I know that 90% of you take food training for granted.  Food shows up and your dog gets happy.  For most people that is a good thing, since food is the easiest way to rapidly acquire a range of behaviors needed for a performance dog.

I have one of the 10% that doesn't care all that much about food.  She eats to live rather than living to eat.  It is possible to acquire behaviors without pronounced food interest, but it brings challenges.  The environment needs to be tightly controlled, sessions need to be very short, and patience must be in abundance.

On the plus side, lack of food interest pretty much forces a person to develop the dog's alternative interests and to learn the absolute best ways to manage the dog's behavior.  Lots of trial and error is required here since each dog is an individual.  Indeed, even with the same dog, strategies should change frequently, depending on the dog's skill level, maturity and focus at any given time.

I'd pretty much given up on training Lyra with food.  I had found ways to work around it and she had a high percentage of the skills that I normally use food to acquire.

And then I found myself teaching an on-line class, where I made statements like: "the more motivators you have, the more options you have" and " a dog with balanced drives in all areas gives the most flexibility in training" and "building up all of a dog's drives to their maximum levels allows the most flexibility in training" and "the drives you use are the ones you build."

The first homework assignment included a few questions such as:

"What are the motivators you use the most?" and "which of your dog's motivators are strongest?"

Not surprisingly, there was a very strong correlation between a dog's strongest interests and the motivators the trainers chose most frequently.

Since I'm using Lyra as my demo dog for class, I did the homework assignments as well.

So here's what this esteemed professional trainer discovered - the one who assigned the homework:

I'm guilty of exactly what I tell people to avoid - I abandoned training and playing with food altogether.  I spent so much energy on toys and personal play that I built them up very nicely, and I probably hadn't used a cookie in a month.

Wake up call.

After completing the homework assignment a few weeks ago, ,I got the food back out.  I worked on her play skills in a dull environment with nothing else to do.  I used the food as  a toy - I used it to reward simple behaviors in the house where we rarely work.  I reinstated some clicker training work - high reinforcement schedule and a couple of new behaviors, shaped entirely with food.

And guess what?  When I said "cookie" the other day, she snapped around and looked at me with her ears up.  She CARED.  When I locked her out of my bedroom to train another dog with food, she sat by the door and complained -she wanted her turn.

And for those of you who love to train with food - I sure see why.  It's easy.  Effective.  Takes no time and space.  Hell, I didn't  even stand up.  And my dog has much better shaping skills than I realized - watching her tail gently wave as she tries to understand what I want - very nice.

Pretty sad when you have to teach a class to take your own advice: Aim for balance.   Better late than never.


Wild Dingo

I think YOU taught me to make the food come “alive” for Loki. I rarely place it in his mouth or let him take it from my hand. I toss it so he jumps for it. YOU taught me that. It’s funny how we abandon things when we’re having fun developing in other areas. I wonder if being locked out of the fun had more to do with it than the food. Sometimes I think it’s the ONLY reason why my husky better in obedience than most huskies. Because she’s envious of time spent with ME. She has a HUGE food drive NOW, but when I first got her, she had NONE. But 1:1 time with me was her biggest motivator. She wanted what Loki had: Mom time. And while food is now pretty strong for her, she’s still motivated by sibbling jealousy (in a balanced healthy way of course).

I swear i’m signing up for class soon. I need more time to settle in.
Barb VanEseltine

Enjoyable reading, as always!

Bev Maahs

One of the most easy ways to reward good behaviour rapidly. One thing, there is no such thing as a dog that does not work for food. I know people who say that, but it is just not true.
(I know, if your dog has had a meal of kibble and you try to train with kibble, of course they are not hungry) Have you heard if they are alive they like food! Is your dog hungry and is the food good? When we train, we use at least 3 or 4 different kinds of food. One low value, med and high. Depending on the behaviour, if the dog likes the behaviour, you won’t have to get out the good food. But, if the dog does not like the behaviour such as walking politely on leash, (after all what dog does not want to sniff?) then bring out the high value treat. Depending on the level of training, sometimes a toy, is much better motivation. (if your dog likes to play) Using a clicker to mark the behaviour, and then either a treat and toy comes out as the reward. It works the same way. However if you want five reps of a behaviour quickly, food will do it. Make sure it is small soft food. Not hard kibble or a whole steak that will take time to eat.
Yes, it is about what works for your dog. Good points overall!

Kathy & Kaleb

LOL! The journey—always something new. :)

Eve Ross

I have been using no food (well, only for coming back from chasing game) since you said all those words at the LA seminar. Similar reaction from my girl: she is much more intent to interact with me and with toys when food isn’t an alternative. For now, still in low distraction places, but occassionally even in higher distraction environments. Maybe you should sell T shirts?

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