Performance Series – Motivating dogs 1

So, motivating dogs to offer behaviour, change behaviour, repeat behaviours and create behaviours is a big deal in todays training world.

And surprisingly, very few people know how to motivate their dogs effectively, leaving them with lack lustre, unreliable, slow dogs that often just fail the exercise often.

When I ask most people how they motivate their dogs, I am often told that their dogs are “food motivated” and that they use “positive reinforcement” to motivate their dogs.

This is not at all true, and whilst I am not going to into detail here, I am going to put some ideas forth and let you think them over.

For those that want to understand the true sources of motivation, we run Masterclasses on this topic as an introduction or in depth course.

You can find out more here (

So, here are a couple of scenarios that I want to share with you.

I walk into McDonalds kitchen and up to the kid making burgers. I ask him “how many burgers can you make in an hour“.

He says “on average about 75, why?

I say “ok cool, so, if you can make 100 burgers in the next hour, I will give you $100.00“.

He says “are you for real?” and smiles

Why is he smiling?

So we start the clock and he rips into it, working his butt off and as we approach the 30 minute mark he is told that he has 60 burgers done.

He is delighted and excited and powers on.

He is delighted and excited and powers on… Not he has not seen the $100 yet, he doesn’t have it yet, the hour is not up, but he is pretty happy.

He gets to the 1 hour mark and I stop the clock and tell him “time is up, you have made 106 burgers!

He jumps up and down in pure joy, cheering, hugging and high fiving everyone.

Again, he does not have the money, he has not seen the money, it could be in the ATM still, but he seems pretty happy…

What elements made him work harder than his average?

Positive Reinforcement? Well at this point of the story I have not given him that money yet, have I?

So I ask him if he liked my game and he says “yes, 100%“.

So I say, “lets keep going, in this next hour, I am offering $1000.00!

His eyes widen and he is wildly excited.

I say “all you have to do is make 1000 burgers and you get $1000.00!

He gets annoyed, stressed, angry even and feels defeated. He whines and tries to bargain.

I say “nope, thats the deal, go“.

He tears into the work, dropping his cooking utensils, spilling the sauce, burning his hand and by 10 minutes he walks off in a rage.

All I did was offer him more money… right?

motivating dogs

In this next scenario, its a true story actually.

Years ago, I worked with a client who has a Australian Cattle Dog, the dog was about 15 months and was human aggressive.

We worked together for a few months and he was fine to go on his own. I assume all went well.

When we moved to our current property, turns out he lives just down the road.

I messaged him and he said “pop over for a refreshment on Saturday, if I dont answer the door, come round the back, Bluey will be there“.

I agreed and hoped that Bluey had actually tamed his human aggression or I may find myself bitten lol.

I walked around the back and Bluey, who was more like a Whitey now, was 13 years old, met me with a smile. He was in fact very friendly.

I like to think he remembered me, but I doubt that is true.

Anyway, as we enjoyed our refreshment, Bluey spotted a Kangaroo down the back and shot off after it. He came wandering back, happy with himself a few minutes later.

I asked Geoff “how long has he been chasing Roo’s?

Geoff said “all his life

I said, “has he ever caught one?

Geoff “no, but he thinks today is the day!“.

He has never caught one but is STILL highly motivated to chase after them…


Scenario 3 is a dog I saw at Bunnings. I was parked in the drive through part waiting for my ticket to be checked.

A big, open area, windy, drafty place with high amounts of foot traffic and cars etc.

As I watch a guy walking through this area with his dog, about 30 metres away.

The dog lifts her head into the wind and spins around, comes running back to my car , sniffing all around. The owner runs over and calls her away, she ignores him.

He says “have you got a dog in there?

I smiled and said “always

He said “she loves dogs

So, if I asked 100 people who have been training noseworks for a couple of years, could their dog automatically find birch in this wind tunnel like area, being a new place with high distraction, 300 – 400 square metres?

If they were being truthful, they would probably say no.

But this dog can, even though no one has ever intentionally trained her, or formally rewarded her.

So again I say, many people just do not understand motivation, leaving them putting in a lot of effort, only to get a poor performance from their dogs.

Before embarking on teaching any exercises or learning any sport, my advice is to learn about how to motivate your dog.

If your showing your dog food or a toy so the dog has value for you, something is wrong.

If you need a leash to keep your trained dog with you at training, something is wrong.

If you need to administer harsh leash corrections for performance work, something is wrong.

Unlock your dogs inner power and commitment and channel that into engagement with you.

A dog that is motivated can easily learn engagement is necessary to access success.

With engagement you can teach anything.

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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