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My puppy doesn't have an interest in treats. I have tried bacon, beef, and chicken. He just sniffs the treat and then looks at me. I find this odd because he is half German Shepherd, which are known to be food hounds.

So without the use of treats I am in need of guidance on how to train him without them. I have searched the internet and all I can find is ways with using treats.

He knows the command sit and does it willingly; I used love, attention, and petting as a reward. I am not sure how to teach the "lay down" command without the use of treats.
He also does "stay" the farthest I have went away from him is out of the house to my car and back. He seems to be a very smart puppy.

I have heard of people using their regular dry dog food as a treat. Has anyone used this method and had good results? He likes his dry food.
 

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Are you training while he's hungry? Some dogs ignore treats if they're full from meals. And yeah, lots of people have success training with normal dry food; you just have to hold back a portion of his meal to train with throughout the day so he doesn't get too much food overall.

If he's not into food during training at all, you need to figure out what motivates him and use that as a reward instead. Does he go crazy over any type of toy, maybe something that squeaks?
 

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It's not terribly unusual for young puppies to be a little suspicious of new foods, or just not be that interested in food beyond what they need to sustain them. The pup may develop more food motivation as he grows older and develops his senses a bit. When you train, try to make sure he isn't full from a meal, like Crantastic said. It's often easier to train a hungry dog.
 

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With over 50 years experience training dogs I have never used treats.....ever. They're dogs, not seals. You'll get far better results much quicker by making the training fun and enjoyable. Make it something that the dog wants to do as an activity, and if you're having fun, so is the dog.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
His favorite thing to do is play with other dogs. I didn't think about it may be he is full. I will try scaling down his regular meal and wait a little before starting a training session.

Shabess, I would like to know your secrets. How did you get the dog to understand lay down without using a treat to lure him into a laying position? Also, the come command or follow command how did those work?

Thank you for the advice.
 

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You can 'sit on the dog' to get the behavior. I leashed my restless stinker and sat down with a book and waited. He eventually lay down. I do use food and tossed a bit away from him so he had to get up. Rinse and repeat using the cue word when I could see him starting to lay down. With a pup you might want to work in a small closed space like a bathroom or hall so leash isn't chewed on. If he won't take treats then perhaps reward him with a short game of ball or tug. Pup lays down, happy talk and toy comes out all in the same second. Play for maybe 15-30 seconds, put toy away and wait for him to lay down again. I'm a terrible lurer but suppose you could use a toy to lure into position as well. Dogs work hard for a toy reward for recall as well. He has to have some interest in toys as well of course. Does he? I think I'm a great reward. Play keep away. He probably have fun at first then start to worry about you being away from him so allow him to catch you and give him loads of love and maybe a short game. Around the kitchen table works well, hiding around corners works well.

Do train before meals. I used to use dinner kibble for training during the day and leftovers were served at meal time. Keep sessions extremely short. I take 1" chunk of string cheese and when it is gone session is over. That's maybe 20 rewards per session. You might take a small handful of kibble and once gone session is over. Oh, rolled treats are way more delicious than ones handed to them. Get the behavior then tell him to get it as you roll the bit away from him.

Drilling is demotivating for all the dogs I've had. Would love a dog that would drill so I could practice my skills! Once you get a couple good responses move. Turn around, change your position, move to another room and so on. If he is really worried about this he might stop taking food. My dogs slow down the response I'm looking for, throw other behaviors at me and wander off if they are upset by drilling.

I had a dog that actively hated hot dogs. Empty your cupboards and refrigerator looking for something he likes. Try bits off your plate too. With dog tethered to me with a waist leash I even rewarded good leash manners with a straw dipped in my frappuccino whipped cream one time. Not good for the dog or me but he probably got 1 measuring teaspoon of that cream total. Dogs can eat most things we do but never raisins/grapes, chocolate, macadamia nuts, anything with xylitol or onion/garlic. I'm sure I have forgotten some. Remember his size and adjust the amount you feel safe. If he gets a hundred calories of treats then reduce his kibble by that amount to avoid gut issues and keep him trim.

If you are trying to train when pup is distracted move to a more boring place. I closed off the hall, bathroom can be another good spot.

