Do you have a dog that seems to find interest in everything but you? While this can be frustrating, we as owners have to give our dog a reason to be engaged with us. We have to build this over time by motivating them so that they are more attentive and well behaved. Not only can it be extremely annoying but the truth is, it’s not safe to have a dog that isn’t engaged or listens to you. This can lead to your dog getting lost or putting itself or others in harm's way.
The first thing we must do as owners is build value. The way we do that is through physical reinforcers which are things that the dog intrinsically finds rewarding like food, treats, play, or pets. We need to associate these things with the tasks or commands we want him to do. He doesn’t want to walk in heel or hold a sit stay just because, we have to show him it is worth doing. We don’t go to work for free and dogs do not either. Every dog is different with what motivates them the most so you must assess your dog's desires and use that as their reward system. When we consistently pair these rewards with a certain task or behavior it should become more desirable for your dog over time. If you find yourself having to command several times or force your dog to do something, this shows a clear lack of motivation to do the task and we must find something of higher value.
Each dog will have a hierarchy of reinforcement meaning they value things differently depending on each individual dog. Some dogs love food or their kibble the most while others it is a favorite toy. Even a pet can go a long way for certain dogs but typically food or treats is going to be the highest for most dogs. We must also keep in mind that what they value can change. If we play ball with our dog for an hour, then the value or desire for that ball will be less right after because they just received continuous reinforcement from it. This also applies to food, as they get more full the desire for the next piece of food decreases. This is why it’s best to do food training before mealtime when they are hungry and highly value their kibble.
When we first begin training a behavior or concept we start with a high reinforcement rate to really build up our dogs desire to do the task. Over time we can ask more out of our dog for each reward event. This allows us to fade out the reinforcement and begin to randomize it so that our dog doesn’t pick up on patterns and wants to do the behavior more often for the chance to get a reward. If your dog begins to lose motivation you must increase the value of what you are using to reinforce or increase the rate at which you are reinforcing behavior. If you are struggling to motivate your dog, reach out to us today, our expert trainers are professionals at getting the most out of every dog and can teach you how to do the same.