When Your Dog Doesn’t Respond to Treats
Positive Reinforcement-Based Training
By Cara Lederman, ABCDT
A common complaint about positive reinforcement-based training is when a dog doesn’t respond to food lures. No matter how many times you repeat a cue and wave a treat in front of your dog’s nose, he just won’t listen. This can be frustrating, but resorting to using more abrasive techniques in an effort to have your dog comply isn’t necessarily the answer.
Dangers with Using Compulsion Methods
There are inherent dangers in using compulsion methods when you’re frustrated and stressed. For example, if your dog is acting fearful, he will intently watch his surroundings and have a hard time listening to your commands. If you resort to using compulsion methods, your dog’s reaction will probably be the complete opposite of what you want and his fear might actually increase. Everyone has good days and bad days, even dogs. If your dog is challenging you, know that you can overcome it by following some simple guidelines that don’t involve the use of force.
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How to Get Your Dog to Respond to Treats
Distance Yourself from Nearby Distractions
The first step is to stand away from the area where there are distractions. Next, put a head collar on your dog, as it’s a gentle and effective way to redirect him. Determine how far away you need to be from the distractions in order for your dog to just focus on you. This could be 10 feet or 50 feet away.
After your dog responds successfully to your commands nine out of 10 times, try taking a couple of steps toward the area in question. The goal is to gradually have him move closer to the distraction (e.g. other dogs, people and squirrels) while still being able to focus on you.
Use Treats Your Dog Really Likes
Next, ensure your treats are something your dog actually likes. Too often, dog owners will spend money on expensive dog treats when their dogs prefer something simple, such as cheese or chicken bits. Your dog should get the best treats while in training. If he only gets those fabulous rewards while he’s learning, he will be motivated to work for them.
Also, make sure your dog is hungry by withholding food for at least six hours before training him. Keep in mind that some dogs would rather play with a toy than be rewarded with food. Your job is to discover what rewards your dog values the most.
Get Professional Help
If you’re participating in a group training class, ask your dog trainer to watch you give your dog the command and lure. She should be able to offer some constructive criticism on your technique. Avoid repeating a cue, as that only allows your dog to not respond the first time. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. Be confident, speak calmly and give clear hand signals to your dog.
If possible, bring your dog to the group class location a few times in between classes. Create a positive association with that spot by playing with him and giving him rewards. In addition, exercise your dog before bringing him to the group class. A tired dog is a good (and less distracted) dog!
By following these tips, you’re setting your dog up for success, which will create positive training sessions—with or without treats.
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