I get asked this question all the time, owners say I have tried to sit my dog and make them watch me whilst the trigger goes by, but my dog is still lunging and barking or refusing the food.
They often say “I don’t understand why this doesn’t work and why my dog is still reacting or refusing the food as he normally loves food”.
The reason why your dog is still reacting or refusing food is that the trigger is too close and your dog is feeling overwhelmed and going into natures survival mode of Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fidget. This means your dog’s adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) levels are rising at this point so your dog does not need food to survive.
It needs to put all its energy into either getting out of there or barking or lunging as this has been an effective way of getting out of this situation in the past.
To put this in human terms, you are walking along the road and see something you are petrified of, say a snake. Your first response would be to turn around and walk the other way or make as much distance as possible from this trigger (snake). Even if you were offered you favourite food to stay by this scary thing, or even walk closer, your natural response would be to ignore the choice of your favourite food as all you want to do is to escape and get to safety. Suddenly your favourite food has no value to you.
In order to help your dog, stay at a distance from the trigger your dog can remain calm and feel safe. This could be over 100 metres for some dogs. Never walk towards or past the trigger as you will push your dog into reacting because of their stress response.
If your dog has had a response of barking, lunging etc, take your dog straight home as they will be more sensitive to even the smallest of triggers they may come across next.