Dog Behavior Finding the Right Motivations for Your Dog Training Program

The Resource for Everything About Dogs

Dog Behavior Finding the Right Motivations for Your Dog Training Program

by Nikole Gipps

Motivation affects every living creature. Humans wouldn't go to work every day if they didn't receive a paycheck. Ducks wouldn't hang around cit parks if visitors didn't throw bread crumbs to them. Raccoons wouldn't hide under your house if it didn't provide a safe place for their young. Whether the motivation is as simple as a basic need or as complex as pleasure, all dogs works the same way -- they need to be motivated, such as with food or toys.

The following concepts are things you might consider at the start of your training regimen to prevent dog behavior problems in future.

What does your dog like?

A people-pleasing dog like a Golden Retriever might work for a tennis ball or a good petting, while an independent dog like a Redbone Hound Dog might work for you in order to get his way. All dogs are different, so each owner needs to make a list of what motivates their dog. Does your dog have foods that he likes better than others, or is any kind of food okay? Does he seem obsessed with a certain toy or with fetching in general? Does sitting with you seem painful to your dog if something more interesting is going by? What does your dog truly enjoy?

You are the person who knows your dog best. A trainer may provide you with some ideas of rewards but they often don't live with the dog 24 hours a day or see the dog in its home environment. Therefore, it is up to the dog's family to create a list of the dog's favorite things in life, and to use those things as motivation when training.

Many people associate reward-based programs with dog treat training, but that is only looking at part of the picture. A reward to your dog is anything he wants. This can include food, treats, toys, games, attention, walks, car rides or simply the ability to move about freely. Most everyday day actions are rewarding to your dog but would never be considered a reward by most dog owners. For example, a reward for sitting could be to have a leash put on or to be let outside; a reward for a recall might be a car ride; and a reward for a great stay could be a release with a toy thrown. Learn to think like your dog, and you will be able to come up with a large list of rewards.

Build Training into Everyday Life

If your dog eats twice a day, you are given two opportunities to practice a sit-wait-release command series. If you throw a ball 20 times each night, you have the opportunity to teach your puppy how to sit or lay down. If your dog goes for a walk each day, you have ample opportunity to practice sitting at street corners, learn proper doggie manners, and teach your dog how to not pull his leash.

The most successful training programs are based on rewards in the dog's everyday life instead of scheduled training sessions using treat rewards. When a dog is taught commands in special training sessions and those commands are never reinforced again, they are forgotten just as easily as they were learned. In contrast, when you make a command into a habit, it is a command learned for life. A great example is sitting for food. If your dog must sit and wait for every meal (and will not get the meal otherwise), your dog will learn to sit for food by default.

Verbal Rewards

Dogs, like human babies, are not born with a firm grasp on the English language. This is why you have to teach your dog each new word and what it means. You do this by using something the dog needs (such as food) to lure and reward the dog. Two examples are:

  • Bridging: Many trainers use a technique called a bridge. This is basically a signal to the dog that the behavior just performed is correct and good things are on the way. This signal can be a click, some other type of noise, or a verbal signal such as "good dog", "yes" or "thank you." To teach your dog a bridge, you need to work with a simple command such as "sit." Have the dog sit, give the dog the bridge ("good!") and then immediately follow with a treat. Once you try this several times, the dog will begin to understand that "good!" means "that is the exact behavior I wanted and good things will come because you did it." Over the course of training, you can begin to add additional time between the bridge and the reward or bridge several times without a direct reward and the bridge will still hold the same meaning for the dog.
  • Luring: Luring means to use a reward (like a treat) to coax the dog into position. For example, to teach a sit, you might take a treat and bring it over the dog's head while saying "sit." When the dog's rear hits the ground, you would then say "good" (using bridging as described above) and give the dog the treat. This helps the dog learn what the word "sit" means by using a basic need (food) to cause a specific behavior.

It is rare to find a dog that will learn a command without being taught, or obey every learned command for a pat on the head. If you are lucky enough to find one of these rare dogs, then great for you! But for the rest of us, finding ways to motivate our dogs to learn can be a constant challenge. By using knowledge of basic dog behavior, a few training basics and an arsenal of your dog's favorite things, learning any command and obeying it in the long run should be a snap!

Nikole Gipps is the owner of Creature Teachers (, an informational site featuring articles on the care, nutrition, training and behavior of pets. She holds a BS in Animal Science from Cornell University and spent over a decade working with clients through her training business. Now she spends her days making "dog blogs" to help her readers with their dog and cats problems. Creature Teachers is part of the NHG Consulting Network.

Return to Index


Cannot find it here? Search the internet with the power of Google: