If your dog puts her nose up at treats, your first order of business is a bit of sleuthing. Food is a powerful training aid and, if at all possible, you want it in your toolbox. Eating is a primary drive in all creatures, and food treats are portable, available in great variety, and easy to dole out in small or big portions to match the difficulty of a training challenge.
Consider the following:
Are you offering mediocre treats?
Are you training too soon after mealtime?
Are you too generous with your dog’s food overall?
Could your dog be feeling under the weather?
Is your dog stressed?
Are you training near potent distractions like other dogs?
If the answer is “no” to every question, you may have to be more resourceful. But don’t give up; all dogs are motivated by food to some extent—or they wouldn’t still be alive. Here are some things you can do to make the most out of a dog’s appetite, however small:
Finally, here are some back-up rewards that can work well, too:
Toys. Dogs can be very particular about toys, and if you do a systematic search of types and textures, it’s often possible to find a few that become all-out favorites. Reserve those for training. Many a high-level dog athlete is trained with rope toys or, believe it or not, car tire chews.
Praise and belly rubs. Does your dog have a favorite spot for a rub? Make a good scratch there a training reward. And learn to vary the level, duration, and cheerfulness of your vocal praise.
Real-life rewards. Does your dog want to go into the yard? Ask for a sit before you open the door. Does she want to join you on the couch? Ask for a rollover or whatever trick she can do. Also known as the Nothing For Free training method, this strategy is as effective as any food treat.