Finding Your Dog’s Motivator
This is another one of those back to basics posts, but it is really crucial to understand!
In order to use positive reinforcement, you have to find your dog’s motivator or motivators.
You must motivate your dog to listen to you.
If you can’t motivate you are, sadly, left with force and coercion.
Motivation is a term that refers to a process that elicits, controls and sustains certain behaviors. For instance, if you have not eaten and you are hungry; food may be a motivator.
Coercion is the practice of forcing someone or something to behave in a certain manner by the use of threats or some other form of pressure or force.
Typically in dog training these are the types of training we utilize. You can motivate your dog to listen by building a relationship and finding his motivators or you can use your physicality and force your dog to comply.
I personally like motivating my dog. Someday, I may be unable due to illness or injury to force my dog to comply and what would happen then if our relationship was based on force? Even if I am physically able, I just don’t like force or compulsion. I think that we “thinking” animals should use our minds to control our animals not our physical force.
You need to find your dog’s motivators if you expect to use your mind (and not your body) to control him!
What motivates YOU? Money? Foods like chocolate, cookies, coffee? Video games? Books? TV? Exercise or Games? Shoes? What do you reward yourself with?
What if your work decided it would no longer pay you; from now on they would force you to come to work and stay all day working for free? I am assuming you would be miserable at the very least, not to mention angry and defiant!
Many people respond to my articles by saying their dog doesn’t like toys, treats or food, but you HAVE to find SOMETHING unless you expect to use force!
Just like you need to get to know the child, or the person to find out what motivates them and what to take away should they make a mistake you also need to find out what motivates YOUR particular dog.
Some Common Motivators
All dogs are motivated by food at some point. Food is an essential element of life; it is something that is needed by everything that is living. So at some point food is a motivator. If you have a fat dog that is totally satiated and not hungry, then food possibly isn’t as much of a motivator as food is for a hungry dog.
So if you have a dog that is difficult to motivate with food, then meal feed your dog cut out all the treats and extras that you give him for no reason and my guess is he will be hungry before its time for breakfast or dinner.
When I have a dog that isn’t particularly food motivated I both use his food for training and make him work for his dinner, or I use really great treats and train before breakfast or dinner! If your dog is still not hungry, wait until he is!
Usually there is some kind of treat that will motivate a hard to treat dog; you just have to find it!
I am not motivated by chocolate (unlike many people) for me, it’s all about Mountain Dew or Cheetos if you know me you would know that. Get to know your dog and find different types of treats that he likes!
When I use to run agility classes I would make liver treats (first I boil them, then I bake them or dehydrate them until crispy) and the dogs would go NUTS for them. Even the nervous dog or finicky dog liked my homemade liver treats!
Liverwurst (make sure there is no nutmeg) was another favorite that could get most dogs moving!
Smaller treats make better motivators. If you are using large amounts, big dog cookies or half a hot dog, your dog will get full and uninterested in treats. But if you use pea sized or smaller treats your dog stays motivated. When I trained Service Dogs and had them out at a mall all day, I could make one piece of string cheese last the duration! Keep it small!
Do some cooking! Boil or dry some chicken breast and see if that is a good treat! As of lately for safety and in fear of recalls, I have been making my own dog treats.
But think about it…would you want to work for a stale biscuit or processed dog treat OR would you rather have 100% pure chicken, beef, or liver?
If you are using these things for his food or treats already, then no wonder they are not working to motivate him!
My dogs are certainly toy motivated, but that is because I play with them, with their toys! The first time I ever threw a ball for Fury, my little girl, she looked at me like I was CRAZY. Even if she wanted to chase it she didn’t know what to do with it!
Tossing a toy, or a ball might not cut it! You may have to actually TEACH your dog to play! You will actually have to get involved and play with him also! Get animated, run with him, keep the toy away from him (this builds his desire for it) and teach him that playing with you is where it is at!
YOU in to be fun and exciting for your dog! If you do this right YOU become is motivator!
If it’s not working, try harder or try another toy. A ball might not be exciting for one dog but a squeaky toy might be incredibly fun!
Most dogs will play if you are fun enough to play with and you find what he likes to play with!
For most dogs, praise is not enough! There are very few dogs that simply want to please their owner so much that praise is enough of a motivator. We all wish we had this dog, but most dogs want to please themselves and must be taught that praise alone is enough to motivate them.
Usually if you pair praise with a treat or a game, the praise eventually becomes more rewarding and reinforcing and eventually enough that you can wean the treats and the games out of the equation.
Dogs should always be praised for a job well done, but rarely is it enough to get them to do something they don’t want, or keep them from doing something they want.
Again, affection is rarely enough to keep a dog from pulling on the leash or trying to do something he desires. When you pair it with praise and another motivator affection can become a very strong motivator.
I often pet, kiss and even hug my dogs when they do something I want. I want them eventually to learn to work for my praise and affection and I want to pair fun games, toys, treats with this affection. I also want to ask them to do something for me before I give affection.
Games are my dogs’ favorite motivators. They like their treats, their food, their toys, praise and affection but they LIVE for the games I play with them.
Games have to involve YOU. And I am not talking about just tossing a toy mundanely every time your dog brings it. I am talking about running, biting, tugging, intermixed with obedience goofiness and fun!
I might ask my dog to do 3 things or more for me before I run with him and throw his toy. I tug it, I throw it, I make him release it on command, I praise him and pet him all while we are playing these games together, and sometimes I even add a few food treats to keep it even more interesting.
Making him work for his toys make these games more fun!
Remember when your kids took advantage or you and your stuff. They may have scratched your car, or flung their dirty shoes all over the house but when THEY WORK for their OWN car or home…things are different. Working for something gives you a sense of pride when you get it. I remember my first paycheck and how careful I was spending my own money.
Making your dog work for his games and his rewards makes it more rewarding.
Find your dog’s motivator!!! Don’t use excuses, set out and find something that works for you and your dog. If you are lucky and you are a really good trainer you can use all of these things and many more to motivate your dog to do what you want!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.