Monday, August 14, 2017

How to Use Motivators to Train and Support Your Rescued Dog

"Dog Reward"
(C) Wiley Pup

Rescuing an animal from a shelter or foster situation is a good way to make a new friend for life. Having rescued all of the dogs that I have had the pleasure of welcoming into my pack, I can say that I have no regrets about any of the pups that have found their way into my heart and home.

When a dog enters an unfamiliar environment, they tend to be very open to trying to learn the rules and routines of their new family. You can help them along during this transitional period by using positive training methods to give them both guidance and confidence that they have arrived at a safe place.

Hopefully you have considered some classes or are researching positive training methods so you can best serve the needs of your new pet. Motivation is an idea that is central to positive training methods. This article will be exploring that concept in more detail.

What is a “motivator”?
A motivator is any object or action that your dog enjoys. If you really want to make the most of positive training methods, observe your pal and make a mental note of the things that they really like.

Most people are aware that high-value treats are motivators, and they are popular to use in training sessions because you can dispense them quickly without disturbing the flow of training. But food is not the only motivator for your dog.

Observe your dog to see if there are non-food motivators that you might use to train them:
  • A toss of a tennis ball.
  • An affectionate pet on the ears.
  • A tug with a rope bone.
  • Going outside.
  • Hopping on the couch next to you.
Basically, anything that your dog really enjoys can be used as a motivator!

"Dog Tug"
(C) Wiley Pup

How to use a motivator effectively:
In a formal training session, it is probably pretty obvious how a motivator works. Your dog gives you a behavior you are looking for, you mark it with a clicker or a sound, and then you dispense a small food “reward.” The food is the motivator in that case.

However, just because you are not in a formal training session does not mean that other motivators are not working to shape your dog’s behavior. In fact, motivators are ALWAYS shaping your dog’s behavior, even if you are not conscious of it.

Here is an example: You go to the door and your dog is right there with tail wagging and his nose ready to push through the open door.

What is the motivator here? Your dog wants to go outside. Did you open the door when they were carrying on in this way? If so, then you just rewarded that behavior, expect more of it in the future.

However, if you harness the power of your dog’s motivation to go outside, you have a lot of leverage to help them learn a better behavior without using any punishment.

Ask your dog to “sit” a few paces away from the door and move to the doorknob. As soon as your dog breaks the sit, step away from the door, start over. For most dogs, one or two sessions of this motivator game will have your dog sitting with the door open waiting to be released with an “Okay!”

Congratulations! You just used the power of understanding motivators to train your dog!

  "Dog Training"
(C) Wiley Pup

Motivators are everywhere:
Once you start looking for motivators, you will notice them everywhere. Every motivator is an opportunity for you to reinforce desired behaviors. This means that guiding your dog to the kinds of behavior that you like is not just for formal training sessions, it can be an ongoing part of the way you interact with your dog.

The other nice thing about using motivators in this way is that you don’t have to use punishment, and this is so important, especially for a dog that is coming into a brand-new environment! Help them feel confident, safe and loved by using motivators effectively to encourage the kinds of behavior that you like.

About the Author:

Sharon Elber writes for She has been a lifelong lover of dogs, and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over a decade. Got an eldery dog? Check out orthopedic dog beds.

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