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Key Components of Training: Pt. 2

Why do you go to your job? For some, it's solely to get a paycheck while others enjoy the tasks and responsibilities involved in their job. Some look forward to the environment and atmosphere of coworkers and people they interact with. Whatever the reason(s) may be, you go to your job because there is something you get out of it, something motivating. Dogs are the same. Why will your dog work for you? What motivates them? How can you use their motivation to your advantage when it comes to teaching them and reinforcing concepts? Motivation is the second key component in training.

Food is the most common item we use for motivating our dogs. Why? Because all dogs have to eat. Some dogs have higher food drives than others, but they all need food to survive. So, if you have a dog that has a high food drive, is not a picky eater, and will take what you offer them in various environments, then that food motivation is going to be an advantage point over a dog that has a lower food drive. Here are some tips to help with dogs who have low food drive or who can be picky eaters. 1. Stop free-feeding. Leaving food out all the time creates a spoiled dog. Why work for you if they can just eat whenever they want and have been snacking all day? Switch to meals. This will help create periods throughout the day when they will be hungrier to work for you. 2. Teach them the value of food coming from you. When your dog has scheduled meals (the average dog owner feeds an AM and PM meal to their dog), don't just dump the food in the bowl and walk away. Try feeding your dog from your hand. It builds an instant value in you. During this time you can also teach them to take food politely and also condition their marker word "good" with a food reward.

3. There is no such thing as a free meal. If you need to improve your relationship with your dog and get them to work with you, I strongly encourage teaching your dog to work for their food. What does that mean? Everything they eat comes from you directly. Sometimes this is challenging for owners in the beginning. Dogs that have had all their meals for free and won't take their kibble by working for it will often refuse to take it in the beginning. If you stick to food that comes only through you, your dog will eventually be hungry enough to decide that food coming from you and doing what you ask is a very satisfying concept. Once the dog understands this concept, it's going to help training tremendously, but it also is going to place you in a more respectful leadership position with your dog. 4. Improve the value of your treat when working through higher distractions and environments. Usually treats that are softer tend to work better for dogs needing something higher value. Some of my favorite soft treats I purchase at the store include, Bil-Jac, Pet Botanics Training Reward, and Pup-Peroni. Other good options include a hotdog, cheese, or boiled chicken. On this note, to help build the value of treats in higher-stimulated situations, be sure your dog is hungry. A hungry dog means a higher food drive.

Food is not the only motivation for dogs. Most of our dogs value praise and affection. Some dogs truly want to work just to please their owners. Training is also about enjoying your dog and your dog enjoying you. So be sure to add praise when they are doing what you want!

Toys are another great option for training! I recommend using food in the beginning when teaching concepts but then switching to toy rewards once behaviors are taught. While playing a game of fetch, make your dog work on some obedience between throws. They're going to love to work for that ball!

Another huge factor in motivation is you. Do you make training fun? Is your energy telling your dog you're just going through the motions? How you interact with your dog during training can be a huge motivating factor! Make training sessions more motivating with how you move and add energy to your repetitions. When you release your dog, have a party! Don't be the boring boss that just cracks down on their employees all the time. You can have rules, boundaries, and structure and still be a fun, respectful leader! Next time you do a session with your dog, be sure to check what motivation you are using and try different ones. Every dog has a different motivation when it comes to learning new things and continuing established behaviors. Find what motivates your dog.

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