What motivates you to train your dog?

I have had many clients come to see me with dogs that were suffering from behavioural problems, and when the behaviour problems were under control, they moved on to training their dog for competition, instructing and getting a working line dog to compete at higher levels. They may have never intended to take this path but it seems that working through the behaviour program motivated them to take on a new direction.

I remember a young lady come to me in distress as her Border was reactive, hyper active and causing her such grief, drive was her enemy. Now though she brings him to me to INCREASE that same drive as she competes in Agility now and respects (loves) his instincts and drives.

Another is a very motivated person who came with a young but big unruly hard-headed German Shepherd that was running the asylum, now they are preparing to compete and have work that even I never thought they would be capable of.

How about the guy that calls me up and says: “I had no real interest in training, but my wife brings her dog to you and I just can’t be shown up by her anymore.”

What motivates you to train your dog?

What types of motivators are there and which category do you fall into?

Take a look at some of the more common motivators people have to train their dogs!

To relieve pressure?

Some people come to see me as they love their dog but sometimes its behaviour doesn’t allow others to see how wonderful their dog is. These behaviours might range from simple leash pulling to full blown aggression. Having their dog behave in the light the owners fell in love with can take so much pressure off a dog owner.

The laws in our country for dog management leave a lot to be desired, from breed “types” being banned to Dangerous Dog Declarations being placed on dogs for simply running up to someone, the pressure is high on dog owners to keep their dog out of trouble.

To enjoy more time with their dog?

Sometimes we go places in our social or work lives where we would love to spend that time shared between this activity and spending time with our dogs, but we may not be able to as our dog isn’t trained to a level in which bringing the dog would be acceptable or practical. It may even detract from the original purpose. So some people recognise this and are motivated to get their dog to a level in which they can bring their best friend with them most anywhere.

I helped a vet once who has his own surgery get his very dog aggressive dog rehabbed so he could bring it to work every day, before this point the dog was at home every day whilst he worked long hours. Now the dog roams around the surgery greeting the friendly dogs that come in and ignoring the nervous or reactive dogs that visit.

To reach a target?

Many people who compete with their dogs aim at goals which make them feel good, competent, fulfilled and many just enjoy doing things with their dog as a team.

To gain respect?

Many people want a well-behaved dog so they can be respected by their peers in the dog world as a good or great trainer. Some work in Government Departments and want to have their dogs performing well in the unit.

To have fun?

In some way all of the above should be under pinned by having fun, the moment your training loses the fun aspect you have lost a critical ingredient in my opinion.

I have listed this motivator “To have fun” last as I think it is the most important part of training that needs to be looked at in-depth, and I believe that it should be a strong motivator whether it is coupled with another motivator or the single motivator that drives us.

I sit here today writing this blog post after doing some training with my Belgian Malinois Nordenstamm Venom. I am sweaty and flooded with endorphins that are rushing through my brain from the sheer joy I get from training him.

He is so motivated himself and his skills are beyond even me.

Everything I introduce to him he just masters, he is like a dog that has been trained already and when I ask him “hey can you do this?” he laughs and shows me how good he is. I believe this is a combination of three things.
1.    Superb Genetics – He is a super dog, probably never met a dog that has a better genetic working package.
2.    A lot of foundation training in my training in drive puppy program – He is easy to communicate with and teach something new, he gets things in 3 reps or less. I can lift his drive to train the action and condition it solid and then I can use markers and drive to make it durable and proof it.
3.    Training is always about fun: – rewards and motivation with him, he has never received a physical correction or been trained with a correction collar of any description.

There is always a lot of laughing and smiling when I am training him, he really has never ceased to throw me back an amazing training session.

The average for him is awesome and occasionally, he throws me back a session that blows awesome away.

I don’t think that every dog can be trained without any physical corrections, and this post isn’t about training methods or politics, if this is the way your thoughts went when reading this post until now, you need to go away and have a think about what training a dog really is about.

