Anyone who has ever shared a friendship with a dog will tell you – no two are alike! They all have their own personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes, and, believe it or not, their own learning styles. Knowing which style is best suited to your dog will go a long way when teaching basic obedience commands and in dealing with behavior problems.
The first piece of the puzzle you’ll want to discover is what motivates your dog. The most common are food, praise/human interaction, toys, and environment interactions.
Imagine you and your dog in this scenario – You and your canine pal are taking a leisurely stroll, with a pocket full of yummy treats. Up ahead, there is another person walking towards you. To the right of you, a tennis ball lays on the ground, next to a fire hydrant that surely the neighborhood dogs have used to mark their territory!
What would your dog do? Would she ignore everything else and keep her nose glued to your pocket in hopes of a treat? Would she pull towards the person, tail wagging, asking to be pet? Maybe she would pick up the tennis ball and entice you to play fetch, or perhaps she would choose to ignore everything else and stop to sniff the fire hydrant.
Whatever your answer would be is what truly motivates your dog, and is one of the strongest sides to her personality.
Here’s how you can incorporate that into your training:
If your dog would choose treats – You’re in luck! Most basic obedience classes, dog training books, and articles rely on food motivation to accomplish training. Make sure to keep a lot of treats with you at all times to encourage appropriate behavior from your dog. Use treats to guide your dog into a Sit or Down and then give them their reward as soon as their body is in the right position. Just be sure to decrease the amount of food you give your dog at meal time when doing a lot training to avoid weight gain – and be sure to gradually wean your dog off treats once she is reliably performing her commands. Also, teach a strong Leave It command. These dogs can sometimes be found scavenging for last night’s dinner in the garbage can!
If your dog would choose greeting the oncoming person – You have a praise motivated dog! The good thing about praise motivated dogs is that you giving them a pat on the head and saying “Good Girl,” means a lot more than treats, so worrying about weight gain won’t be necessary with these pups. The key to working with praise dogs is to ignore them completely when they are doing an incorrect behavior (ie. Whining for attention, begging at the dinner table). Since they rely so heavily on praise and attention, the best way to teach them to stop negative behaviors is to not give any attention. Even saying “No,” to a dog is a form of attention. When they’re doing something great, be sure to give lots of hugs and pets!
If your dog would choose the tennis ball – You have a toy motivated dog! These dogs are generally high energy and like to be entertained. Want success with a toy dog? Become entertaining! These dogs generally love to see their owner acting silly and joining in on the fun of being alive. As a reward for performing a command, or showing great behavior, stop to play with your dog for a moment – even better if you have her favorite toy. Be sure to teach these dogs a strong Give or Drop It command, as they tend to figure out pretty fast that grabbing your favorite pair of shoes means a game of chase! Also, if you need to call your dog back to you and she won’t come, start acting silly! They want to be part of the fun, so whatever looks the most entertaining, that’s where they’ll go – jump around, wave your arms, smile and laugh, sing a silly song and run away from your dog. She’ll come right to you.
If your dog would choose the fire hydrant – You have an environment interactions motivated dog! These dogs can’t get enough of checking out their surroundings and their noses lead them through life. Train your dog to play games using scent, such as hiding a treat somewhere in the house for them to find. Teaching basic obedience? Get a few clean rags and choose different places outdoors to rub them in (ie. The flower bed, the neighbor’s grass, on a friend’s dog, in pond water). As a reward for performing a command, let them sniff one of the rags for a few seconds. Trust me – that’s all they want! Be sure to teach these dogs a strong Leave It command, or your walks will become a series of stopping every 10 feet so she can sniff!
Knowing what motivates your dog is the key to efficient, easy, and successful training. Don’t have a food motivated dog? No problem – just get creative! You know your dog best. Make sure she has a good time and the right rewards, and training will be a walk in the park.
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.