Food Motivaton, Positive Training, and Progress

Food motivation: the thing that can make training with your dog a piece of cake and help you feel like the best dog-human team there is, or the thing that can make obedience class one of the most frustrating activities you and your dog will do together.

Baxter was food motivated. He would do almost anything for food. Baxter came to me with pretty much zero obedience training, and in a matter of weeks learned sit, down, paw, and… okay, well that’s about it – but still! It was easy enough because he loved food. I didn’t even have to use treats with him; he would bend over backwards for just kibble. It was great!

Otis showed up as a non-food motivated dog, or so it seemed. The first few days he wouldn’t eat his kibble even for meals, and would turn up his nose at whatever I put in front of him.  Working on basic obedience was frustrating and discouraging because Otis would pay zero attention to me or the treat in my hand. Turns out though that all he needed was to settle in a little, and boom went the appetite (duh! earth to fostermom!).

Look at me being a good little student and staring intently at the treat.

This is making a very positive change in his attention during training work. He will still have trouble focusing if I don’t have a treat, but as soon as I get something yummy in my hand, it’s all eyes and ears on me (gee, can’t imagine why). The treat still has to be pretty high value, like deli ham or cheese (which we break it into baby bites to make sure he doesn’t get an unhealthy amount during our sessions), but now his focus is worlds better than it was three weeks ago.

I’ve been using a clicker with him to help build a positive relationship, especially because he is so sensitive. Honey would not do well with someone saying “NO!” to him all the time. He works best when he is encouraged for doing well, and, like most dogs, he shuts off when he doesn’t know what you’re asking. I’ve used clicker training to help work on eye contact and focus, as well as basic stuff like sit and wait. I’m excited because he has been making quick progress with sit-stay-come; something Baxter never exactly mastered.

To make sure Otie doesn’t get confused or discouraged, we keep training sessions short, sweet, and frequent. I’ll grab some treats when we wake up in the morning and work for five minutes before breakfast. Then we’ll do some simple commands after the workday. Then we’ll have a refresher course after a walk – and so on. It ensures that our experiences stay positive, and Otis keeps enjoying to learn. It is our goal to set him up for success now during his time with us and for when he is in his forever home.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his adopt me page or email

7 thoughts on “Food Motivaton, Positive Training, and Progress

  1. Jo

    LOVE IT! Clicker training can be so amazingly helpful and I am so excited that the word is spreading and more and more pet owners, rescues, vets, groomers, etc. are using it to better their relationships with dogs (and cats, birds, and other animals too!) I’ve used it with all of my foster dogs and of coures my clients too. So glad Otis is on his way to becomming “Clicker Savvy” ;)

  2. It sounds like Otis is really building confidence with this training! We started using clicker training with our pittie Addie a few months ago to help with loose leash walking, slight dog reactivity on walks, and recall, to name a few. All three areas have drastically improved!

  3. Kristine

    This is such a great post on the genius of clicker training. What I love the most about it is that though food is the easiest reward to use, when it comes to positive reinforcement anything goes. You can use play, toys, praise, or any other thing your dog finds the most rewarding. It’s all about making it fun for you and the dog. I am so glad you have figured out Otis’ currency and that training with him has become a blast. Congratulations on all your success!

  4. Glad to hear Otis is doing well with clicker training!

    We thought Badger wasn’t food-motivated. It turns out he was just waiting for better food. Unfortunately, we’re now stuck training him with hotdogs, cheese, and salmon treats.

  5. Go, Otis! ^.^

    I just recently found out about clicker training and have begun to start with my Golden Retriever. :) She’s responded to it so well and I feel that our bond has strengthened a lot.

  6. Pingback: Four on the Floor, Please | Peace, Love, & Fostering

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