When you begin training a puppy or new dog, one of the first things you need to learn is what motivates that particular animal. For most dogs this is usually some type of food. It could be some carrots, pieces of turkey or chicken breast, or even a dollop of peanut butter; if a particular treat can be broken into small pieces and makes your dog spin around your feet in excited circles whenever you hold it, that food would make a good motivator for your dog.
But not all dogs are food motivated. Occasionally if Sadie is in the right mood I can use some type of food to get her to practice a trick or command. But more often than not, Sadie has no particular interest in food. So I’ve been working on discovering other methods of motivating my dog.
Many service dogs are trained to work for a toy. They are raised with only one toy to play with, and they only get to play with that toy if they’ve done their task correctly. Therefore the toy becomes their motivation for obeying commands. Unfortunately Sadie has way too many toys for this strategy to work for her. You need to implement this practice the minute you bring a dog home, or your dog will simply find other items around your home to play with. Sadie will listen to a command once for a new toy. But once she’s had the toy, she will no longer work to get it. If I take the toy away and ask her to perform a specific action to get it back, she just walks away from me in search of something else to do.
One form of motivation that works more frequently for Sadie is simple praise. Most dogs want to please their owners, and try to follow commands whenever they can figure out what their humans want. Sadie loves it when I clap my hands and make a fuss when she does something correctly. Once Sadie understands what I’m asking of her, she happily listens to my commands in exchange for my energetic praise.
Occasionally I try more unconventional methods of motivation. As I discussed in yesterday’s post, L is for Little, Sadie has an obsession with tissues. If I take a tissue and dangle it in front of Sadie, she will try every command she can think of to get me to give it to her. Once Sadie performs the appropriate task and receives the tissue, she begins ripping it up. I then can take one of the many new pieces of tissue, dangle it in front of her, and she is willing to act on my commands to get this tissue piece. This form of motivation works for longer periods of time than treats, because there is an almost endless supply of tissue pieces and you don’t have worry about counting the calories of tissues since my dog is not eating them. The tissue as motivator also has more practical applications, like my use of throwing the tissue to show Sadie the direction to jump through her hula hoop (see my post H is for Hula Hoop for more information about hula hoop training). I could not use that method with a food motivated dog, as I would not want to throw pieces of food around my house.
In general, most dogs are happy and willing to follow your commands and complete whatever tasks you set for them. All you need to do is find the right motivation that works for your dog.
This post is part of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.
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