Face it: much as your pup gives you kisses and snuggles with you at night, the furry, cold-nosed canine is a little bit selfish. He’s not going to do something just because you want him to do it. There has to be something in it for him, something to motivate him. Lucky for you, that motivation can come from plenty of sources, from food to your smiling face and excited tone of voice.
Use treats. A lot of dogs are best motivated by food, but not necessarily their puppy chow. Offering something that has your little guy really chomping at the bits will yield the best results. Examples include cheese, hot dogs, chicken, turkey and sliced eggs. Treats serve as both a reward and trigger. For instance, suppose you want to teach your pup the "leave it" command. Holding a treat in your hand makes him smell your hand in attempt to locate and get the treat. Offering him the treat after you say "leave it" and he pulls back acts as a reward. Not all types of training require a trigger, but all types do require a reward.
Opt for your dog's toys. The toy your pup cherishes most -- be it a chirping plush chipmunk or miniature rubber tire -- can work wonders as a motivational tool. Like treats, toys serve as both a reward and trigger. Forget about toys that your pup seems indifferent toward and instead focus on toys that make him really excited. If he gets too excited and can't concentrate on his training or the behavior you want him to show, try a less psychosis-inducing toy.
Pile on the fun. Avoid appearing stone-faced and serious during your pup's training sessions. Show lots of passion and excitement. For instance, give him a round of applause when he shows appropriate behavior or tell him how unbelievably awesome he is -- a bit of exaggeration and emphasis aren't bad things here. Dogs are similar to children: if they have fun doing something, they're more likely to want to do it again.
Keep it low-key. The best way to motivate certain canines is by avoiding too much excitement. Instead of jumping around, talking to your pup in an affable voice and clapping, speak softly and keep your movements to a minimum. This mostly applies to shy and sensitive dogs. Loud noises and sudden movements frighten them and make them unsure, while a gentle approach keeps them focused on the task at hand and motivates them to respond positively. In contrast, some dogs respond to an excited voice and lots of praise by going insane and find themselves unable to focus on the task any longer. You'll also need to show less excitement if your pup falls into that category.
Know when to stop. The law of diminishing returns applies to dog obedience and training. After a period of time, your pup's motivation for continuing his behavior starts nose-diving, because he's tired of the charades. This typically happens faster with youngsters than it does with adult canines, but mature pups still lose motivation after a certain period of time. Find out when your pup starts getting distracted more and more, stops paying attention and seems flustered, and then stop just before that point. You can go back to training in an hour or two, but give him a little rest until then.
Switch up the motivational tools. Some dogs become bored with the same rewards day in and day out, and their motivation to learn new commands may diminish if you don’t vary up their rewards. If treats stop working as well, try your hand at toys or vice versa. If the toy of choice stops working as motivation and treats don’t work, opt for a different toy. The key revolves around making changes, even small ones.
Use treats, toys and praise only to trigger a trainable action or to serve as a reward. Do not use those tools as a way to trick your pup into doing something that makes him scared or frustrated. For instance, suppose your pup's fearful of water and you need to get him in the bathtub. If you act excited, give him all sorts of praise to go into the bathroom and lay a treat in the tub to trick him into getting in, he'll start to associate those motivational tools with negative outcomes. Fix the root of the problem -- his fear of water -- and you'll avoid attaching a negative connotation to your motivational tools.
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- Cut treats into tiny pieces so you're not overfeeding your pal while training him. The Humane Society of the United States also points out that small, bite-sized treats enable your pup to quickly turn his focus back to you, instead of focusing on chewing and eating.
- Only give your pup a reward when he does something positive, such as barking on command.
- Punishment of any kind -- yelling and smacking, for instance -- will result in adverse behavior and is a detriment to your training sessions.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training
- Knack Dog Care and Training: A Complete Illustrated Guide to Adopting, House-Breaking, and Raising a Healthy Dog (Knack: Make It Easy); Carina MacDonald
- Diamonds in the Rough: The Overstimulated Hyper Dog
- Petside.com: Toy-Motivated Training
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images