Dog training without treats?


My dog isn’t food motivated. Will that make training him more difficult?


Using food as a motivator is one way to train, but there are other ways. When I rescued my Doberman mix, Clyde, both he and I discovered that he was very good at fetching and catching the ball. Although he did like treats, I used his tennis ball as the main reward.

To begin, I encouraged a healthy obsession with the ball by always making the games energetic and fun–and by taking the ball and putting it away while Clyde was still interested. Clyde became so happy to see his tennis ball that I used it as his focal point when I worked with him to overcome his dog aggression issues.

If you do use food as a reward, here are a few tips:

  • Establish a tiered treat system. Reward with gold treats for the most difficult tasks, silver treats for medium tasks, and bronze treats for the easiest tasks. Make sure to have a variety of treats at each level.
  • Use the Las Vegas reward method. Keep several types of treats on hand, and on occasion, surprise your dog with a random jackpot (a jackpot is when the treats keep coming, like coins from a winning slot machine). Look at how successful Las Vegas is! The same psychology works for your dog.
  • Use the dog’s regular mealtime food to reward him. I do not recommend feeding your dog on a schedule, but rather using his food throughout the day as a reward. That way, listening to you is a necessity, not a choice.