THE key to any training is knowing how to motivate your dog. Knowing your dogs’ likes and dislikes will impact your training enormously. When we talk about rewards in training, it’s not all about food.
We humans all have different things we love to do as a reward, a nice meal, shopping, chocolate and shoes.
Dogs are not so different; they all have their own reward preferences. Does your dog prefer cheese or chicken or would he much prefer a good game with a toy or a chase game with a ball or frisbee?
Generally, most dogs adore food and would most likely prefer a smelly bit of sausage to anything else. However, the terriers may prefer a good tug game with a ragger toy, while collies and sheepdogs have a preference for chase games like fetch.
One dog may really enjoy being petted, while others may not, so our response when giving a reward when we are training our dogs is important. If we animate ourselves, make noises and look excited, as well as giving the reward, it all adds to the dog’s motivation.
Be aware of what your dog finds rewarding. A lot of dogs don’t like being patted on the head. If you have a tendency to do this to your dog, watch his reaction. Does he actually really like it? Does he prefer a scratch on his chest? Or a rub behind the ears?
The quality of the reward is really important. You might think something is rewarding to your dog but your dog might have other ideas.
Most dogs won’t just work for praise. Unfortunately, they don’t just do things because they love us. In the beginning we need to offer them something to make it worth their while to react in the way we would like.
Your dog may work for dry food in the house but if you are in an environment with a lot of distractions, for example, outside on a walk or in a class, you may need to up the stakes.
Your reward has got to outweigh the reward your dog may be getting from the rest of the distractions. You have to provide a bonus, if you like.
If your dog’s top choice is food, there is more you can do with food than you’d think. You can make the reward much more exciting by doing food circuits, where the reward becomes a combination of food, toy and chase. If you use toys as a reward, make sure that the game lasts a good couple of minutes, otherwise your dog won’t regard it as much of a reward.
The most important thing in training is to have fun. Your emotions will come through in your tone of voice and body language.
If you’re having fun, so will your dog and learning should be fun. Remember, motivate don’t intimidate.