Motivation: The Key to Teaching Your Dog Anything

By: Tyler Kent CPDT: KA

Motivation is the key to accomplishing most tasks in life. We use it to follow through on our resolutions, save for retirement, and finish our daily chores. Motivation is also a wonderful tool for learning. A study done by the Association for Behavioral Analysis found that students that had been rewarded with money for good grades in high school, had higher GPA’s in college (Flora and Popanak, 2001). When properly motivated, individuals can accomplish great things, and that doesn’t stop with humans. Many great dog trainers have pushed the limits of how much an animal can learn, by understanding the use of proper motivation.

Too often dog training becomes mystified. A phrase such as “dog whisperer” can cause a rift in our minds between us and our dogs. We start to believe that only someone with a special ability can train and understand our dogs. If we continue to think in this manner, we will continue to allow our dogs to behave improperly. The goal is to put the control back in your hands.

Finding what motivates your dog is science, not magic. First, you need to replace phrases such as, “my dog LOVES tennis balls,” with “my dog responds well to tennis balls.” This simple change in your language is the beginning step towards your inner scientist and the total control of your dog’s behavior. All of a sudden the balls in your court, more literally your hand, but you can teach your dog anything with proper motivation.

So…. what does your dog LOVE (bare with me)? Some dogs are nuts for fetch, others enjoy a rough and tumble game of tug, some crave attention and pets, and most love food. Eating is survival, which is the reason food one of the most powerful items in our motivation toolbox. If your dog LOVES to eat, we already know that he will “respond” well when training with food. No one knows your dog better than you, pick what they respond to the best and use it.

Exercise: Luring

Pick a few items that excite your dog (e.g. frisbee, ball, rope, kong, treats, steak). Use each item in separate “tests” involving: holding the item in your hand, allow your dog to sniff the object but not grab, then have your dog follow the object while it is in your hand (lure). You may give your dog the item after a few steps. Your goal is to work towards longer distances while luring. In this test, whatever item your dog responds to with the most enthusiasm is going to be your strongest motivator.

Works Cited

Flora, S. R., & Popanak, S. (2001, May). Pay Now: Payoff now and later: Child pay for grades produces differentially higher G.P.A.s. Association for Behavioral Analysis. New Orleans.

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