Embracing Food Drive: A Trainer’s Perspective

Beyond Treats: The Power of Food Drive in Training

May 15, 2024

Do you guys value/prioritise food in your dog training?

This question often arises in discussions about dog training, and my answer might surprise you. The short answer is that I prioritise/value it as much as the dog I am training, here is the long answer.

While many trainers prioritise food drive as a crucial component, I approach it from a different angle. I don’t see food drive as something to be prioritised but rather as an invaluable resource that taps into a fundamental aspect of a dog’s existence: the need to eat for survival.

Dogs are instinctively driven to seek out food as a means of survival. It’s a primal urge that has been hardwired into their DNA. Recognising and embracing this instinctual drive allows me to create training experiences that resonate deeply with my dogs. Rather than just imposing external motivators, such as praise or playtime, I also harness the power of food rewards to align with the dog’s intrinsic needs.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of the food drive is its adaptability and flexibility. Food rewards can be tailored to suit individual nutritional needs and dietary requirements regardless of age, breed, or background. Whether it’s using kibble or raw or fresh food I use the dog’s regular meals, instead of treats. Personally, I prefer to utilise the dog’s existential food, such as their daily meals, rather than relying solely on treats. Here are the drawbacks of using treats:

  • While treats can be effective with certain dogs, they can often lead to overindulgence and potential health issues, such as obesity if not used in moderation on top of their meals.
  • Some dogs may become disinterested in training if the treats lose their novelty or fail to match the dog’s preferences. This means you will always have to be ready to offer something ‘better’ and will make your training unreliable.
  • Some dogs will altogether stop eating their regular meals and will only eat the treats.

What if your dog doesn’t have lots of food drive, or loses it in the face of distractions?

While food drive comes naturally to many dogs, some may initially show little interest in food rewards during training sessions. Here’s what I do:

  1. If your dog doesn’t eat when there are no distractions around, consider reducing their daily intake – it can be their body that simply doesn’t have a need for food. Get to know your dog, some dogs don’t need to eat as much as others. Also, a bored dog who loves food has food on offer all the time and is overweight, is terrible and I would even say abusive behaviour towards the dog.  It is better to have a hungry dog that can go through a struggle to obtain food than to indulge and create a bratty dog;
    • Instead of leaving food out for your dog to graze on throughout the day, establish a “Window of opportunity” meaning the restaurant has a time it is open and then closed at certain times of the day. Just like in real life, there is an opportunity to hunt, and if you miss it, you don’t eat.
  2. Offer your dog their meals in the presence of the distraction. If your dog chooses to pursue a distraction instead of eating the food with vigour;
    • Then the dog has missed the opportunity for the current meal and I will only offer the next meal in the presence of the same distraction – this way the dog learns they have a choice to take food or pursue the distraction. This will lead to your dog getting hungrier – the key is NOT to feed your dog when they are NOT around the distraction, after all, if any animal chooses to pursue a distraction in the middle of a hunt; then they don’t eat. This is NOT abusive, just practical.
  3. Avoid giving your dog excessive treats or snacks between meals, as this can diminish their motivation to work for food rewards during training sessions. Instead, save high-value treats for training purposes and encourage your dog to earn them through participation and cooperation.

Embracing food drive as a resource has revolutionized my approach to dog training. I realise that most people will either feed their dog once or twice a day, and thus by using the dog’s meals I know they will have consistency in training.  By recognising the inherent value of food in a dog’s life, I’ve been able to create training experiences that are practical, effective, and deeply fulfilling for both myself and my canine companions. So, the next time you embark on a training session with your furry friend, remember to embrace their food drive—it’s not just a crucial component; it’s an invaluable resource waiting to be tapped into.




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