Be happy. Lots of happy baby talk, praise him to the skies when he sits or gives you attention. If you don't feel a complete fool you aren't being silly enough. Yes getting him to be a well trained dog can be life or death but training him has to be a bonding happy experience.
 

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Don't feed him a meal and train about 6 hours later and see if there is a change. If not, skip TWO meals entirely. See if that improves things. He won't die from two skipped meals.

I hate to bubble, but many a high drive working line German Shepherd will have little food drive (the desire for food making it something worth working for). They are harder to train, but if you find the right toy that is only used when training the dog and he cannot have it any other time, they can train much easier.
 

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The average person will likely have a difficult time training anything beyond the very basics with only toys and praise. I'd make an effort to develop your pup's food drive if possible.

Make sure that fear is not a factor in his reluctance. Perhaps try mixing a few tasty treats in his bowl with his kibble at mealtime just to get things started. Sometimes, offering treats in an outstretched hand can be a little intimidating and confusing to a pup, especially if you've been teaching things like leave it, don't touch, or puppy zen.
 

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My german shepherd is not very motivated by food.........a specific ball, and a rope with a knot in one end for him to play tug with are his big motivators. Once the dog learns that he gets a good game as a reward the rest tends to fall into place. I've never used food with this dog as he doesnt really care about it.
He has one ball, and that one rope toy which are his training toys. He knows when they come out that its time for training and fun.
If food isnt a good motivator then find whatever works for your dog. Mine has a very high desire for play, and will work for that playtime.
Alot of what I did starting him out was reward with a ball throw instead of a treat. Gradually started doing more obedience between throws or quick games of tug.
Has worked really really well with my dog at least
 

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It took my pup a couple weeks to warm up to some foods. She used to turn down liver, now it's her favourite! I tried introducing new foods to develop her little palate, hehe
 

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My german shepherd is not very motivated by food.........a specific ball, and a rope with a knot in one end for him to play tug with are his big motivators. Once the dog learns that he gets a good game as a reward the rest tends to fall into place. I've never used food with this dog as he doesnt really care about it.
He has one ball, and that one rope toy which are his training toys. He knows when they come out that its time for training and fun.
If food isnt a good motivator then find whatever works for your dog. Mine has a very high desire for play, and will work for that playtime.
Alot of what I did starting him out was reward with a ball throw instead of a treat. Gradually started doing more obedience between throws or quick games of tug.
Has worked really really well with my dog at least
There ya go! That's the way to do it. I have a chest full of favorite toys from past dogs and because it's fun the training isn't really training, at least according to the dog. It turns into a game. I've done this with Shepherds, Rotties, Dobbies just about every breed there is including Cocker Spaniels. There's nothing worse than watching a dog at heel with the owner with the dog watching every move the owner makes instead of watching where he's going. That's a treat trained dog, very easy to spot. And chocolate for a dog? Proven; provided the chocolate is under 30% cocoa it's fine, and garlic? Proven; It's the ultimate bug repellent combined with Brewers Yeast, my dogs eat it like Pez dispensers and I haven't seen a flea in years.
 

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@shabess, there is a locally owned store here that sells garlic and brewers yeast mixed with powdered eggshell in little tubs. Been using it for years its great stuff!
Totally agree about making the training a game. I've been working on my gsds down stay in that way. What we've been doing lately, I can get him so worked up for the ball he'll be literally drooling alittle for it- then put him in down stay. We're at the point that I'll get him that worked up, go into down stay, and then release him for the ball when I see his state of mind change into relaxed state. I think he's figured it out now- its been taking him less and less time to go into that relaxed state. Building good self control as well as practising the down stay.
He really seems to love these types of games, and its alot of fun for me as well. Definately more fun than just constantly pumping dog full of treats.
 

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With over 50 years experience training dogs I have never used treats.....ever. They're dogs, not seals. You'll get far better results much quicker by making the training fun and enjoyable. Make it something that the dog wants to do as an activity, and if you're having fun, so is the dog.
If you're not using any food in training, then how are you getting behaviors? How are you encouraging dogs to heel? Physical manipulation?
 

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There's nothing worse than watching a dog at heel with the owner with the dog watching every move the owner makes instead of watching where he's going. That's a treat trained dog, very easy to spot.
A dog who's watching where it's going won't be in heel for very long.

