Training Bullytin #5:
No Motivation--No Training
Why do we need motivation?
Training our dogs to live cohesively in our homes requires asking them to do some very non-doggy things. Sit, rather than jump, for attention. Stay, rather than chase, when spotting a squirrel. Go outside, rather than in the living room, when needing to potty.
In the name of training, we are often asking dogs to go against their nature. Instinctive behaviors are in themselves reinforcing. The more our dogs do them the more likely they are to do them again. The outdated idea that dogs should obey out of respect is akin to the old alpha construct—it just doesn’t exist! If we want to change a behavior we must provide a competing motivator. We must make it worth their while.
How do we motivate dogs?
When it comes to motivating our pups we have two options.
Option #1: Reward desired behavior.
When teaching a new behavior we need a powerful motivator; able to be controlled and delivered with precise timing. Food fits this bill perfectly. Hot dogs, chicken, sardines, cheese, mini marshmallows, scrambled eggs, bacon, and tuna fudge are all on the list of high value treat ideas I send to my clients. For some training toys, praise, play, and access to smells or other dogs are also highly motivating.
Option #2: Punish undesired behavior.
Prong collars, shock collars, citronella collars, yelling, intimidating, striking, rolling, drowning, ceasing play, and removing access to toys are among the list of things people use to punish dogs in an attempt to stop undesired behavior. The last two are the only punishers I recommend in training.
How does motivation work to change behavior?
Decades of scientific research tells us that rewards increase the behaviors that precede them. That same research shows that punishment is quite effective in decreasing occurrences of behavior. Let’s look at some examples.
Burrhus’s owner wants him to come in from the yard when he calls. He uses the word, Here! to teach Burrhus to come when called. Every time Burrhus hears his owner say Here! he gets a piece of chicken. Burrhus loves chicken and wants to do whatever it takes to get it. So, when he hears his owner say Here! he comes running.
Bailey’s owner also wants her to come in from the yard when he calls. He purchases a shock collar and puts it on Bailey before she goes outside. If she does not come when her owner calls, Bailey is given an electric shock via remote control. The shock continues until Bailey begins to return to her owner. Bailey hates being shocked and wants to do what ever it takes to avoid it. So, when she hears her owner call she comes.
Which motivator should I choose for my dog?
For teaching quick behaviors that require repetition to master, such as sit, down, stay, and coming when called, small pieces of high value treats are the ticket. They can be dispensed and consumed quickly, allowing you to practice several repetitions in a short amount of time. The more he is rewarded the more your dog will offer the behavior.
Toys are the perfect reward for teaching dogs appropriate play. We teach puppies that mouthing too hard during play results in the fun immediately stopping. Dogs who love to tug must be taught the rules of the game. Only take the toy on cue. Always release the toy on cue. Be careful not to bite fingers. Any violation of these rules results in the game abruptly ending. Dogs learn that rough play ends the fun, so they are careful to follow the rules.
Training that relies on pain, fear, or intimidation has known side effects. Studies have shown that while these methods may decrease undesired behavior they often result in aggression, anxiety, and distrust toward owners. These reasons combined with my passion for improving dog welfare prevent me from recommending the use of aversive training tools and methods.
Will I always have to provide a motivator?
Absolutely not. Unfortunately, many dog trainers forget to provide owners with a crucial piece of the motivation puzzle- you have to fade rewards. Providing treats for every instance of the behavior is only for teaching new skills. As the dog becomes more proficient food is thinned out. Then, to ensure lasting behavior change a surprise “jackpot” is given at random occurrences of the behavior.
Proper motivation plus structured goals can make training fun and rewarding for everyone involved. Rather than going through the old, “Sit. Sit! SIT. SIT!!!”, routine consider your dog’s motivation and training history. It takes time to create lasting behavior change, but the improved relationship with your dog makes it worth all the effort.