8.) Motivating our dog.

Nothing goes without motivation. If you would not be motivated, would you get up at 7:00 a.m. in the morning and rush to work so you can spend the rest of your day in the office? For most of us, a paycheck is a very good motivation. The same principle applies to your dog even though his concept of a paycheck is somewhat different…

Our dog’s correct behavior is “paid” for with food or play. The right “payment method” can be different from dog to dog. Some dogs do everything for a treat while others prefer play. In the world of dog training, this is called working over “food drive”, “play drive” or “prey drive”. Good trainers try to develop both of their dog’s food and play drives because they both have advantages and disadvantages:

When you work your dog over food drive, he needs to be hungry and you need to have plenty of treats. On a full stomach, it is a lot less likely that your dog would go the “extra mile” for a treat.

When you work your dog over play drive, you need to make sure that he is well-rested and ready to play. If he had just spent the past 2 hours running around with your other dogs, it is a lot less likely that he is interested in more running to chase after a ball.

When I teach my dogs a new behavior (or trick) , I usually start out over their food drive because a food reward keeps training interruptions to a minimum. A good example is the “Basic Position” exercise where I want my dog to sit next to me and look at me with his full attention.

When he does that correctly, I reward him with a soft treat that can be swallowed without a lot of chewing. After the treat is swallowed, the exercise continues and my dog keeps on looking at me in anticipation of the next treat. Imagine doing this with a tennis ball… Once your dog gets the ball, all concentration is gone, you want the ball back and end up playing tug. So much for continuing the exercise!

I switch my training to work over play and prey drive once I know for sure that my dog knows what I want him to do. One reason for this is convenience: A tug toy usually lasts a lot longer than a bag of treats. Another, more important reason for me is speed: When I teach my dog to get into the heel position, I use a ball to make him do it *really* fast. To get into the heel position, Andy needs to approach me from the front, pass me on the right, turn behind my back and then sit next to me on the left. When I practice this, I show him the ball, call him into the heel position and when he jumps towards me I throw the ball forward just when his head passes my right side. He really wants the ball and as a result, he races past me and turns behind my back to follow the ball at lightning speed. You can lean how to do this with your dog here.

A few words about working with food:

As I had mentioned above, make sure your dog is hungry when you work over his food drive. It also is a good idea to use treats that are small in size and don’t need a lot of chewing. You want to keep training interruptions to a minimum and that’s not going to happen if your dog needs 30 seconds just to chew a single treat. I use small pieces of ballpark franks (100% beef) with my dog Andy. He only gets them as a reward – so they are something special for him. And since they are “human” food, I can “hide” them in my mouth without disgust (you can find out why I would want to do that where I describe the “Basic Position” exercise).

A few words about working with toys:

When you work your dog over his play or prey drive, make sure he understands the rules of the game first! You as the trainer have to be able to control the game and that’s not going to happen if your dog takes off with his toy. If that is the case, start out with your dog (or the toy!) on a leash. If your dog does not want to give the toy back to you, teach him the Give command so he understands what is expected from him. Eventually, you want your dog to learn how to play right:

– Your dog focuses on you and the toy
– He chases after it when you throw it
– He immediately brings it back to you when he catches it
– He offers it for a game of tug-of-war when he is back
– He releases the toy when you ask him to “Give” it back.

(Note: This post belongs to a series of multiple articles about the fundamentals of positive dog training.
Click here to go to the overview page that allows you to easily navigate to each article in this series.)

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