Please click on the tabs to go to a subject

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dogs Who Aren't Treat Motivated

From the mailbag:
Two of my dogs are not treat motivated in public places.  I use hot dogs and pet botanics at home occasionally and they devour it with enthusiasm.  But in public they are too nervous.  Because of this I pretty much only take them to the vets and car rides where we do "drive thru" errands only.  I'm nervous about exposing them to too many people if I'm not able to give them treats to create positive experiences for them. I know they are nervous and don't want them to be placed in a position to snap or bite someone.

What would you recommend for dogs who are not treat motivated in public places?

You sound like a smart, knowledgeable and caring pet parent. You are so right. Forcing your dog to get close to scary people can make the dog more afraid. Some dogs might even become aggressive.
We certainly don't want to force dogs to face their fears.

But how do we counter condition when the dog can't take treats?  Well, it depends on the level of fear your dog is displaying and the environment.  For dogs who have trouble taking treats, sometimes the answer is as simple as experimenting until we find something super motivating.  My Lupe used to love freeze dried fish treats when we were at home. But if I handed her the same treat while we were away from home, she'd look at me as if I just tried to feed her a rock. But she was able to eat boiled chicken when were were out.

Here are some other things to consider

1. If the dog is afraid to be outside, you  might need to start all over in just getting the dog to be more comfortable outdoors.  More details here:

2. If your dog is okay outside but afraid of people or dogs or cars..etc.. Try to walk strategically so that you are far away enough from scary things that your dog does not become afraid. It might require leaving your neighborhood by vehicle (to find an open field or wooded park or something)
More details here:
And here:

3. Teach your dog some Control Unleashed Or Pattern Games during relaxed times. Then slowly add in distractions bit by bit - in tiny increments - while making sure your dog stays below threshold (doesn't become afraid). Then the next time you see your dog getting a little bit concerned, create some distance, then initiate a game.  You might see your dog remember the pattern and start to relax.  Dogs are more comfortable when they know what's happening next.  As the dog and pet parent become proficient at the games, the dog starts to be less concerned about the environment.
Be careful to not force the dog into very scary situations when you use this method or you might ruin the games for the dog.
More details here:
And here:
And here:

4. Sometimes a scared dog can feel more comfortable if he/she is paired with a more confident dog.  Be careful though.  If the scared dog is reactive he/she might teach reactivity to the calm dog.  It's also harder to move away from intrusive people and/or loose dogs when we walk more than one dog at a time. If you are taking more than one dog out at a time, I suggest adding humans - one dog per handler.
More on walking dogs separately here:

5. A useful adjunct in any behavior modification program is a general program of stress reduction and relaxation.
See more details here:
And here:
And here:

6. Calming aids may or may not help:

7. Use distance as a motivator.
See more here:

8. Clicker training might help.  Click for desired behavior and offer a treat even if the dog doesn't want it. Karen Pryor talks about this in her book, "Reaching The Animal Mind". Make sure you use the clicker in lots of non scary environments first. And you don't want to do this often in very scary situations because it might ruin clicker training for the dog.
More on clicker training here:

More from the experts:

Stayed tuned for more on classical conditioning

Tell us how you motivate your dogs in the comments section below

Email general questions or comments to
Replies might be shared on this blog but names will be changed or left out.

To get notified of future posts, click here

No comments:

Post a Comment