My dog will only do things when I have food

My dog will only do things when I have food by Anna Hope

Why does this happen?

What can we do about it?

It's a very common dilemma that I see every day with the owners I work with and I understand how frustrating it can be when things seem to work and then they don’t.

One of the main reasons I see training fail when we aim to take it to the long term and in real life, is all about when we use food.

If your dog likes food and we can use this to motivate them to want to do some learning and positively reinforce their behaviour. It’s vital that we present it at the right time so we aren’t relying on bribery.

Why Bribery won’t work long term.

Bribery focuses on the principle that ‘if you do this, you get this’. That means your dog can see what they’ll get BEFORE they do it, they can weigh up their options. If whatever you have isn’t good enough…it wont work.

We see this a lot in training, especially with recall training. Most of the time we see that our dog will come back to us when they’re called, receive their treat because they have done so and all is well. Then a dog appears, a cat, a squirrel (or a feather) and you may use your recall that previously worked and have your treat ready.

Our dog can now make a decision.

Go back to human and get that biscuit or go over and sniff that dog/cat/person (insert distraction here).

There will always be a time when what you have will not be good enough to compete with whatever is distracting them away from you.

What can we do about it?

If you use food in your training or you like to have treats for your dog as your dog is foodie we need to make sure your training is working, regardless if you have food or not.

The secret is all about where you keep the food and when you present it to your dog. Keep treat bags behind you back. Make sure you have one that can remain open or you can easily get your hand in, you don’t need to use your eyes.

If you have food in your pockets, keep it there and keep your hands out of them. Avoid holding food when you ask your dog to do something because when you then don’t have the food in your hands, guess what?! Your dog won’t do it.

Using food as a reward for your dog training is a good idea. Always remember to present the food afterwards. Mark a behaviour and reward with the food. If you are unsure of what marking a behaviour is or means, check out our article here.

So when we apply this to recall, your dog will get something delicious from you after they have got back to you and are right in front of your legs. Then (and only then) can you reach to your treat bag/pocket and select a reward for them.

This is how we move away from bribery and towards a deeper level of understanding for your dog.

They are learning that when they do good stuff, they get good stuff. We don’t want them to ONLY do good stuff when they KNOW we have good stuff.

These dogs are clever.

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