Help! My puppy doesn’t like treats. How to train your dog if treats won’t work.

This might be hard for some of us to believe, but not all dogs are very food-motivated —  and that’s okay – we are going to go over how to train a dog that doesn’t like treats. Food is not the only reward in this world. We don’t all love the same things; it’s the same for our pets. There’s also some dogs who find food too exciting to be a training tool. Those dogs can’t focus on learning when there is the slightest possibility of food.  

So here’s a primer on treat-free training. While this is aimed at dogs who aren’t food-motivated or are overly food-excitable, treat-free training can be a good change of routine even for the easiest food-motivated dogs. You might find your dog enjoys earning different types of rewards, and that will lead to new things you can work on together.  

To start to train a picky dog:

The first step is understanding if you have a pup that isn’t food-motivated or if s/he is simply full and not interested in eating at the moment.

I often train Maggie with her dinner. This is a nice way of keeping Maggie lean and fit without getting an additional meal of treats that are high in calories or filled with additives. Before dinner, when your pet is anxious for their food, try training with a few pieces of dinner and see if their motivation level spikes a bit.

If so, that’s great: you can work on your training with their dinner-time meal.   To make sure that your dog really, really isn’t food-motivated, make one last effort, this time with a higher value food. If I had the choice between bacon and a cracker, I’m going to hold out for bacon (you probably would too). If you are using a dry, hard treat, try one with more scent and flavor, perhaps venison or beef-flavored treat with a soft texture and a stronger odor, Ziwi works great too, or some chicken or hot dogs and see if that changes the motivation! For our training, I mix these in with a few other random high reward treats. Below are my favorite treats for training:

Photo Title Price Info Buy
ZIWI Peak Good...image Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Lamb/Beef/Venison $11.78 ($3.93 / oz)

(Or save 20% off your order directly from Ziwi with code Maggie20) Our #1 go to for training. With no added sugar, no grains, and additives it’s perfect for training. I don’t worry about giving them unhealthy items and they are working for meat/food which is fuel and helps them throughout the day. Not to mention even my pickiest dog clients (& Maggie) LOVE Ziwi.

Blue-9 Inspire Dog...image Blue-9 Pet Inspire Dog Treats

I love the size, how easy they are to break into small pieces and that there are no crumbs either. Great for training for puppies to adults.

Pupford Freeze Dried...image Freeze-Dried Training Treats from Pupford $15.99 ($4.00 / oz)

(Or get 10% off on their site with code nicole10) I absolutely love the Pupford treats, they are small and low-calorie and the dogs love them. These are a go-to in my training sessions and all the dogs love them. The size is perfect for both training and their treat balls (in our mental enrichment section). 

These are available in Chicken, Beef Liver, Rabbit and Sweet Potato.

Full Moon All...image Full Moon All Natural Human Grade Duck Training Treats For Dogs, 5 Ounce (97541) $7.49 ($1.50 / oz)

I really like this company and probably the least expensive on this list. The duck is my go to, these are soft treats so be sure to seal that bag well. It's all human-grade, farm-raised and is actually sold at target (the only good treat company there IMO).

Northwest Naturals Raw...image Northwest Naturals Raw Rewards Freeze-Dried Treats $31.94 ($3.19 / oz)

I generally stay away from freeze-dried treats for training simply because they are super messy and distracting. But gosh, dogs go CRAZY for these, especially the white fish. So if you are looking for a great item to reward when your dog does amazing I really would consider these. Also great for your mental environment games

Full Moon USDA...image Full Moon USDA Organic Chicken Training Treats Healthy All Natural Dog Treats Human Grade 175 Treats $7.99 ($1.33 / oz)

I really like this company and probably the least expensive on this list. It's all human-grade, farm-raised and is actually sold at target (the only good treat company there IMO).

ZIWI Venison Hoofer...image ZIWI Venison Hoofer - Small Deer Dog Bone – All Natural, Novel Single Protein, Air-Dried Treat for Gentle Chewers $13.02

A longer lasting chew, something for our dogs to focus and chew on from Ziwi

Full Moon Wild...image Full Moon All Natural Wild Jerky

I love these Bison treats because it's a rare protein most dogs do really well on it, I haven't seen a dog not excited to eat these and they are easy to rip tiny smaller pieces for training.

Best Bully Sticks...image Best Bully Sticks Odor-Free Bully Sticks $54.99 ($2.75 / Count)

Need to keep your pup busy and occupied? They will love these and you'll love they are odor free. Be careful some companies make theirs in China, this is the brand we use.

ZIWI Dog Chews...image ZIWI Dog Chews Treats – All Natural, Air-Dried, Single Protein, Grain-free, High-Value Treat, Snack, Reward (Beef Weasand) 2.5 Ounce (Pack of 1) $15.00 ($6.00 / oz)

Delicious and healthy chews! These are great for a quick snack that help with oral health too.

Blue-9 Inspire Dog...image Blue-9 Dog Training Treat Pouch

This is my go to treat bag of the many I own. It has a zipper on the back to put my key or cards, the front pocket fits my phone and a quick closure to the treat section so no treats are spilled during our adventures.

Training a dog that doesn’t like treats

Still not interested in food? That’s okay! Think of your pet’s toys and arrange them in order of excitement for them.  For example, a tennis ball is a good time but a frisbee is off-the-wall excitement BUT their (so annoying) squeaky hedgehog toy tops them all.   We can make a mental list (or on a piece of paper) of the joy level each of these toys bring, from lowest to highest.

  1. Tennis ball
  2. Tug toy
  3. Pet P.L.A.Y French Fries
  4. A new toy that only comes out except at training time! Or the ever popular taco!

We know the tennis ball is lowest on the Joy List.  So get out the next item on the list the tug toy, hide it behind you, and start with the beginning steps to teach a ‘Drop It’ (link to drop it training video) but instead of rewarding with food, reward your pup with the tug toy (or your #2 item) and then let your pet play for a minute or two – let them enjoy the toy and win for a moment. If that toy isn’t deemed a sufficiently exciting reward, step it up to the next level with the French Fries.  

If your dog doesn’t spark to his normal toys as a reward, consider finding him a special toy that becomes a training-only toy. This might be a squeaky toy or a moving toy like a frisbee, and you can help make it more exciting by making noise with the toy and moving it around just before you give your command. He gets to play with the toy only as a reward for training and it is hidden away except at training times.  

Bring on the tennis balls!

For the very tennis-ball-motivated dog…. you know what is better than one ball tennis ball? Two, especially if they don’t have their paws on that other ball yet. Hide one ball in your pocket or behind your back and surprise your pup by rewarding with the other ball. Repeat this for endless doggie joy.

We hope these tips help you and your pup begin their training adventure with you.

What next? Don’t miss these blogs:

  1. Trick Training
  2. Dog toys for tough chewers

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