Having trouble teaching your dog basic commands or tricks? Every dog is different so there is no one simple answer on how to motivate him to learn. However, we can give you details on three simple motivational methods – food drive, prey drive, and sociability drive.
But first, the most important thing you can do to help any dog learn is to always make learning fun. Try to avoid using negative punishment. Your only method of punishment will be to withhold the dog’s reward if they don’t comply with the command. Keep in mind that a part of making learning fun is to start with simple steps which earns your dog a reward. A dog who is rewarded is motivated to learn more. A dog who continuously doesn’t earn a reward is less likely to be enthusiastic about training.
Food drive is probably the most common and simplest method for motivating a dog to learn. Many dogs love food and are eager to do whatever it takes to earn that food. But not all dogs are enthusiastic about every kind of food and some dogs aren’t motivated by food at all. If you find that your dog is not motivated by food, try different kinds of food before trying the other motivational methods. Sometimes a dog will not be motivated by a dry biscuit, but he may do doggy flips for a cheesy treat. Practice with different kinds of treats and observe your dog’s reaction to each. You should be able to tell which one (or ones) he is most eager for. Also keep the healthiness of the treats in mind. Try not to use fatty things like actual cheese. Try a cheesy dog treat instead. There are hundreds of different kinds of dog treats on the market and some are specifically made for motivational training. My dogs like Charlee Bear dog treats.
Prey drive is where your dog goes crazy over a certain toy (or toys). If food didn’t work, try toys. Show your dog a toy and play with him for a bit. Then put it away. Repeat several times through the day and week. Does your dog get excited when you get the toy back out? If not, try a new toy. If so, your dog may be motivated to learn with a prey drive. Most police dogs and other working dogs are motivated with prey drive. My dad had a police dog used to sniff out drugs. When he found an illegal narcotic, he was rewarded with a ball. He really loved that ball.
Some dogs are just eager to learn because they are eager to please. No treats or toys are required, just your love and affection. My dog, Cassie, was like that. She loved to please me and I gave her lots of love in return. Her praises weren’t simple pats on the head. They were exciting events where I talked in an excited voice and scratched her in the places that she loved to be scratched the most (behind the ears, on the back just above the tail, on her belly).
When you find which reward motivates your dog the most, do not allow your dog to have that reward at any other time except training time. For example, if your dog loves bits of liver treats, only give him liver treats when he earns it by obeying your command. Likewise, if your dog loves his Kong toy, only let him play with it if he has done what you told him to do. But if your dog loves praise, don’t necessarily withhold petting. Save the super excited praise for training. The regular pats and casual ear scratches can continue as usual.