Finding the right motivator for your canine companion can be difficult for those dogs that seem to be very low key or have no drive to perform at anything. They just want to be by themselves, they hardly ever come when called and seem to have zero interest in anything except other dogs (referred to as dog bonded). These tips will also help you build drive in a dog that seems to have little or none, by drive I mean their desire to perform for you when asked. Performing when asked can be as simple as obedience training at home to have a well mannered dog or competing in a venue like agility, herding or conformation.
First you need to figure out what really makes your dog(s) get excited or motivated; food, a specific treat, toys, high pitched voice, or just plain affection. If your dog doesn’t really show great interest in any of these things you’re going to need to dig deep in the memory banks. Try to think about when your dog has gotten excited in the past, who was around, or what activities were going on. Here are some suggestions that are just out there enough that most people wouldn’t even consider them as a motivator for their dog; music, kids, bubbles, a specific smell, specific colored or textured toys, silly string (don’t let them eat this), ice, vegetables (carrots, beans, etc.), or water.
When you finally find those things that really get your dog going it’s time to start playing and training. Start with something as simple as checking in (when your dog comes over to see you without being called) give them that thing that makes them go nuts, and act REALLY happy that they are there. This will also help them associate the high pitched voice, and strokes of affection with that motivator. You can eventually move on to sit, down, stay, and other obedience commands. The main purpose of all of this is to teach your dog that if the dog does something you want, you give the dog something it wants in return.
Please don’t make the mistake of using that motivator as bait to draw them to you this is a huge no-no because the dog will learn that they only have to do what you ask when their motivator is present.
So how do you use this motivator on a daily basis and have it available when you want them? If the motivator is not food it is easy, stash many of them all over the house and when you’re going to do laundry or are going to do something as necessary as use the restroom have them there on hand. You can also start using a key phrase at the same time, before you introduce the motivator. Here’s an example on how to use the motivator and the key phrase together. Let’s say their motivator is a bright green stuffed animal with different textures or sounds. Get up and head toward the kitchen where you have one of their motivators stashed. Grab the bear, get excited and say "your phrase" ("ready", "get-it", "cheese", "bear", etc). When the dog gives you an intense focused look that says I’m ready, toss the bear. If you decide to do any type of competition (herding, agility, conformation, etc) say this same phrase just before you start the competition it will let them know that something really good and exciting is going to happen. After your dog learns that the motivator, voice and affection are all really good things make sure you mix them up a bit, don’t always give them the same thing, some times give them an extra special treat, a tiny piece of cooked chicken is one I really like to use, a toy, or tummy rubs. Keeping them guessing as to what you’re gonna give them keeps them happy and it makes sure that they don’t anticipate commands or actions. But you also need to be consistent, what I mean here is ALWAYS give a reward (food, toy, affection, etc.) if you don’t your dog will get confused and might not perform. Simply put they will get bored.
Another very important thing to remember in training and playing is that you need to end positive. Dogs, just like people have bad days too, so if your dog isn’t wanting to do the hard or intense stuff one day let them do the easy stuff that they know really well so you can end positive.
If you feel yourself becoming frustrated stop training immediately, and just love on each other. Trying to train when your frustrated, becasue your dog won't do what you are asking, will not end well and it could severally hamper future training progress.
Good luck and remember to have fun.
Rev. 25 May 09