Harnessing Your Dog’s Motivation

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What’s My Motivation?

Successful positive reinforcement begins with discovering what motivates your dog. Whether it’s food, toys or real-life rewards like sniffing a favorite tree, the common denominator is that good motivators encourage learning and participation because they are things your dog enjoys. Providing anything your dog finds rewarding helps establish a more enjoyable learning environment and aids in building and maintaining a mutually trusting canine-human relationship.

You bought your new dog walking harness so you could start enjoying adventures with your dog. That’s a great first step! But getting out and about is much more fun with a dog who listens to you and behaves politely in any environment. That requires taking your positive reinforcement to the next level.

What’s a Reward?

In short, a reward is anything your dog wants. But context matters! If your dog has just had a big dinner, your treats might not be worth as much as a game of tug or fetch. If you’ve got fresh salami in your pocket, the opportunity to greet a new person might not feel as rewarding to your dog as to staying right by your side with their nose glued to your hip.

Helpful Hints for Motivating Your Adventuring Dog Around Distractions

Food suggestions: Use foods that are soft, easy to chew, easy to cut up and those that your dog really enjoys. We emphasize the phrase “small, soft, stinky” — try dog food rolls, any lean meats your dog is allowed to have, cheese or soft jerky. There are many options nowadays. It’s a good idea to check with your dog’s veterinarian to make sure your dog is eating a healthy diet.

Use a variety of treats and rewards. Novelty is also important! Use new or unfamiliar rewards when training or when you’re in areas with increased distractions.

Remember to incorporate rewards other than food in your training. You can use things like fuzzy toys, a squeaky ball, a game of fetch, playing tug or being allowed to “say hello” to another person or dog (as long as they’re OK with it!). If you’re out on a hike, reward your dog’s attentiveness by releasing them to go investigate a fascinating smell or sound. The TransPaw Gear dog walking harness is made to offer this kind of freedom and flexibility.

Make a list of rewards your dog really loves – and think outside the treat cupboard; toys, games, petting, and access to coveted spaces like the couch can all be powerful motivators for your dog. Be creative when making your list. Remember to look at what’s rewarding from your dog’s point of view, not your own. For some dogs, just the sight of your hand reaching for their dog walking harness becomes a reward, and the activity that follows is just a bonus. Happy adventuring!

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