions, this is the book for you. The author does a wonderful job of answering each question in great detail.

The book Clicking With Your Dog has a list of treat ideas, along with treats not to use because they are toxic. A great list to have. It has great ideas on how to train your dog while going about your daily business, even if you are watching TV or on the computer, it shows you how to train your dog while doing so. This book not only has tricks that are useful such as putting toys away or helping with laundry, but also basic obedience; sit, down, loose leash walking, stay and more. Also has teaching your dog to retrieve using clicker training. A great read and I can't recommend it enough.

I hope I gave you some ideas on how to go about training your hard to motivate dog! Get out there and train your dog!

Check out part 2 on How To Train A Dog That Doesn't Like Food or Treats

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  1. I have a rescue dog that isn't motivated by anything. This dog will hardly eat, hates toys (even though there are 40 different ones), doesn't like to go outside, doesn't like to play with the other dogs, won't get on the couch even though invited, and doesn't wag his tail when pet or talked to sweetly. How in the heck can I train this dog? I want him eventually to compete and retrieve a dumbbell.

  2. Please send me an email at and I would love to help you with your dog :) Or let me know your email and I'll email you to help you further.

  3. We adopted a 3 year old rat terrier. She's deaf, has no interest in treats, and turns her nose up at toys. All she wants to do all day long is sleep, either in her crate or in a lap. If for whatever reason she is not let alone to sleep in her crate or allowed to sleep in a lap, she follows people around, crying and shivering. If we try to play with her, she walks away. The only interest she seems to have outside of sleeping is stealing the cat's toys and "burying" them under the blanket in her crate. Once in a great while (every couple of days) she will chase the cat back and forth through the house for 10 minutes, which perks her up a bit, then she goes right back to sleeping 20 hours a day. We've had all kinds of evaluations at the vet and she seems to be in perfect health. Is it normal for such a young dog to be so, well, boring and lazy? (She's not the least bit overweight and is fed a high quality dog food)

    1. I'm sorry I did not see this until now. For anyone else that an answer to this might help, I have planned to do another post on motivating a non-treat or toy motivated dog. This new post should help you even if you have a dog like the one mentioned above.

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