Motivating Your Dog


Does your dog’s response to cues seem lackluster? You may not have found the right motivation. Like humans, dogs work harder with strong motivation. Here’s how to turbocharge your dog’s drive—whether to come when called or break her agility speed record.


Find What Drives Your Dog

We are all motivated to action by different things. Maybe it’s that afternoon caffè latte we promise ourselves if we finish the report, or the massage we feel we earned after a month of gym visits. But the wrong reward would leave us cold. If you wanted chocolate, would you toil for a carrot? What does your dog most want? If in doubt, parade different treats past your dog to see what really gets her attention. Most dogs go nuts for meaty, greasy, and smelly. A few dogs prefer bread-based items. Some dogs, particularly working breeds like Border Collies and some terriers, find toys (tennis balls, squeakers, tug ropes) highly motivating.

Practice Scarcity

Whatever your dog loves, make that thing scarce. If your dog adores her rope toy, anytime-access diminishes its training power, so put it away whenever you’re not actively training. If your dog’s top motivator is a treat, you have to make sure she’s hungry for it. Pick up your dog’s food bowl between meals, check with your vet that you are not overfeeding, and if you’re really finding motivation a challenge, try feeding your dog from your hands only. This teaches her that all good things come from you—a great reason to pay attention to you!

Use Your Motivator In Training And Real Life

Ask your dog to earn access to her favorite things. She can earn it by practicing sit or weaving through agility poles a bit faster. Use real-life situations throughout the day, too. For example, rather than only working on sit during training sessions, ask your dog to sit for leashing and unleashing, before going in or outside, and before jumping onto the couch to hang with you, etc.