Written By Natalie Mendoza
I hope it goes without saying that enforcing your dog’s obedience is a must. There are two main types of reinforcement: positive and negative. Positive reinforcement motivates your dog to behave to receive some sort of reward. Negative reinforcement motivates your dog to behave to avoid some sort of punishment. Both positive and negative reinforcement is needed in dog training, and the ratios and quantities of positive and negative reinforcement will vary based on your dog’s breed and individual personality. With all that being said, I am going to outline four easy ways to motivate your dog with positive reinforcement.
Motivator #1 – Praise
Praise is one of the easiest ways to motivate your dog. For much dog-owners understanding how to praise your dog is fairly intuitive: you say “good girl/boy” when your dog does something good. In essence, you are rewarding your dog for doing the right thing, and consistent praise will serve as a motivator for your dog to behave in the future. Additionally, praise coupled with verbal corrections can be highly effective when training your lovable puppy. Verbal corrections are a part of negative reinforcement, in which after your dog disobeys a command, you firmly say “no” or “no, + [command]” to discourage your dog from unwanted behavior. Here is an instance of how praise and verbal corrections can work together: first, you might tell your dog to sit, if your dog does not sit, you tell your dog “no” or “no, sit” in a firm voice, if your dog then sits after the verbal correction, you can positively reinforce your dog’s behavior by immediately providing praise and telling your dog “good girl/boy” in a loving tone. Dogs can understand your tone of voice, so being firm when giving verbal corrections and loving when giving praise is crucial.
Motivator #2 – Play
Play can be an excellent motivator for your dog to behave, especially if your dog is a high-energy breed. The way rewarding your dog with play works is that after your dog listens to your commands, you reward your dog by playing with him/her. Of course, as you train your dog more and more, you will not always reward your dog every time. The key is that you train your dog to listen to your commands by rewarding them with play after they listen, and once your dog is trained, you occasionally reward your dog with play for listening to your commands on an infrequent and irregular basis. That being said, play will not motivate every dog, since not every dog likes to play a lot or has a lot of energy. There are a variety of activities to reward dogs motivated by play. Your dog may enjoy a simple game of chase. For instance, I have a Vizsla puppy who loves to run around the house and have me chase her. Of course, this can only be done in moderation since Vizslas have seemingly endless amounts of energy and humans do not. Some dogs may enjoy chasing after toys you throw. Keep in mind, that if you are throwing soft toys and your dog likes to chew, be sure to take the soft toy away and replace it with some sort of hard chew-toy once your dog is done running around. My puppy is a heavy chewer, and I can affirm that ensuring supervised, active playtime with all soft toys is essential to having fewer sewing projects later. For dogs with excellent noses, one stimulating form of play for your dog is to keep your dog in a separate room while you hide a treat or a piece of kibble somewhere on the floor and then let them out to run around your house and try to find it with their nose. There are plenty of excellent ways to motivate your dog through play.
Motivator #3 – Affection
Another way to motivate your dog to listen to you is by petting and showing affection when your dog does the right thing. It is important to note that not all dogs like to be pets in the same way. So if you notice your dog seems to be annoyed when you pet his/her ears, then it is likely that your dog does not like being pet on the ears. Some dogs love being pet on the ears, while other dogs do not like this. If your dog does not like how you are petting them, change how you are petting them. One of the best parts about using affection to motivate your dog is it can really strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
Motivator #4 – Treats
I probably do not need to tell you that dogs have an exceptional sense of smell. However, I will preface this section by informing you that if you store treats in your pocket, your dog can smell them. This may not seem like a big deal, but if your dog only listens to you when they can smell the dog treat, that will become a burden for you. Although you will not always give your dog a reward every time they listen to your command after they have been trained for that command, infrequent and irregular rewards ensure that your dog knows they will still be occasionally rewarded for following your command. And this works, because your dog does not know when they will or will not get a reward for obeying you. However, if you have trained your dog with treats, and your dog does not smell any treats on you, your dog knows that they are not going to get a reward. So although small treats or pieces of kibble can be a useful motivator for dogs who are highly food-oriented, use this method alongside other motivators, to ensure you can continue to motivate your dog even when your dog does not smell any treats near you.