Two Kinds of Dogs: How to Motivate Our Pets

Helping your companion dog channel the motivation of a working dog

It’s been awhile since my last post, and I’m sorry about that! Things have been a little rough lately, though these thoughts on adversity always seem to be relevant when life gets a bit crazy.

Anyway, today we’re going to be continuing off of our last post about pet dogs versus “ready, willing, and able” dogs. If you can recall, we talked about the working dog versus the pet dog and how the two are so drastically different to train.

This week we’ll be going over how we can help motivate our pet dogs to behave slightly more like the working dog.

Working dogs are very intrinsically motivated, but it’s not always as easy to motivate our pet dogs. Here’s how we can get a greater training ROI (return on investment) for the work we do with our canine companions.

“Why should I work for you?” – Your Dog

I like to think about things from the dog’s perspective. Do they ask themselves, “Is doing this work worth it?”

For a dog, work is anything we ask them to do. It could be as simple as a sit, as complicated as tracking animals in the forest for hunting purposes, or anything in between.

Work is work.

Some of it may be enjoyable while some of it may not be the most ideal thing to be doing as a dog.

So, what makes work worth it for our pet dogs? A high rate of reinforcement.

Think of it this way: you go to work for forty hours and get a weekly paycheck. When you look at the week’s paycheck you notice that you’re only getting paid for fifteen of those hours. It could be a mistake or it could be on purpose. The point is, you didn’t get equal compensation for the work you put in. Sometimes we do this with our pet dogs.

We find a small window where they’re willing to work for us, but then forget to pay them for that work! This often looks like not kibbling (rewarding with dog food or a treat) or using another reinforcer consistently enough.

We ask them to sit ten times but they only get kibble for half of those sits. It tends to make a dog feel a lot less motivated to want to work. We need a high rate of reinforcement in order to get the most out of our training sessions.

Can work be fun for a dog?

As pet dog owners, we should be extremely intentional about making work fun for our dogs. Work can be fun if we make it fun.

Working in small training windows of about ten to fifteen minutes followed by playing our dog’s favorite game can easily achieve this goal. It helps to associate work with play and ultimately builds our dogs up to enjoy training.

By keeping our sessions within a fifteen minute window we can also maximize on focus and drive in our dogs. Ask a kid to work on something school related for longer than an hour and you’ll most likely be greeted with sideways looks and sighs. It’s the same for our pet dogs too!

What does canine engagement look like?

We’ve gone over how to get the most out of our dogs, but how do we know if it’s really working?

I challenge you to ask a different question, though: What does work look like for my dog?

I tend to look for eye contact in any dog I’m personally working with. It lets me know that that dog is actively thinking and waiting for me to tell it what to do. It shows me that my dog is engaged.

We can’t reinforce anything through play or a kibble reward if we never truly engage our dogs. Half attention won’t allow the things that we’re teaching to stick.

The better we are at capitalizing on engaging our dogs, the more we can build the drive in our dogs for them to want to engage with us to begin with. It’s a simple cycle!

It’s much easier to write about training a pet dog than it is to actually put it into practice. If you find that you’re having trouble at all, give us a call! We at Doglando would love to help you out in ANY way we can. Until next time guys!

Victor