I should have written this blog on Monday so that I could give it a good alliterative title (Monday Motivation) but alas, it was a bank holiday so instead I enjoyed the day off. See, without the motivation to do a particular thing, it can be hard to actually do it! Had someone offered me puppy cuddles, lemon cake or an afternoon in a pub garden for writing it then, I probably would have been far more inclined. However, these motivators are personal and vary between individuals. I very good friend of mine would probably run a marathon for the promise of gin, but for me, it doesn’t float my boat. In other words, Gin wouldn’t motivate me.
Finding out what you inherently find motivating is really important – you then know what you can reward yourself with and motivate yourself to do a task that you may not initially like to do. These things can then become motivating in their own right. For example, I used to HATE running, but I got a place in London Marathon so I had to actually run quite a lot! The motivation initially was not wanting to collapse in a heap in front of a lot of people, but over time, as I got fitter and healthier and met running friends I began to really enjoy the running. Suddenly going for a run was motivating in its own right.
So, I’m not actually writing a blog here about motivating people… Indeed I know very little on this subject really, but I do know a little bit about motivating dogs, thus I wanted to write a blog about that.
Have a think now – what does your dog find motivating? I want you to write it down and then re-examine the list at the end of this blog and see if anything has changed.
Typically when we think about what dogs find motivating we think of food, toys and praise. Generally, all of these will motivate our dogs to do things, BUT (and here’s the big but) its not actually us who choose what motivates our dogs. Like us, hence I gave the gin example earlier, dogs are individuals and what they find motivating is their choice. We can make things more or less motivating with training, but generally what your dog does in it’s own time, it finds motivating. (I sit here writing this blog with Juno lying behind me, honking of lake water! She finds water VERY motivating indeed!)
So here are things that my dogs find motivating (with the most motivating ones being higher up). I will comment next to them whether I like that this is motivating or whether I find it a bit frustrating.
- Toys (Like)
- Water (Sometimes like, sometimes don’t like)
- Staring (This one is more Juno than the others, but I find this really hard to work with – I shall explain later)
- Racing each other (Sit on the fence with this one, it can be great when training bits and bobs when in a field, however this can also be a tricky one!)
- Sheep (Like. I should mention here I have my own sheep and both the collies are trained sheepdogs!)
- Jumping (like – this is in relation to agility. Zipper finds jumping hugely motivating)
- Food (Like)
- Things that ‘click’ or ‘pop’ (I have no idea where this developed from, Zipper taught it to Juno, but they both love any click type sound – it means bubble wrap is very high motivator!)
This list isn’t exhaustive obviously, however it gives you an idea of things that my dogs love doing. The common ones like playing with toys and food are easy – you can manipulate them in ways the mean you can use them easily as training tools. Others that are harder including staring and racing. This is because, in the simplest form, I can’t control when or how it happens. Thus, they can effectively be rewards very heavily for doing something that I may not want them being rewarded for.
Here’s an example; I recall the dogs who start coming back as normal, in the process of returning they start to stare at each other – and boy does it feel good to them – they start to slow and the motivation has changed to being much lower for returning to me and much higher for racing. This gives them internal feedback that says ‘this feels really good’ and thus, they have reinforced themselves for not coming back fast. This is something I really have to work around. I know its there, thus I need to make sure coming back to me is more motivating than staring and stalking. Indeed, this can often be used as a reward – do a hand touch, or let me grab your collar, then you get to race. (I should put a disclaimer in here that I have brilliant recall with both of mine as this is something that for me, is paramount)
A simple way to find out if your dog finds something motivating or not is 1) does your dog do it in their ‘spare time’ i.e. playing with toys, jumping in water, running fast on a walk. 2) If you use it to reward them does the behaviour increase in the likelihood of it happening again, or does it decrease.
So, with the list you made, are there any more you could now add? Do you like or are they a bit frustrating? When you use them as a reward (if indeed you can) does the behaviour get faster, stronger, better understood, more reliable etc. One thing that I strongly suspect decreases a behaviour is petting and stroking our dogs. We are humans and we like to show our appreciation by hugging and touching. However, for dogs this isn’t the case (usually). If your dog is doing something you like, or has responded to a cue correctly, please don’t stroke on the head or give them a pat to show how grateful you are. Chances are the behaviour is less likely to happen in the future because you’ve done something they haven’t liked. That’s not to say dogs don’t like physical touch – indeed one of mine loves cuddling up on the sofa. However, its very context specific and when you’re sleepy and relaxed, having a nice stroke can be lovely. But when you’re ‘working’ this is a whole different ball game.
I see so many dogs doing awesome recalls, only to have their very grateful, lovely, kind owner shower them with love and physical affection. Said pooch doesn’t find this very rewarding at all (and ultimately in the future it is much less likely to return). So instead of hugging and stroking, toss them a treat or play a game of tug or say ‘go’ and let them splash about in the water.
In short, reward your dogs with things that they find motivating 🙂