dog will only work for food

Will Work For Food… Only

Does Fido only work when you have food in your hand, otherwise you’re completely ignored even when he knows the behavior?

This is a common complaint I get from clients and their dogs.  The dogs know the behavior 100% but the dog has also trained the human way too well.

Some ways to remedy this situation and make your dog more reliable when treats aren’t available.

  1. First step to take is go back to the beginning of your behavior training, fade out the food rewards and replace with other rewards such as petting or a favorite toy.  Change it up so the dog cannot predict what the reward might be and make it exciting to get rewarded with other things.
  2. Another something to do is put a leash on the dog, this prevents the dog from getting distracted.  Keep it lose but short, a 4ft lead is good to keep from getting tangled or worry about extra slack.After putting the leash on the dog, ask the dog for the behavior, if he ignores the command, ignore him for 60 seconds.  Allow for him to come to his senses, or ‘reboot’, until he’s ready to comply with your request.  Give him another opportunity, if he performs the requested behavior be sure to make it a party and play with him, rewarding him for complying.
  3. Another cause for ‘only working for food’ is you may be being too skimpy on the treats.  Don’t fade the food rewards too soon!  If you rarely give rewards the behavior response will become less and less reliable.  Then you end up getting the dog’s attention quickly when the food is shown, thus he only works when he can see the food.  Avoid this by rewarding for the behavior and mix up with other rewards such as play and petting.You can still reward with treats even if you don’t have them on you at that specific moment.  Once the dog completes the behavior, praise him and run with him to get the treats from the cupboard.  He has gotten praise and the behavior was marked, the running gives reinforcement and then the treats become a bonus for a job well done.

Hopefully these tips and tricks will help work through this common hurdle and you’ll have a well trained pup who will want to work for you instead of the morsels in your hand.

photo credit: Lulu learns patience.. via photopin (license)

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