So you’ve seen how much your dog wants to, needs to and enjoys working for his food with last week’s games – think of all the behaviours he has had to carry out to earn his keep…
Just like people, dogs don’t work for free and if we want them to do behaviours for us, we gotta make it worth their while.
Because some behaviours can be trickier than others, the rate we pay will also need to vary appropriately.
Here Jean Donaldson discusses motivation in dog training:
Lower value rewards work best for easier behaviours and higher value rewards work best for harder behaviours.
Is it just about food rewards?
Nope, it’s about motivation!
We want our dogs to want to carry out the behaviours we want them to do – to achieve that we need to work out what motivates them, and then teach them how to get those things.
By teaching our dog to be a good human-trainer, they will learn to carry out behaviours that cause us to release motivators.
Dogs do what works!
Food rewards are handy because…
- your dog has to eat – that’s why teaching your dog to work for his regular food is so valuable
- animals will readily carry out behaviour that earns them food – all animals are biologically motivated by food (if a dog isn’t eating there may be something else going on…)
- food rewards that are small enough are quick rewards allowing you to practice another repetition quickly – this allows dogs to learn most effectively
- anticipation of food rewards causes the release of pleasant feelings in the brain
- seeking out food is incompatible with feelings of fear, anxiety or panic
Following our program will help you to use food rewards in training most effectively; more here too:
How to train a dog with food rewards
Beyond food rewards
Motivators come in all shapes and sizes, and are often individual to each dog and sometimes to breeds or types of dog.
Anything your dog likes access to or likes to escape from can reward their behaviour.
Out of these things, ones that you can control are most useful in training.
Make a list of the things that your dog likes.
This might include certain foods, toys, activities, praise & attention, other individuals or places such as:
Grade the value of the rewards in your list. This way you will have a better idea of higher or lower value rewards that your dog will work for.
It’s often best to use the lowest value rewards that your dog will work for in a given scenario – keep your big guns for when the going really gets tough!
Think of rewarding your dog as a quid-pro-quo deal – “you do this behaviour for me, and I will give you access to the things you like!”
I am sure you have noticed that sometimes your dog isn’t interested in the things you have to offer…distractions will compete for your dog’s behaviour, making training harder.
Distractions might include:
Distractions are just rewards that your dog wants more than whatever you have to offer, right now.
Make another list:
- what is your dog distracted by?
- what would your dog rather be doing when you would like him to do something else?
Just as you did with your rewards list, grade these distractions – just how distracting are they?
Now you have lists that allow you to balance rewards and distractions. Something high on the distraction end of the list will require rewards high on the rewarding end too!