Why isn’t my dog motivated by food?

All dogs are food motivated! If they weren’t they would have starved to death a long time ago. If you have tried training your dog using food in the past and you have found that they have not been motivated by the food you are using, there is usually a good reason. Let’s explore that together! Let’s take a look at our dog for a moment and recognize that this furry and sweet creature is a dog. Sometimes it can be hard to believe because they are so domesticated and often (creepily) human-like in the way they communicate their needs to us. Dogs are historically hunters and scavengers. They are preprogrammed to work for their food and eat food that is found. They are natural problem-solvers! 

The majority of pet guardians will scoop some kibble into their bowl and put it down on the floor for them to eat. Some dogs will happily eat this way, and other dogs are not as willing. Let’s face it; kibble is boring and does not taste fantastic. (Yes, I’ve tried it. Don’t ask.) By doing this, we are also taking away their natural instincts to work for their food AND we’re devaluing the food itself. Now we have a dog who gets bored of their food and assumes it will always be there, and labelled “not food motivated”. We are all motivated by what we might not have in abundance, aren’t we? 

Here are some possible reasons for dogs who are not “food-motivated”:

  1. free-fed or overfed
  2. ill or in pain
  3. uninterested in the particular offering 
  4. fearful or nervous
  5. too distracted by the environment / overwhelmed
  6. motivated by a competing reinforcer (squirrel, social time, toy, etc)

If you check off #2 and/or #4, please do not move ahead in this training plan; instead, get in touch with your Veterinarian and connect with us in the community to help you work out the next steps as they will be different for dogs who are ill, in pain, fearful, or nervous.