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How can I motivate my dog?

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

Having a motivated and enthusiastic dog makes any training a breeze.

What should I try if my dog is not properly motivated?

This is the most common question we hear from those who are starting their dog training.

Contrary to the common believe not all dogs are motivated by food, though food works for many dogs.

Let’s start with how you can test what is likely to float your dog’s boat.

Test what motivates your dog:

We like using method widely used by Search and Rescue Teams. Search and Rescue dogs need to be very driven and properly motivated to work sometimes for hours in very difficult conditions to find the missing person. You can’t achieve that level of focus without a properly motivated dog.

How do they test their dogs?

They ask the handler or the dog owner to:

1) Offer the dog a favourite teat but then close the hand and encourage the dog to “seek it out”.

Is the dog interested in food and persistent in trying to get it out of the hand or just gave it a sniff?

2) Offer the dog a toy and initiate a game. How enthusiastic is the dog with the gameplay?

Does the dog show interest in the toy and is keen to play with the toy and the handler for a minute or more?

If your dog is not wildly enthusiastic about either try to experiment with changing the food or the toy.

Can you find something that dog is keen on? If you did- that’s great! You can use this as a part of the reward in your dog’s training.

What to do if your dog is not wildly keen on either the food or the toy in the above test?

There is key to motivation of any dog- it is just matter of finding it.

If everything fails here is what else you can try:

1) Experiment with different types of food

One of the commonest mistakes is to offer the dog some dry unexciting food and assume that it is not food motivated.

Try some moist food- cheese, sausage, fish, smelly training treats, cat food, Spam, liver cake, meat (raw or cooked). Dogs are much more likely to get excited about the moist smelly food. Also dogs get bored of the same food, so change it over time and experiment. Try to properly tease the dog with the food before asking it to do the trick.

2) Experiment with different types of toys

Many trainers have specific toys that they use only as reward during training and all other times dog has not got access to them. New toys tend to be much more exciting than the toys that dog can play by itself anytime.

Some dogs love balls, others prefer puling toys fluffy toys, squeaky toys etc.

If all fails you can also make your own or buy a toy made with sheep hide or rabbit hide. Most dogs find them totally irresistable.

3) Try to give more animated praise

Many dogs become far more motivated once their owner offers a more enthusiastic verbal praise for their efforts. Saying quietly “good dog” may work for some, but if your dog is not currently motivated try to offer much more emotional praise for any of their efforts. Try to use squeaky, high or excited voice, combine it with a playful back rub etc depending on your dog’s personality.

4) Try to train alongside another more motivated dog giving the other dog rewards and praise. Some reluctant dogs get really jazzed up by watching others dogs having fun and receiving rewards. You should aim for healthy competition not aggression.

5) Consider if you may be asking too much too soon

Your dog may need a bit more thinking time, is not ready to progress further or just does not understand what you are asking. This can significantly dampen the enthusiasm. Try to make it easier, experiment with a different approach, leave that particular trick for now and try to do something else that your dog may find easier and more fun.

6) You might be trying to teach your dog a trick that it is not comfortable with

Have a look at the Talent Tracks or take our quizz to find out what it your dog’s talent and the comfort zone and try starting with that. For example, if you hated maths in school but loved arts, but the only subjest you were for some reason you had every day is maths, endless maths. You quickly would loose your enthusiasm to go to school. Find what your dog enjoys and buld on it.

When you are learning something that you are good at or something that fits your personality- it is much more enjoyable.

Have fun and keep experimenting!

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to message, we are always happy to help:

#dogtraining #dogmotivation #dogtrainingtips #trickdog #trickdogtitles #dogtalentassociation


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