How to Get a Dog to Listen Without Food Bribery

Food should be used mainly as a reward and rarely as an enticement.
Food should be used mainly as a reward and rarely as an enticement. (Image: John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images)

All dogs are motivated by food, some more than others. Food makes a great reward for a dog who's done well, but it’s easy to rely too much on food as a lure. Don’t get stuck in this rut -- you can get your dog’s attention without carrying a pocketful of treats all day.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is based on the psychological concept of operant conditioning. By sounding the clicker and then exposing your dog to a positive stimulus, such as verbal praise or a little fuss, your dog eventually will build a positive association with the sound and come to regard the sound of the clicker as its own reward. Once your dog has learned to love the sound of the clicker, you can use this to get his attention whenever you want.

Praise and Fuss

Positive reinforcement is the process of encouraging your dog to repeat a behavior by issuing a reward whenever he performs that behavior. Instead of using food, use verbal praise and physical fuss. Start off by training him to respond to his name. Each time he looks when called, give him a good belly rub. Over time, he’ll learn to associate his name with the great feeling of earning your attention.


To dogs, toys are almost as precious as food; in fact, some dogs prefer a toy to a treat. Knowing your dog’s currency is really important as it enables you to provide the highest level of motivation possible, but that doesn’t mean you should be dictated to by your dog’s appetite. If you stop using food as a lure and switch to toys, especially ones that make noise, you should be able to get your dog to listen to you.


If you’re really finding it hard to get your dog to listen -- for example, when he’s in the middle of chewing a shoe or digging a hole -- sometimes you need a distraction technique. Clap, stamp your feet or shake a jar of dried pasta -- the noise doesn’t matter as long as it takes your dog’s focus away from what he’s doing. Once you’ve got his attention, call his name and reward him with fuss and praise when comes.

Replace Food with an Alternative Stimulus

If you’ve already headed down the road of relying on food to get canine cooperation, there is a way out. Start by using a new stimulus, such as the clicker or physical praise, alongside giving food. Gradually begin to stagger the two acts, so the new stimulus occurs before he receives the food. Over time, he’ll learn to anticipate the food reward when exposed to the new stimulus. With sufficient repetition, you’ll be able to rely on the stimulus as a means of gaining his attention.

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