The easiest way to reinforce a behaviour is through rewarding with food. Training with food provides clear communication which can charge reward words like “Good” or “yes”! But what if your dog doesn’t show much interest in food?
Food drive is something that is innate in puppies- the first thing they do when they are born is latch onto a teat! However, dogs can lose their food drive if they have access to food at all times and they never have to earn it. If your dog is free-feeding (the bowl on the ground always has food in it), why should they listen to you when you ask them to sit for food?
When you control the resources, your dog has a reason to focus on you and do what you ask, but it can still take a while to build that food drive! Start by taking the bowl off the floor – never leave food sitting out. If your dog doesn’t eat their food portion in 10 minutes, take it away. They will not starve themselves, they will figure out feeding times, and its ok to miss a few meals.
Next, feed from your hand! Make the dog come to you to get their food, don’t push it in their face. Make the food interesting. Again, if your dog loses interest stop the session and try to pick it up later – they won’t starve themselves. I use marker training to mark when they get food, so they learn that whenever I say the magic word its time to get rewarded!
Start layering in training! Keep it simple when your starting out by asking for commands they may already know and lure them into position, then give your magic word and feed! Keep repeating this pattern and your pup will soon learn that YOU are the source of their food, and you become a lot more interesting and you will see a shift of your dog looking to you for direction. When you notice your dog seems less interested, stop the exercise and pick it up again later. Dogs don’t need to eat their daily food portions at set times.
Building food drive takes time, consistency and dedication. We all get busy and sometimes it can be tough to commit to spending that time doing training – but it pays off! Consistency is key! If you feel you don’t have time to work through training exercises and hand feeding one morning, that’s ok! You can give more than just one kibble as a reward if you don’t have the time, or you can also set aside that portion of food to feed later. Being the controller of resources is key to getting your dog to respect you, and to want to work! When they've built up a food drive, training becomes more fun and a way to build confidence, reinforce good behaviours, and develop a communication system with your pup!