To me, there's hardly anything more poetic than watching a dog heel with their handler. It's a very refined, dignified, sensual dance so-to-speak, in unison. A melding together of two individual spirits in a precision way. Kinda like Virtue and Moir, as opposed to, say .. Abbot and Costello. lol
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Make sure that fear is not a factor in his reluctance. Perhaps try mixing a few tasty treats in his bowl with his kibble at mealtime just to get things started. Sometimes, offering treats in an outstretched hand can be a little intimidating and confusing to a pup, especially if you've been teaching things like leave it, don't touch, or puppy zen.
I do not understand how fear can play into him not taking treats or his dry food from my hand. I have not taught him leave it or anything of the like. Could you please explain a bit more?
 

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With over 50 years experience training dogs I have never used treats.....ever. They're dogs, not seals. You'll get far better results much quicker by making the training fun and enjoyable. Make it something that the dog wants to do as an activity, and if you're having fun, so is the dog.
Hate to break it to you, but for the majority of pet dogs out there... training with treats can be fun and enjoyable. You can even combine food with play at times. Dogs are not seals, but they are both animals that follow the rules of operant conditioning, and are (mostly) strongly motivated to eat.

I don't disagree with the advice of using play and toys to engage a dog. I highly recommend that and it is the most reinforcing thing for some dogs. But this comment is not particularly helpful to the majority of pet dog owners out there.

To the OP, the key is to use whatever your dog likes. If your dog likes his kibble but not human food, by all means use his kibble. If he likes toys, use toys. If he likes other dogs, believe it or not you can even use other dogs... Anything that happens within a couple seconds of letting him play is rewarded (I usually wait out for eye contact). Luring is also not the only way to teach a dog to lie down. Look up "capturing" and "shaping" for more ideas.
 

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@shabess... What do you do if the dog you try to engage in play does not want to play, or does not want the toy, and instead wants to sniff or play with another dog?

Since you're a "retired police dog trainer" I'm sure you have many tricks up your sleeve.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
@Canyx

I agree. My dog likes to play, but the moment I get involved he loses interest and usually just lays down watching me. I played for an hour with his favorite stuffed alligator and his ball, but he just watched me. I was down on the floor rolling around with it, but nothing. I have tried teaching him tug of war, but no luck.

I have tried using his kibble as a reward. I held back two feedings and still he wouldn't take it from my hand. I knew he was hungry he kept sniffing at his food bowl. He eventually threw up stomach acid. I fed him to avoid the start of ulcers. The moment the food was in the bowl he ate without hesitating. So he will not take anything from my hand even if he is hungry. I plan on getting a small bag of beef liver and seeing what that does. If nothing I plan on seeing if shredded chicken does the trick.

He learned to sit because if you ran your hand along his back to his tail upon reaching his tail he would sit and I praised him for it every time he did it while simultaneously saying sit with hand gesture. He will now sit with just the use of hand gesture or the word. He will not willingly come to me any other time than when coming out of his crate.

If anyone has suggestions on what I can do about this please I am all ears.

I will NOT use chocolate or Garlic in any form. You are playing with fire using that as a treat or anywhere they can get to it.
 

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My dogs are ravenous beasties and eat anything remotely edible but rolling the food so it is like a hunt makes it lots more fun.

Almost sounds like he needs to be tamed. What happens if you play bow to him and pretend to run away? What happens if you sit on the floor and roll treats away from him? I used to play with Max like he was a kitten. Use a long toy or toy tied to a string and jerk it like it is a mouse. I'd sit on the floor and have it go around me. He would play that way but couldn't fetch or tug yet.

I accidently claimed gopher holes by showing them to my dogs. They would back off and let me have it. Not what I intended at all. Perhaps when you play with his toy he is thinking the same thing?

How old is he? How long have you had him? Any history that might explain why he is so shut down and reserved?

The chocolate and garlic thing is because people are stupid. You tell them chocolate isn't all that bad and they decide to use chocolate chips to train. After my first dog got really sick even after throwing up and huge amount of milk chocolate I am wary of it. It took me years before I stopped lunging to get dropped chocolate chips away from her.
 

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You can use food as a reward and simply toss it to him or drop it on the floor instead of hand feeding.

It is very strange that your dog absolutely won't eat out of a hand. What is his history? From the limited information here, it seems like he has been taught at some point in his life not to take things from hands.
 
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