Motivating and rewarding your dog during training is an important part of the training process. It’s not uncommon for dogs to be motivated by different things – some dogs go nuts over toys, others will do anything for a treat, and some are looking for a physical or verbal reward from their owner. Whatever it is that gets your dog excited, we encourage you to use it!
The whole point of using a motivator or reward is to help make the teaching and learning process easier and more fun, however, these same rewards and motivators can sometimes inhibit your dog’s learning process. Louie, one of my personal dogs, loves toys and I constantly use toys when I work him but – I cannot teach him anything with a toy.
He is so intense for the toy that he often checks out and zones in completely on the toy. He start jumping for it, starts offering behaviors, often barks and whines, and is very fast when a toy is involved; this is not the right state of mind for a dog to be in when learning something new. After a new skill has been taught to Louie, we can start to bring the toy back into the equation and use it to speed him up or extend the skill but it’s completely useless and actually makes the teaching process more difficult.
If your dog has a similar reaction to their motivators and rewards, it may be necessary to use something that is less important to your dog. For example, I use treats when teaching Louie because it’s enough of a motivator to add value to the training process without sending him into a crazy state of mind. You also may have to scale back your verbal praise or use food that is a bit less tasty to your dog. Whatever the specific case is for your dog, continue to make sure that your motivators and rewards are helping your training, not hurting it.