Maybe the easiest way to increase a dog's food drive is to pick a better treat. Not all treats are created equal. At the bottom of my dogs' treat pyramid is kibble. And this is what they work for 75% of the time. Currently, my bait bag holds three different kinds of kibble. This has little to do with any particular training technique; it's how I get my kibble. All four of my dogs are raw fed, so any kibble in my house needs to be bought just for treats - not terribly economical when you only go through about a pound a week of the stuff. I sneak some from our cats, but the majority of my kibble gets picked-up in the form of free samples from vendors at shows or the pet store. Then I just empty a bag or two into my bait bag, and away we go.
Next up in value are the Natural Balance dog food rolls. They're softer and a little smellier than kibble, which usually translated into higher value for dogs. I like the dog foods rolls particularly in that I can cut slices off and then trim them into whatever size I want. Or, knowing myself, just tear off little pieces as I need them. The dog food rolls also soak up other flavors really nicely. If I'm running low on the next most awesome tier of treats, I can stick a few slices of dog food roll in with what ever highest value treats I have, and they will soak up the flavor and help stretch the good stuff a little farther.
My super high value treats are almost always fit for human consumption. I've never quite understood why some owners are so adverse to feeding their dogs people food. Before kibble came along, dogs lived off table scraps and whatever critters ran slower than them. I don't think table scraps at my house would be a very balanced diet, but I also don't see the harm in using it for treats outside of meal time. Currently, our highest value treats are hot dog, pepperoni, and some beef jerky I picked up at the store and decided I didn't care for myself - the dogs sure think it's awesome, though. In the passed, fat trimming from pork chops and steaks have graced the bait bag, as well as grilled chicken, hash browns from McDonalds, and bacon. Anyone of these things in large enough quantities could be harmful, but in the amounts we use for daily training, the dogs do just fine. Rubi wouldn't have made half the progress she has if it weren't for goodies like these.
If you've already exhausted the treat value hierarchy, then you're probably tired of people telling you to find a better treat. Luckily, there are other ways to increase food drive. In my experience, the most common culprit is free feeding. If there's food lying around all the time readily available, a dog will be disinclined to work for it. If you had a trust fund, would you still work for a living? Some dogs will, but many won't. Another trick is to feed your dog each meal from hand for a couple weeks. Even if you're not making them work for it, feeding from hand can often create some pretty impressive results. I'm not sure why this is, but then, if I knew everything about dogs, I probably wouldn't enjoy them as much. Of course, better than hand feeding is training with meal food. It doesn't have to be new tricks or intense training (although I've found that shaping works up a heck of an appetite), just asking the dog to work for their food often increases drive.
There are a few other little tweaks that I make to increase food drive in my dogs, but those are the basics. ultimately, your dog is the judge of what treat is high value and what isn't. It's important to play around with different factors and find out what works for the two of you. I once used raw chicken when working with a reactive foster. Absolutely disgusting, but she liked it. Piper Ann thinks Charlie Bears are like doggie crack. B routinely works for slices of apple. So, what's in your bait bag?
(last photo by Paige Reyes)