I recently listened to a pod cast that got my dog nerd brain thinking about an interesting subject. In Hannah Brannigan’s “Drinking from the Toilet” she spoke on the topic of Motivating Operations. For all of you non over-the-top dog nerds let me explain. In reward-based training we typically use items that motivate our dogs to reinforce a behavior. These items usually present themselves in the form of different kinds of food or toys. With these motivators however it seems that they fluctuate in different circumstances. For example, your dog may love their “special cookie” that you give them at home. At home, they can roll-over, sit, down, whatever you ask just for a chance to get that “special cookie”. Now you take them to their first dog training class and all the sudden that cookie isn’t so special anymore. With all the new distractions in the room such as other dogs, other people and so much more the value of your “special cookie” motivator just plummeted. When this happens, what do you do? How can you gain your dogs attention back by having something that it truly desires in any situation?
Always change your “special cookie”
It is very important to always remember to change your food motivators. If you stick to the same “special cookie” for every situation without accounting for distractions or other stimulus’s your dog finds desirable, you are setting your dog and yourself up for failure. In my training pouches I make sure to carry High, Medium and Low value treats. This may be a variation of string cheese, turkey dogs, jerky treats, and kibble. If you were to continuously eat pizza for every meal, every day after seven days pizza would not be as motivating to have compared to ordering it on a Friday night after a long work week. Keep it interesting for them!
Have Multiple Motivators
Motivators are very important in dog training. We would all love to be our dogs main motivator but lets be honest, we aren’t. Pick things out that your dog really enjoys. For example playing ball, engaging in a game with you, taking a walk together, etc. You do not always have to have food or toys as motivators. My dog Otis loves to be able to sniff anything. Many times after he as worked for me I will take him to a new field or wooded area just to let him sniff everything for a few minutes. Now when comparing Otis to his sister, Dahlia they’re completely different. Dahlia enjoys to work her motivator is food and to work (typical herding breed). If she is stressed in a situation I will go ahead and ask her to do her favorite tricks to relieve some tension. Ask yourself, do you go to work just because you LOVE your boss that much? Or do you go to work because their is a paycheck after every two weeks?
“Gamify” your dog training
Now of course you can build yourself to be the most motivating thing in your dogs life. By doing this you can “gamify” your training, walks and everyday life by making it fun. In Terry Ryan’s “Gamify Your Dog Training” she gives an entire book’s worth of advice and examples on ways to make training fun by simultaneously practicing fundamental skills. One example that I tend to do frequently with my deaf dog fosters is to place hide and seek to practice check in behaviors. Other times I may set up obstacle courses to build confidence and heeling. I know I personally get goofy in training sessions. I let loose, find my happy place and just enjoy the quality time with my dog.
Look for Signs of Stress
Always remember to look for signs of stress when trying out new motivators for your dog. Not every dog would enjoy 80’s music and their owner dancing around for motivation. If your dog is drooling (especially when in a new situation), they’ve stopped taking food, and even shut down physically go ahead and take them to a safe space because in that moment that will be their biggest motivator. Never push your dog too far for a motivator that actually turns and shuts them down.
Have fun exploring new ways to make training fun for you and your dog. Keep things interesting, spice things up and make sure not to over do it!