Beyond Treats: Discovering & Using Motivation in Training

AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior Trainer Carol Kuhn discusses different things that can motivate your dog besides treats and how you can use these rewards to your advantage.

One of the most common questions we get from our clients is “Am I going to have to carry a pocket full of treats around for the rest of my life?” Wait - you don’t want to spend the next 10 years smelling like hot dogs or liver sausage?  It’s a great question, and one that deserves some discussion.

While food rewards are by far the most motivating reinforcer for the vast majority of dogs, and should be used consistently while learning new behaviors (or trying to work on unwanted ones), there are certainly other things in our dogs lives that make them happy.

Motivation (along with timing and consistency) are the cornerstones of a successful training program.

It’s important to discover all of the different things that may motivate your dog to work, learn and earn.  These can be things that happen in your dog’s everyday life, so let’s call them “life rewards”.

Here are a few examples:

  • Getting to play fetch or tug with a favorite toy
  • Being invited to snuggle on the couch with you
  • A belly rub
  • Getting the chance to meet a new person on the street or politely greet another dog

Now, the key to this is figuring out what your dog really likes.  For instance, your dog may not care about playing fetch at all, but just the sight of their leash being taken off the hook for a walk gets them wiggling all over the place.  Once you’ve figured out a few of your dog’s favorite things, you can use them to reinforce good behavior when you don’t have a treat handy.  This will help to add some variety and fun to your training as well.

The bottom line?  Food rewards are important, but there are plenty of other ways to say “Good Dog!”

What are some of your dog’s favorite life rewards?  Discuss them, and you how you use them to your advantage, here in the comments or on our Facebook page.

AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior offers group dog training classes at Glenview Animal Hospital and private in-home training throughout the North Shore.

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