The Secret to Motivating an Unmotivated Dog


It’s easy to train a dog who is food motivated and willing to please. Many dogs fall into this category, but the ones that don’t can be a challenge to train. Does this sound like your dog?

I believe every dog has something that motivates them. And as caretakers, we have a responsibility to find it.

So here’s how it’s done!

Make a Game Out of It

Find something your dog likes a little bit and push it to the limit.

I like to start with food. It’s the best place to begin, in my opinion. All dogs are wired in a very primal way to desire food above almost everything else, making it a highly effective reward.

When I adopted my newest Greyhound, Trigger, he was very food motivated and loved treat rewards. But now he’s over-the-top excited about them and will do anything I ask him to do in order to get them.


Because I get excited about giving him the treats, and I interact with him in a way that enhances that existing desire for food.

Let’s say your dog likes toys a little bit. When they pick up a toy, encourage playing with it! Clap and get excited. Talk in a high voice. If the dog drops the toy, pick it up and move it quickly along the ground. Give it to the dog when they reach for it and get excited again. Enthusiasm is contagious! Your dog will get the idea that you’re eager to see her play and she will be more inclined to do so over time.

I used toys in the above example, but it could be with a number of things. Food and affection are other strong motivators, and both can be enhanced using similar methods. Playing and being enthusiastic with your dog is a wonderful mood elevator and a great way to bond!


Despite all our efforts, some dogs appear to have nothing that really motivates them. This is often the case with spooky, shy dogs as well as with recently adopted dogs who are unsure of their place in their new surroundings. In these cases, give your dog time to settle in and trust you. Fear kills appetite. Most dogs, when scared, will not accept food rewards. Explore activities that encourage strong bonds and build trust. The relationship you have with your dog is very important. Make sure you have a solid foundation to stand on, or your training efforts may be for naught.

Spend time discovering new places and new experiences with your dog. Try some basic dog sports that you think your dog may enjoy. Getting out and giving your dog some exercise can be a reward in itself. As you progress, you may find that your approval alone is a strong motivator for your dog!

If you still can’t find anything that gets your dog going, even after taking the steps we’ve discussed, go back to food and start at square one. If you have a picky eater on your hands, there are several steps you can take to fix this problem.

A Caveat

Obviously if your dog is overweight, force-feeding them treats is probably a bad idea. Consider a diet in conjunction with training. Consult with your vet if you are not sure how to properly go about the healthiest way to cut your dog’s caloric intake. Treats should only consist of around 10% of your dog’s total diet, so please keep that in mind when training. If your dog likes her dog food enough, you can use pieces of kibble as treats, though usually these aren’t as motivating as the real thing.

That’s the gist of it, so get out there and have some fun with your dog!

What do you have to add? Did these tips help you? Do you have a story about a breakthrough in your own motivational training? I want to hear about it! Tell us in the comments and share the article with your friends. Every share means a great deal to me personally, so thank you in advance.