I do believe that when a dog has learned bad or dangerous habits it may actually be dangerous to use motivational techniques only as you may not be able to provide the level of management and control long enough and if someone gets bitten your rehab plan may come to a grim end.

Venom just has an abundance of drive, both prey and food so it is pretty easy to convey what I don’t want done by communicating to him through my conditioned no reward marker that what he is doing or about to do isn’t going to pay.

He stops.

There is no reason that training methods that aren’t strictly motivational can’t be fun and rewarding for both the handler and the dog, I ensure that this remains part of my goal for every dog I work with and every client too.

Why does fun leave training?

I feel fun is often replaced by frustration and in my experience the number one cause for this is someone asking their dog to do something under a level of distraction that the dog has not been trained work through.

An example is: –

Person trains their dog to come on cue, rewards the dog for coming and the dog is doing nicely, in fact I would say that the exercise has been taught correctly.

They practice this in their back yard, practice = training and their dog has done well 50 / 50 times. They definitely have completed the training section under low distraction.

They next move to the park and their dog is playing with another perhaps, they throw out their recall cue and their dog pays no attention at all.

Frustration takes over and they begin to bellow at their dog “COME!”.

They finally catch their dog and drag it back to the car and after a few choice words and perhaps a thrashing, the dog is taken home.

What is wrong with this picture?

Well lets take a look from the dogs perspective shall we?

Me: “Hey dog why didn’t you come when called?

Dog:well Steve one day a few weeks ago, I was hanging in the backyard examining my bits and my owner came out and said come, I was already heading toward them so I figure that come means what I was doing

Me: “very intuitive dog!”

Dog: “Thanks Steve, anyway I got to them and they gave me some food, cool hey, I like this come word, it means food.”

Me: “well not exactly dog..”

Dog: “your telling me, for about 50 times they called me and fed me, I had nothing better to do as I was in my back yard so although I was getting a little tired of kibble as a treat, what’s with that Steve, would they come running for a dry cornflake? Geez…”

Anyway so it was all good. Then they took me for my regular walk to the park where I get to sniff other dogs bits and run around.

I was having such a cool time and all of a sudden I hear that word come.

Well I was already being rewarded by playing with friends and I really didn’t feel like a piece of kibble was worth leaving this game for, well that and I really was struggling with the concept of thinking about what come means whilst playing with dogs, you see Steve this was the first time I had heard that word in these surroundings.

Steve: “oh ok.”

Dog: “yeah so this turned pout to be a very valuable lesson.”

Steve: “oh what did you learn dog?”

Dog: “well the word come turned from a genuinely sweet invitation for some dry stale kibble to a very angry person that finally caught me, ended my fun with a clip around the ear.”

Steve: “ok well that’s because …”

Dog: “sorry to interrupt Steve but what I did learn is that, come doesn’t always mean food, more often it means funs over, come here so I can whack you.

Steve: “well perhaps that isn’t the message they were trying to convey.”

Dog: “but don’t worry, I have learned my lesson, I hear the word come, I run like hell away from them, that is even fun in itself, lol, they turn red and run as fast as they can, they are so slow ahhahha.”

Dogs see things very different to us, we at times give them too much credit and at other times not enough.

Try to teach your dog what you want in clear small steps.

Once your dog can do what you’re asking without having to see a treat, move to practice or training as we call it.

Run this training in low distraction environments and when it is solid, 10 / 10 reps without fail. Lift the level of distraction slightly.

Do this systematically until the dog can perform the task in the level of distraction that you will use it in.

Until you have proofed your dog under the level of distraction that you will need the behaviour shown in, use management with a leash, line or similar so you don’t give the cue and teach your dog it is s sometimes command.

An extra little tip, only teach in short but frequent sessions, perhaps 2 minutes 5 times per day. If you can’t swing that sort of time, do a 2 minute session then a 2 minute play session, do something fun as a recess. I will give Venom a cue to go over the jump for example on my field.

This will earn him a ball thrown and breaks it up so he is fresh for the next 2 minutes of thought.

Final tip, have fun, laugh, relax and smile, you will be surprised how much better training will be loved by you and your dog.

