by Catherine Steinke, CPDT-KA
Have you ever had a lousy boss? The kind you hated working for? Someone you didn’t respect, didn’t trust and who inspired you to find another job? Wouldn’t we all love to work for that boss who actually found reasons to reward us for good choices and great work? Someone that saw when were trying, helped us succeed and then gave us bonuses for completing a task? Which boss is better to work for? Such an easy choice, isn’t it?
Motivation comes in many forms and like human employees, dogs can be motivated by trainers focused on finding fault, punishing mistakes and forcing compliance or the same dogs can be motivated by toys and treats for trying, games for guessing right and jackpots for winning behaviors. Dogs can learn, either way, just like people can. But with every interaction, you and your dog are building a relationship. You can lay a foundation of trust and pleasure or a foundation of fault-finding and suspicion.
I’ve been a dog trainer a really long time. I mean, a really long time. I raised and trained my first puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind in 1977. Both my parents trained working dogs for police service and search and rescue. I’ve trained hunting dogs, protection dogs, mobility dogs, hearing dogs and pet companions. And I can truly say I’ve seen or used pretty much every “method” out there. I’m ashamed to admit that, back in the day, I bought in to the idea that obedience trumped all and that any delay on the dog’s part was intentional disrespect and therefore, a punishable offense. Then one day, in the mid-1990s, I read the book, Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. And it changed me. I took treats to my very next puppy client and trained a 12-week old husky puppy to do 5 things in 30 minutes. And I was hooked. Motivation, it turned out, was better with pleasure-seeking than pain-avoidance.
Give it a try. The next time your dog looks at you, toss her a yummy treat. Walk away and see what she does. If she moves toward you, give her another treat. Run the opposite direction. Chances are, she’ll follow you faster than you thought she could. Reward her again and then hide. When she finds you, give her the rest of your handful and tell her how smart she was for using her nose. Let her out for a potty break while you think about what you’d like to call this little game. Perhaps something like, “Here!” and viola! You have a new trick –your dog is learning a recall and you both are learning that obedience can be as fun as chasing squirrels!
“Aha!” you say- but there’s no way a treat trumps a squirrel… so the bribery won’t motivate her enough! That’s what I used to think, too. But not anymore. Next week, I’ll tell you how to move beyond lures. Until then, keep playing the hide and seek game where the squirrels can’t distract your dog. If you’d like some coaching to work through this, shoot us an email. We’re happy to help. Behavior@whs4pets.org
Catherine Steinke, CPDT-KA is the Behavior Program Manager for Willamette Humane Society
(503) 585-5900 ext. 318