Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Motivate Your Dog

I  try to tell people in class that the best way to get their dog interested in listening to you, is by using a good motivator.  You can see this as a bit of a bribe, yes, but we all do it.  You want your kids to do their homework?  What do you say?  No video games till your homework is done, right?  Well it's the same with your dog.  If you told your child that they couldn't have their allowance of 25 cents unless they did their homework, they might grumble and whine, maybe they would do it, maybe not, I mean after all 25 cents is not really that much (unless you have a 5 year old).  Now if you told them they could have a 20 dollar bill if they took the trash out every day for a week (hopefully you don't have that much trash that needs to be taken out, but you never know), I'll bet that they never missed a day.  That is what it is like for your dog.  They are young, a lot of the time, or maybe a bit scared of doing things (like responding to you), and so providing the best motivator can be key to getting the results you are looking for.

This is Lady.  Being a dog, as well as part Basset Hound (and Dalmatian) food is her highest motivator.  She is very smart and has found a wonderful owner who uses praise all the time (YEAH!!!)  It took Lady less than five minutes to go from trying to lick the spoon of wet dog food every time I put it in front of her face, to being able to leave it on the floor like this. (which is very good timing, by the way)  She really, really, really wanted that wet dog food, so much so she was drooling!  But because she knew I would take it away if she tried to get it when I said "Leave it" she would sit very still, and look away, waiting for that click.  She caught on very quickly that if she wanted to get some of that heaven sent food, she would need to follow instructions.  Food has a way of motivating dogs.  I cite this study often to the classes that I teach because I think it makes that point very well. Click here to read the study 
Now there are some dogs for whom toys are the ultimate motivator.  I have seen quite a few of the small terrier breeds as well as German Shepherds that rank toys over food.  Even my own dog Roxy will do anything for a special squeaky ball.  You will need to make that determination with each dog based on their own personalities.  With Roxy I start off by teaching her using food as a motivator, then when she understands what she is supposed to do, to get her really excited about doing it I bring out the ball.  So for most dogs as a generic answer, I would say, start off with food, unless you know that your dog would much rather play with a toy.  If you are unsure, don't feel bad, or ashamed about asking a trainer to help you.  
Remember to stay positive out there!

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