"But he'll always do it for food ..."
One huge question I often get is -- "How do I get him to do it without food, he'll always do it for food?!" There are a few reasons why dogs will only work when food is around, there are also myths about why some trainers will not use food because they believe that reliability won't come without the use of food. The truth is that there are people winning national titles for different sports and obedience, and they started with food or rewards of some kind. In a competition you cannot use anything but your skills and the dog's ability to carry out what you have taught him, which proves that any dog can be trained reliably with food ... when doneproperly. This means that they learn the behaviors and understand them, and will perform them regardless of the presence of food.
Please note: This isn't a black and white, "these are the only reasons dogs will only work when food is around" list. There can be many other reasons why dogs will seemingly only work for food. I've just listed some of the most prominent reasons, in my opinion.
Let's discuss reasons why dogs will work for food but will not if food is not present.
1) Luring without properly fading the lure.
3) It's the only reward ever presented.
4) Training wasn't carried out properly.
1) OVER-LURING. I see this often because luring when training works. I use luring myself. However, you have to know when to fade the lure and how to do it properly. It's simple, really, it just has to be done pretty quickly and the behavior you are wanting to achieve needs to be put on stimulus control. In simple terms, "stimulus control" means that the dog knows the behavior and will reliably perform it on cue. So if you ask your dog to lie down he'll do so, within a second or two, and won't do another behavior instead. Some dogs will sit when asked to lie down or will lie down when asked to sit. This means the dog doesn't really know the cue and it is not under stimulus control. This happens when the verbal and/or hand signal is added to soon or is "taught" by repeating the cue over and over and over until the dog does it. It can also happen if the dog is punished (a leash jerk, pushed into place or maybe even spoken to sternly or harshly) for not performing the cue before the dog reliably understands what is being asked of him.