What Motivates Your Dog?

by Leslie Fisher

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No further from our hedge lined drive is that which motivates Doobie, six year old American lab. This puppy mill rescue fella, champion leg lifter, thinks access to vertical leafy green surfaces for a good whiz is like the holy grail of dogdom. Being a clever human, (at times) I utilize that which motivates our labs for training and encourage clients to think that way also.

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Heading down the drive on this gorgeous sunny day Doobie was overcome by his proximity to doggy nirvana. He hastened towards the beckoning hedge, thus dragging me along in the process. Dogs gaining access to high value activities is how dogs live, so why not make use of this in daily training? Doobie can pee to his labbie hearts` content, after he sits politely and is released to that desired activity: no dragging Mom. Of course I do not require this of Doobie for all pee activities; that would just be  real drag.

Premack is the technical term for the above dog training example. I love how friend Diane Garrod discusses this in one of her popular articles, quoting Paul Owens, the original dog whisperer. ” It simply means setting up your environment so that you control access to things your dog wants and he has to look to you to get what he wants. You control the food, affection, toys, social freedom, climate control, and everything else in his universe. There is no negotiation.”  Diane further explains “Owens is talking about the Premack Principle, which in simple terms says if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you. The dog learns to earn and you become worth listening to.” Also we are practicing good benevolent leadership.

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Waiting For the Magic Words: All Done

What motivates your dog? Bridget, five year old American lab and facebook spokes doggy daily works for her personal holy grail, including access to a stick and water. As I represent the gateway to all that is good, Bridget has figured out that I am worth listening to. Curbing impulse control to dash headlong into the water prior to release is an ongoing training activity with Bridget.

Ongoing reinforcement at some level is necessary through the life of a dog so learned behaviors do not deteriorate, or become lost through lack of practice. Our kids go back to school every year and continue to progress in their education. Once Fido has been through a class is learning over? Nope. Fido needs ongoing practice and reinforcement to maintain those behaviors. Finding highly motivating life rewards can be key to maintaining desired behaviors.

So, if in your training, you are at the stage of well conditioned responses to basic cues after some foundation obedience classes, what in life really motivates your dog? Keep in mind that if you are totally not getting requested behaviors Fido may be overly distracted and you may need more practice in an environment lower in distraction. Following are some examples of where you would request behavior, then release Fido to……..

  • Go sniff in the grass. (oh heaven)
  • Greet the nice stranger.
  • Hop into the car for an outing.
  • Race into the river.
  • Fetch a bouncy ball.
  • Go out to the back yard.
  • Have their meal delivered.
  • Continue walking and exploring.
  • Go pee on the tree.
  • Jump into the kiddy pool after sunken treasure.
  • Happy verbal praise.
  • A favorite game.

And the list could be endless. How many can you contribute? What motivates your dog?

And the chase is on.
Wait Patiently Then Charge!

As a closing footnote, I generally use an “all done” release cue after behaviors such as sit, down, stay or wait. Have fun incorporating life rewards in training and until next Friday, Leslie Fisher PMCT CPDT-KA and the labbies: Bridget Talley and Doobie

“your pet trained positively” Elkton MD