The most important requirement for working with the dog is motivation. But how do I motivate my dog? What can I do if my dog doesn’t like treats? And what rules should be followed when rewarding? We provide you with the most important information about motivation and reward.
What is motivation and why is it important?
Motivation is the need or drive to perform behavior. A distinction is made between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. With intrinsic motivation, the behavior is self-rewarding, the motivation comes from within, for example following a wild trail.
The extrinsic motivation comes from outside. The dog shows its behavior because it promises an advantage. For example, the dog “makes room” in training because he expects a treat.
The motivation of the dog is particularly important in the area of training. A motivated dog works happier and more persevering. For this reason, extrinsic motivations are usually used so that the dog combines the required exercises with pleasant consequences and likes to show them.
What can dog owners use as a reward?
- Food (give food out of your hand, roll food on the floor, hide food and let it search, etc.)
- Special treats (dog liver sausage, cheese cubes, dog sausages, etc.)
- Verbal praise
- Playing with the dog handler
- Play with toys
- Throwing a fur dummy
- Race together
- Send the dog into free run / leash the dog
- Send the dog to other dogs for play
- All behaviors that are fun for the dog (sending it into the water, digging, sniffing, etc.)
The most popular reward types in the check
Food as a reward
The motivation for food is usually very effective, because it is part of the natural behavior of animals to get food. The feed does not have to be handed over rigidly, but can also be rolled over the ground, thrown into the meadow, there is work with the feed dummy or similar.
In order not to endanger the health of the dog, when using food as a reward it must be borne in mind that the dog consumes additional energy. Usually, the daily ration in the bowl covers the energy requirement. Additional rewards should therefore be included in the daily ration to avoid nutrient over-supplies. This ensures that the dog does not absorb too much energy, which is stored in fat deposits over time.
Caress as a reward
Whether petting is perceived as a reward varies from dog to dog. When romping in the forest or doing exercises in the dog area, only a few four-legged friends want to be petted, but prefer a reward in the form of food or toys. A petting unit is also not recommended in an unfamiliar environment or in other stressful situations. It could increase the discomfort.
The best way to tell whether a dog is in a cuddly mood is to observe it closely. If he reacts actively and joyfully to the pats, he signals his willingness to make contact. Carefully dosed pats at the right moment give the animal a feeling of belonging and security. However, if the dog looks away, turns its head or ducks, petting shouldn’t be the first choice in the reward list.
Verbal praise as a reward
A friendly face, a friendly voice and an open posture can motivate the dog. It has been proven that dogs react to a high, friendly voice. The verbal praise can also be used to bridge the time until the dog receives another reward, since we can always use our voice immediately, even if there is no food or toys at hand.
If the dog does not respond to verbal praise at all, it should be questioned whether too much is already spoken to the dog in everyday life or whether the pitch should be varied even more.
Game or toy as a reward
For some dogs, play is the biggest reward. This can mean playing with the dog handler (without toys) or an object-related game such as a tugging game or throwing the toy. When choosing the toy, it should be noted that it is sufficiently robust and that the dog cannot choke on it. Sticks are not suitable for throwing as a reward because the risk of injury is too high.
Other dogs find it difficult to accept a game in a training situation. Then the game should be practiced again and again in a low-distraction environment.
Rules for more motivation and right rewards
- Pay attention to your body language: do not lean over the dog and do not make any jerky movements when the dog is rewarded.
- Correct timing: reward your dog’s behavior within two seconds so that the behavior is also linked to the reward.
- Reward and not lure: Make sure that you only reveal the reward after you have behaved correctly. If you have food in your hand all the time during an exercise, the dog may not behave without food in front of your nose. With newly learned signals, food can be used to lure the dog, but should then be sneaked out.
- Needs-based reward: A reward is really a reward if it is based on the needs of the dog. You can find out more about this in the next section.
- Avoid excessive demands: Training situations can be stressful. Make sure you have a pleasant training atmosphere, do not overwhelm your dog and do several short exercises.
Rewards based on need
Your dog has just eaten and is getting a treat for a “seat”? You were able to stop your dog from hunting and he gets a petting? These may not be the appropriate rewards. The more you focus on your dog’s needs, the more your dog’s motivation will increase. Here are some examples of needs-based rewards:
- Your dog has stopped chasing → Let him chase after a thrown fur dummy
- Your dog has successfully sat down before a dog encounter and likes playing with other dogs → Let him run towards the other dog as a reward
- Your dog has successfully sat down before a dog encounter and does not like contact with other dogs → As a reward, avoid the other dog
- Your dog did not eat the horse apple → Throw a small amount of food onto the meadow, which the dog can now take
Try to identify your dog’s needs and then consciously use those needs as rewards.
Dog is not motivated?
Some dogs don’t seem to be motivated at all. Especially dogs that have not been bred to work with humans can struggle during training. If you feel that your dog cannot be motivated during training, ask yourself the following questions:
Is my dog too stressed during training to motivate me to master exercises?
Try walking at times of the day when there is less distraction, or find a less distracted area. Try dividing exercises into smaller steps and rewarding the first successes. Consult a dog trainer if you notice that you are stuck in training.
Is my body language unclear or do I appear threatening to the dog?
Try to reflect on your own body language. It can be very helpful to film yourself while training with the dog. Try not to get hectic when training and giving rewards.
Are my rewards used so far not right for my dog?
Some dogs do not accept food as a reward outside. Check the amount of food your dog has and try to give it more outdoors to work with the dog. Or use some very special treats that the dog does not get otherwise. Alternatively, it doesn’t have to be the feed – try rewarding more needs-based.
Is my dog 100% fit?
Tartar, stomach pain, a blockage in the back, arthrosis, etc. – many health problems can lead to the dog being unmotivated in everyday life. Consult your veterinarian to clarify all the causes.
Summary: More motivation through needs-based rewards
Only with the right reward can a dog be motivated at work. The preferred type of reward varies depending on the dog. But to really praise has to be learned. The most important thing is good timing, the body language of the owner and the use of need-based rewards.
It is very useful to combine the different types of reward in everyday life and during dog training and to pay attention to the individual reaction of the dog.