Dog Training is something that fuels me. I have never stopped studying, even after 15 years of doing it professionally. I spend so much time working on perfecting my own skills to explain it better to humans so that they can help their dogs. The dog’s deserve it! The concept of motivation is a topic that has been around for years, and I think of it often at night time, and even when i’m driving down the road. It has so many folks in the industry fighting and bickering, and has so many clients asking questions. So let’s talk about it. Why is the topic of motivation THAT important?
It wasn’t that long ago that the yank and crank methods were being used to TEACH. That was the dog’s motivation to perform. Avoiding pressure. There was no food, play, toys, or pats on the head. The dog had no knowledge that it could engage with the owner on it’s own. Did it work? Sure, for some dogs. For most dogs, they lost a lot of trust in their owner due to unfairness coupled with improper timing and communication skills. On the other side of the coin, using rewards in this day and age, seems to just be treats shoved in the dog’s face to distract it enough that it falls into a position for a moment. When rewards go away, the dog disengages and walks away. The reality is, in order for your dog to retain information, it must be in the right state of mind.
How do we do this? What is the balance? We must build their engagement. Being more important than an object on the ground or the dog at the park, is basic behavior and mindset that you can TEACH without yank and crank. An engaged dog wants to stay with us and wants to earn what we may have. The majority of dogs will need more than just simple praise during the building process of engagement. An engaged dog is motivated by distractions. Let me explain. When an engaged dog stumbles upon a distraction, it re engages with the owner automatically. It drives them to engage with the owners. This IS motivation, and it is a mind set that must be trained. To do this, we will need motivators that are based on your dog’s perception and we will need an open mind from the owner that is willing to become active with their dog.
When raising or training a dog, we begin with finding the level of distractions that our dog can handle, and where they begin to struggle. When we go past their limit, they disengage. When we back off of that limit, they will re engage. After learning about the dog’s thresholds, our mission is to begin interacting with our dogs in a way that they want to engage with us in a place that it normally wouldn’t have, before training some of these skills. What can we use to bring up our dog’s engagement while we work on their thresholds?
The number one thing, is play. Catch me games, treat tossing games, toy games, and party time(this does not include treats, just high levels of praise and chase.) Once we have established 10 or more sessions of engagement with forward progress, we will then begin to increase distraction levels, and introduce regular behaviors, such as sit, down, stay, etc. You heard that right! We build engagement FIRST before we ever introduce a position. This is the key to success.