by Dog School Bristol // June 2017
Want to know one of the keys to successful training? Food or treats? Toys? Off lead play?
How about their favourite pass time or sport like dock diving or sledding? Time with you? How about a nap on your bed?
The answer is all of the above and then some.
Dogs do what works for them at that time, what pays them to repeat a behaviour. Like asking, 'what's in it for me?' If a dog is not motivated, he will not be in the right frame of mind to work with you.
What is motivation? What do dogs find motivating? In addition, just as importantly, what do you find motivating? Are you in the mood to train?
The answer is - it depends…
A dog will choose what is reinforcing to him at the time; he will apply consequences to the behaviours he performs and the rewards on offer, be it from you or his environment and decide if the outcome pays the behaviour enough or not.
Let us take an example of teaching recall from squirrel chasing…He will make his decision to return when called based on the payment offered in training, past experiences, mood, the environment, satiation from food or thirst (if food is on offer), physical state, your mood, how long since he last saw a squirrel or chased one, and probably more factors still! Some dogs will recall for the sheer joy of reuniting with their owners, others require a whole packet of cheese balls AND a game of tug for recalls away from squirrels during the learning phase to achieve a reliable recall from squirrels. You might currently be offering him some food in exchange for a recall from squirrels, but it’s the food that he gets free from a bowl at home. Depending on the dog, kibble rewards might be enough, others...not so much!
He might find squirrel chasing way more fun than running back to you when you call him off the chase, so your dog might choose to ignore you and risk the chase. He's just not that into you (at the time). Eeeek what can we do?
Up the game!
Upgrade the consequence by giving him a pay rise - offer him something he really likes or wants and use that to pay him during training. By giving him with the opportunity to chase something else in return for recall from chase (if appropriate or safe to do so), or using meals as training rewards instead of free feeding from a bowl or having fun playing with him as a reward, you will find that with that strong reinforcement history for recalls, he will quit the squirrel chase and return to you every time as you’ve become motivating to him!