What about the food-obsessed dog?
This is the dog who loves food so much that as soon as you bring treats out, their brains seem to disappear. It’s like they’re so fixated on the treat that they can’t even think.
The good news is that this is a fantastic problem to have! With a little bit of effort, you’ll have an incredibly powerful reinforcer in your pocket.
This power takes some groundwork to harness, because you need to help Sparky learn to think for their treats. But after that, you’ll probably have a much easier time training your dog than most people.
Here’s the thing about over-food motivation: the way to handle it is very similar to the way to handle low food motivation. So I recommend taking this whole course, even the parts you think don’t apply to your situation. You’ll learn some things from every lesson here.
That’s because “fixing” both ends of the food motivation spectrum come down to good dog training principles. And those are universal.
We need to teach your dog the game of training. They need to learn the whole concept of, “If I do this weird random thing my human is insisting on, I’ll get what I want.”
The training plan later in this course will show you how to do that.
Specific tips for food-obsessed dogs
Use lower-value treats. We’re usually all about high-value treats like real meat around here, but for your dog, you might have to do the exact opposite.
Find the most boring food that will still keep their interest. Probably their regular kibble.
This concept applies to all kinds of reinforcers. For example:
My Belgian malinois River is OBSESSED with Frisbees. When I started trying to use Frisbees as training rewards, I ran into the same problem you’re experiencing with food. She was just too crazy about them. You could see from the manic glint in her eyes that her internal monologue was nothing but “AAHHHHHHHHHHH” Her problem-solving brain switched off.
So I started with other toys instead. Like tennis balls, and soft canvas Frisbee-shaped toys. These toys held River’s interest, but not so much that she couldn’t think.
Once we got to the point where she understood “doing the thing the human asks means I get the toy,” I reintroduced Frisbees as a reinforcer.
A homework assignment
Ditch the food bowl and start feeding your dog their meals out of food-dispensing toys.
If your dog is used to being given a bowl and mindlessly wolfing down their dinner in seconds flat, you’re missing an opportunity to teach them some important skills.
As you’ll see in this course, a lot of food motivation problems are really about frustration tolerance.
To use food as an effective reinforcer, your dog needs to be able to able to push past the initial frustration of “I want that food, give it to me RIGHT NOW. What do you mean I can’t have it RIGHT NOW? UGH!” They need to be able to think about how to access the food, and persevere, instead of rage quitting.
One of the easiest ways to help dogs build these skills is by feeding them out of puzzle toys.
This won’t be an overnight fix, and it won’t fix the issue on its own, but it may help improve your results when paired with the other suggestions in this course.