When I am working with puppies, I always recommend using their regular food for training at home rather than using treats. Save the treats for the more distracting situations when we need something of higher value. I often recommend this with adult dogs as well, but many clients don't believe their dogs will work for their boring old kibble.
You'd be surprised how many times this happens. . . I arrive at a new client's house for training in the evening after the client has arrived home from their 9-to-5 job. The dog's food has been sitting out all day, untouched by the dog. When we are ready to get started with training, I say, “Let's see if your dog will work for his food so we don't have to use treats.” I pick up the dog food bowl that has been sitting untouched all day. The client gives me that look I always get, as if she is thinking, “Yeah, right! Good luck trying to get my dog to work for his kibble. It'll never happen!” Believe me, I know the look. It's not the first time someone has looked at me as if I've gone off the deep end. I just smile.
Then I ask the dog to sit. The butt immediately hits the ground, and I offer the dog a couple of pieces of kibble. He scarfs it down, eager for more. We work a bit more, with the dog eagerly working for his food. The client is dumbfounded. But, that food has been sitting there all day, and he's such a finicky eater!
What is the secret? How did I get this dog who could not have cared less about his food all day suddenly willing to do just about anything to get it? I've placed value on his food. By my actions, I said, “This food is really valuable stuff, and you have to work for it. It's far too valuable to just give to you. You need to earn this good stuff if you want it!” By having the dog work for his food, I have placed value on it, and how so has he.
Don't believe me? Here's an article about a study done that shows the same thing I've been telling clients for years:
Here's a quote from the article referenced above:
“Basically, what we have shown is that if you have to expend more effort to get a certain food, not only will you value that food more, but it might even taste better to you,” explained Alexander Johnson, an associate research scientist in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.
Hmm, sounds just like what I've been saying!
Now, it doesn't work immediately for all dogs, but it works a lot of the time. Give it a try!