How to increase your dog’s motivation?

What will your dog work for? What motivates him or her? One of the most...

What will your dog work for? What motivates him or her? One of the most important concepts that every pet owner must learn is how to motivate their dog to want to follow commands. Motivation varies between dogs and you have to figure out what exactly motivates your dog. Here are a few suggestions on how to increase your dog’s motivation.

Motivating a dog means creating an environment where the dog enjoys to be and want to perform an exercise. Rewards play an important role when motivating a dog, but there are different ways of rewarding our furry friends. For some dogs, food is the greatest reward and for other dogs, a toy is better than food. And sometimes, the activity itself is the reward.

Dog trainers and dog specialists generally distinguish between 4 ways to motivate your dog. Hopefully you find some useful tips here.

Reward with food

Food is a very valuable “paycheck” for dogs during training. It’s one of the few things that dogs are born already knowing is good and want more of. Food holds a special place in their mind due to its primal nature. However, when you use food as motivation you have to be aware of overuse.  When you use food too often you might create a dog who will only work if he knows there’s food. Make sure that food is being used as a reward and not a bribe. There’s a big difference!

Reward with words

A good way to motivate your dog is with “marker words”.  A marker word is a sound you use to tell your dog when he/she did something right. A marker word can be used as part of the training, to speed up communication between you and your four-legged friend, and it can also act as a reward itself! Good marker words are mostly short, sharp and happy like for example “Good dog”, “YES!”, “TOP”.

Reward by playing

For some dogs playing is better than eating (or as good as eating). The one-on-one attention your dog gets from you through playing is a great reward and can contribute to a strong relationship between you and your dog. Play is fun, and involves both you and the dog – it makes you a team. Therefore, if you want to reward your dog for a job well done, a game would be a good idea.  And, another benefit from using play as a reward is that you don’t have to spend life storing food in your pockets.

Reward with petting

Some dogs prefer petting over vocal praise. Regardless of who is doing it, dogs never seem to get tired of being petted, which makes it an excellent way to reward your furry friend.  However, it is also important to understand that dogs differ in their ‘touch sensitivity’. For some dogs, stroking or being petted in certain areas might even cause mild upset or even stress while others love it more than anything else. Therefore, make sure that your dog feels comfortable with the petting before you use it as a reward.

Implementing the motivation techniques

The goal in any dog training is to encourage “more of this” (desirable behaviors) and through praise and reward you can motivate your dog to continue the desired behaviors. What kind of reward to use is up to you and, of course, your dog. However,  it is always better to use different methods, and not just one. Toys, petting and words can all be used together as a reward for a job well done.

Timing is everything! Correct timing is essential when using rewards. The reward must occur immediately—within seconds—or your dog may not associate it with the proper action.

Consistency is the key! Make sure that everyone in the family uses the same commands. Otherwise, your dog may be confused. Try to make a list of commands where everyone can become familiar with them.

And, last but not least, always reward the desired behavior and never reward undesired behavior.


How do you motivate your dog? We would like to hear your ideas!

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