Motivation - what drives your dog?

Tilley in her prime

Tilley in her prime

Motivate - to provide with a motive or a cause or reason to act; incite; impel.

Incite - to stir, encourage, or urge on; stimulate or prompt to action:

So what incites or encourages your dog to keep their attention on you? Do the things that you ask and/or comply? Something that they consider to be of value. That is what you must find.

That said, what is a valuable reward for one dog will not be a reward for another. I would not stand in a long line to buy an iphone (I’m a Galaxy gal). But, if you told me I’d get to try a cool rock climbing wall if I stood in that iphone line for you, I’d be in. It is very much the same for our dogs.

Often it’s not even the idea of wanting to work for us but the emotional ability to function or not. Let’s take my girl Tilley who is now gone from us over 7 years (unbelievable), and her ability to work around a lot of people. Tilley came to us a very shy girl; she was not into crowds (neither am I) or people getting too close (me either). So when I asked her to be my demonstration dog at training classes, she had a tough time with it. I was almost about to give up when I considered her ball.

To say that Tilley was an avid ball retriever is an understatement. She was a mad, obsessive retriever who would do anything just to catch her ball. Later on her frisbee also became an object which she held in pivotal regard. I wore many a bruise when we were in our prime frisbee days as a result of picking up a frisbee or not paying attention. She was a force to be reckoned with when it came to retrieving.

So when I pulled out a tennis ball at obedience class and called to her, she charged to me in a heartbeat. Much different than the painstaking emotional turmoil she went through before the ball arrived. She no longer cared who was around or what they were doing. As long as there was the chance that she might be catching that ball, she was a different dog. In fact she was so different with and without her objects of retrieving that many people could not believe that the meek and soft Tilley was in actually the same highly driven, intense retriever that they witnessed. Fascinating.

So when I’m with a new client we go over drive, motivation and desire. What works for my guys might work for your dog but chances are it’s not going to. We start with low level food when working with no distractions. But if food doesn’t work we find something that does. It is essential to find what motivates your dog; it can be anything like a toy, ball, food, idea of tugging, catching…etc.

Little Mr. Riggs who turned 11 months old yesterday is a scatter brain when we go on walks. He is one of those dogs that very literally does not miss a thing and he quickly gets over stimulated causing all sorts of problems. Yesterday I pulled out a ball and tucked it into the sleeve of my t-shirt. With Riggs in his harness we head out on our walk. Structure is the key to our walks as he is learning about loose leash walking big time. I took out the tennis ball and bounced it several times to see if I was coordinated enough to do what I wanted to do with it. Riggs stopped in his tracks with dilated pupils staring at the ball, YES.

We had our entire walk with only a couple of catches and it worked so well that the ball came with us again today. He is doing much better on his walks and the ball has definitely done what no food could do. In the beginning of our training when Riggs was little, food worked but not anymore. Sometimes he is so stimulated by “things” around us that he won’t take any food from me at all. But the ball? Oh yes.

So it’s all about what makes your dog tick. Just like us, they are all different. It is our job to discover what motivates them. Do you know what incites your dog?