Find your motivation, or come see me, and I will find it for you, there are so many cool things you can do with your dog, even at home with pet dogs that make their lives and yours so much better.

Now, what we need you to do is comment below, tell us what motivates you, what you train your dog for and what your dog loves, what makes your dog really get motivated…

Steve Courtney and Nordenstamm Venom

About Stevek9pro

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  1. Well put Steve!
    What drives me to train my dogs is that it forges a closer bond with them and they just keep trying to please me. It energises me and is fun. My dogs love playing one on one with me, and I’ve learnt that is the best way to train them.

    You would not believe how much Boris has changed since you first met him. He loves meeting new dogs and trying new things. What a change from the dog who wanted to attack first, then ask questions. If I ask him to try something he never baulks, he just plunges in.

    Unfortunately though he has hip dysplasia now due to his years of being very overweight before coming to me. So I have to remember to not ask him to do too much. He wouldn’t dream of not trying to do what I want.

    Boris just loves the attention and doing things with me. How can anyone not be energised and love training when your dog just can’t give you enough? We do obedience and I’m the one holding him back in trialling. We had to give away agility. But he just loves Dancing With Dogs. I swear he smiles when we do our moves around the house addlibing to the radio. We even practise with other dogs all off leash!!! Bet you can’t believe that!

    Thanks Steve, none of the above would have been possible without your superb help.

    • Hey Janelle, I am really glad to hear Boris is doing so well, what an awesome job you have done with him.

      When I set up his program I really wanted him to focus on you and build that relationship, sounds like he has 🙂 Well done.

      With his HD, you should do some work on one of the Fitballs, shoot me an email and I will give you some exercises, build the muscle around the hip and he will feel and move much better.

      And I do believe he works off leash around other dogs, he never was a bad dog 🙂

      Credit to you Janelle, well done!

  2. Great post Steve. I train my dog (Rottiexdobe) because I love it and I want her to be a good ambassador for responsible dog ownership. We don’t always get it right – but we constantly try. She is willing and we both want to learn. I also love the social aspect of training – I am a member of two obedience clubs and I have made quite a few friends and we all love our dogs. I’m now motivated to get our CCD title (we got our Rally Novice this year) and see how far we can go.

    • Thanks Linda, I think getting our dogs to a level that we can promote dogs to the general public is awesome. More trained dogs need to be seen out and about to try counteract the bad press dogs get.

      Good luck with the CCD

  3. Great post Steve!

    Motivation ….. that’ something I think I have taken a bit for granted. It’s not something Bo and I have to dig very deep for! We both love training agility and playing other fun training games, tricks and exercises. Bo’s always “ready” and I so love that about him – his enthusiasm is contagious and the strong work ethic he has developed is something that I have grown to respect and admire in him. He loves to work but he has so much fun doing it (how can I not, too?) – whatever I ask of him, he’s in like Flynn, ready to have a go.

    After working through Bo’s rehab program with you, Steve, you put the idea out there that I might enjoy taking his training further with a dog sport. It’s not something that I had ever considered but I liked the idea of that and after watching Bo take the tunnel over and over again at Lisa’s, it wasn’t hard to make a decision on which dog sport might suit him and having watched Vickie P’s videos, I thought “awesome stuff – I think Bo and I could do that”. How humbling this first year of agility lessons and training has been but wow … it has been so rewarding and has helped no end in forging a stronger, more solid bond between Bo and I.

    Does anybody else lie in bed at night, replaying that day’s training session or sequence through their mind, reworking and finessing bits? God, I hope so! lol!

  4. Awesome post Steve! Funny and thought provoking too. Thanks.

    I train my dog because I want her to become a better and better working partner for me. I want to make her as reliable and skilled as possible at her job, since what we do is important. And one of the reasons I love doing that job is because it is so much fun for me seeing her do what she is bred to do. She loves her job, and seeing her work in drive is a real charge.

    Also I train her to teach her appropriate behaviour, to protect her from herself, and make her bearable to live with.

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