It is very important when rewarding or motivating a dog to understand what is a high value reward for each particular dog, and what it considers a low value reward.
No two dogs are the same - some dogs will do anything in order to chase a moving toy (or animal!) and would see being allowed access to them as high value rewards for doing something correctly. Meanwhile, other dogs would look at the passing toy or furry creature either with indifference (as they have no instinctive desire to chase a moving object eg Setters) or have built up bad associations with those moving objects (eg another dog in its household guards toys, so this dog has learnt to stay well away from such objects).
What are your dog's values?
Make a list of all the things and pastimes that motivate your dog in all aspects of its life. Then try to work out which are high values (ie those it finds more special/exciting/fulfilling) and those that are not - try to make a scale of 1 to 12 (1 being low reward and 12 being high). Here is an example of one of my dogs -
|12||Having the freedom to chase rabbits/squirrels while off lead on a country walk - dragging a Raggit, or Grabbit along the floor could be a good substitute here!|
|11||Stealing or scavenging food from human possessions- Treat boxes can fulfill this need|
|10||Having a game of tug-of-war with its owner (the dog would not have access to the tug toy, such as a Raggit or a Grabbit, unless the owner produces it)|
|9||Searching for its food which has been scattered in the back garden for it to sniff and find, or a stuffed Kong- it doesn't have to be a great deal of food, just interesting smells and textures and in very small amounts (see Food Treats)|
|8||Owner smiling with genuine happiness - looking into the dog's eyes - and speaking in a calm & happy "whisper" (see Praise)|
|7||Playing with other dogs - eg free time after the DOG-GAMES training session has finished (see Recall Starters step 10)|
|6||Being stroked slowly and steadily on its chest and tummy, or its hind quarters being gently scratched - (see Praise)|
|5||Eating its meal (usually from its bowl) - see 9 for using the food in a higher value way for the dog|
|4||Opportunity to relax and sleep undisturbed - warmth and comfortable surface often more important as the dog gets older - (see Life Rewards)|
Access to fresh clean water when it is hot and thirsty -
|2||Processed dried dog food treats - most dogs find these types of treats very boring and monotonous as their owners give the same type of treat in a training session, so that the dog knows what it is going to be given to eat even before it does the task! See Food Treats for suggestions on how to overcome this.|
|1||A walk round the block on the lead - the dog probably has very little opportunity to stop and smell all the different scents and tracks along the route, or leave its scent on the environment for other dogs to sniff and "reply" to.|
By looking carefully at this list we can select the most appropriate motivator for what the dog is doing.
You can also make specific lists of the relative values of your dog's favorite Food treats or Toys, to help you understand which motivates your dog the most, and which are more suitable when you do not want to overexcite your dog in a training situation.
Here are some basic guidelines on how to choose the correct value for the occasion -
Give HIGH VALUE motivators when -
- The dog is learning something new - this helps the dog to have strong and happy associations with what it is doing at the time
- The dog completes a difficult or harder exercise than usual - eg coping with the distractions of another dog in the next lane when being taught Silver levels of DOG-GAMES
Give LOWER VALUE motivators when -
- The dog is doing something it finds easy or requires little effort*
- The dog does something it does regularly*
*But try to be unpredictable and have a variety of different motivators and sometimes ignore the Rules given above and give high rewards for low reward occasions - It pays to have the element of surprise when living with a dog (particularly one who thinks he know it all....! Think of it like playing the lottery - you don't mind not winning every week but you'd soon stop playing if you never won even the smallest prize after having played for many months!
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