Things That Motivate All Dogs

Thanks Friendly for the Photo

I get a lot, I mean A LOT of comments from people that think their dogs are not motivated by anything.

Their dog is not motivated by food or toys.

But the truth is that this isn’t the case at all!

My guess is that the problem lies with their dog getting everything he wants when he wants it so he doesn’t see the need to be motivated when he doesn’t want to be…

Let’s Put it in Perspective

Let’s put it in perspective for those of you who are suffering from this problem.  I find that people learn and understand easier if they can compare the behavior to human behavior.

You know that spoiled child?  You know the one who gets everything he wants?  He has all the latest games, IPads, expensive clothes, and he only eats things he likes; like meat and cheese, no sauce, NO VEGGIES!

And, when he doesn’t get what he wants, you can hear him in the store throwing a FIT until he gets what he wants; which of course he does… because his parents don’t know what else to do or how else to deal with him by this time in his life.

And chances are when he gets older and realizes that everyone won’t cater to him; he is going to have a hard time adjusting to real life.  Because nothing is more punishing that nature.  And, unless he grows up with an unlimited source of money and his parents are willing to cater to him forever; he is in store for the shock of a lifetime.

I am happy that I was taught about hard work, and I was not given everything I wanted (although as a child I am sure I would have preferred getting everything I wanted).  Plus I was forced to eat things I didn’t want, I was punished, and I learned to go without.  It set me up for how real life treats most people.

After all I think we all have to do things we don’t want to do and we don’t get everything we want quite frequently.

So if your dog has everything he needs; why would he be motivated by the things he already has?

That is why I deny my dogs the best things in life, okay not really but to read more about what I mean click here.

But some things are just basic motivators, if your dog does not have free access to them all the time!


Thanks Raw Diet for the Photo

Thanks Raw Diet for the Photo

At some point food is a motivator for any living creature.  Food is a basic need and if you are hungry, all your brain and body can think about is finding food.

If you go to the buffet and fill yourself until you are full does an ice cream sundae motivate you?  Probably not.

If you hadn’t eaten since noon the previous day would that ice cream sundae or a sandwich motivate you?  Undoubtedly!

Thankfully most of us don’t go hungry, but we have all been hungry to some degree at some point in our lives.

If your dog is full, you are feeding him all of his meals daily from a bowl and not making him work for them; then food is likely not a motivator.

That is why we obedience instructors usually tell our classes not to feed the dog prior to the class.  We want the dog to be motivated by a primary reinforce such as food.

At some point food will motivate any dog… the truth is; some people who have previous given their dogs all the food or meals that they desire need to skip a meal or two to make their dogs hungry.  They don’t need to be “starving” but they should be hungry in order to make food rewarding.

And, if they are hungry, using a great treat like liver or cheese is even more rewarding.

Dog food probably isn’t very exciting (for most dogs, although I use my dog’s food often) but liver tastes great when you’re a hungry dog!


vulture.comWater is another basic need.  If you don’t have it… you will search for it until you find it.

Without water life ceases to exist.

So, water becomes a basic motivator.

Now… I don’t use water often as a reward.  But after a good training session or being outside, I may have my dogs lie down, or sit prior to slugging down water.  I do this not as a way to use water as a motivator but as a way to get his mind to settle down so I don’t get knocked over or pulled and so that he calms down and doesn’t drink to the point of making himself sick.

And, yes, unless you are crated for short periods; you have constant access to water at my house (unlike food).

I would never deny my dogs water.


I know this one sounds funny… air is free right?  Your dog has access to air whenever he wants!

However there are some trainers out there who use a leash to choke the air out of their dogs, when the dog does something wrong.  Although I don’t believe it works very often because anything denied of oxygen panics when it is denied oxygen and it is hard to learn when you are in a panic.

So dogs who are choked often don’t learn the lesson the owner or trainer is trying to teach.

All living things that need air will fight for it, because we need it for survival.

Again, I am just using this as a basic example of, if you need it; it is a motivator.

I would never, ever, ever deny my dog access to air or choke him out for any reason!


Thanks for the Photo

Thanks for the Photo

Dogs are born with a prey drive; this is the drive that would allow them to exist if they were living in the wild.

In order to survive and meet the needs for food; wild animals have to hunt.

In domestic dogs, prey drive looks like play.  Dogs and puppies hunt and stalk one another in a spirited attempt to play.

And, they chase fast moving objects like balls, toys, small animals and even things like cars and golf carts because of their prey drive.

Most domesticated dogs still have this desire and if they don’t have the outward desire to do it; can be frustrated and stimulated to play for more on that click here.

And, Finally Stimulation:

Thanks Animal Planet for this Fun Photo

Thanks Animal Planet for this Fun Photo

Dogs are not born couch potatoes.  Although due to selective breeding some dogs are more mellow than others; all dogs need some form of stimulation.

The basic needs of any animal include mental and physical stimulation.

Dogs need to learn and be stimulated mentally whether they are in the wild and nature is the teacher, or whether their human partner is doing the teaching.  Dogs need to use their brains and learn in order to get the things that they need.

Dogs also need physical stimulation.  Dogs need exercise!

If they lived in the wild, things like searching for food and hunting would require exercise.  But again, even happy dogs or puppies who’s basic needs have been met play!

One of the problems with modern dog ownership is that we don’t take the time to fulfill our dogs basic mental and physical stimulation needs.

So many people don’t take time out of their days to spend time exercising or training their dogs (just 5 minutes 3-5 times per day) can be spared by anyone!

People want a “zombie dog” or a dog that doesn’t need any kind of stimulation… one that just coexists naturally with them without requiring time for more on that click here.

But the truth is that dogs have basic stimulation needs and if we don’t meet them… they often become aggressive or destructive because of basic boredom!

The Truth

The truth is there is something that will motivate all dogs; but for those people who are having difficulty finding their dog’s motivator may need to reevaluate what their dogs are getting for free.

If your dog has everything he needs there is no reason for him to be motivated.

But if he is hungry, and if you reserve his favorite toy for one on one playtime only then he learns to be motivate FOR YOU.

My dogs work for toys or food and sometimes both; but they don’t have unlimited access to either.  And, if they are not listening and food is not working, they can skip a meal in order to learn to listen to me.  And if toys aren’t working during training, the toys they have unlimited access to will go away.

And, once you begin meeting their stimulation needs both mentally and physically by using some obedience, and games, they will be hooked and have a desire for more!  After all clicker training and positive reinforcement is a game that can be won by your dog by showing the appropriate behavior.  For more on clicker training and why your dog finds it addictive click here. 

AND, you will see them showing you good behavior in an attempt to interact with you and get the things they need.

Think of that spoiled child learning to EARN his games, toys, clothes and meals he desires!

For ideas on non-traditional motivators click here.


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  1. Rosanna Shepard says:

    we have a 10 week old blk lab mix….she is nipping and biting can’t seem to get her to stop…any suggestions would be wonderful

    Thank youo


    Minette Reply:

    Read this


  2. Tricia says:

    My pup Stu is usually VERY motivated when i train with him but sometimes he is a little too motivated to the point where i cant get him to sit still. if i tell him sit, any move or sounds from me cause him to jump up for the treat with excitement. How do i get him to wait until he is rewarded WITHOUT him jumping up? Thanks! 🙂


  3. Debbie says:

    I have a 7 month old Havanese puppy. He was doing good with house training, but this past week he seems to have had a setback. I put him in the back hallway,gated. He has started to go pee back there lately even though I take him out before I leave.



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