Find the right motivator

Training is about capitalising on the fact that dogs and cats will do what works for them. So for example if they want food, you can use that to motivate a behaviour.

The tricky part is that it’s the dog or cat that chooses what is motivating, or reinforcing, to them. To help us work out what might be valuable, think about what a dog or cat needs to survive (primary reinforcer, such as food, water) and what might be nice to have (such as play, affection).

Within that there’s also different levels of value. Just like we are motivated to do different things for different reasons – some days love is enough, sometimes you want chocolate or money – depending on your dog or cat, their current mood, the environment (at home or under high distraction), and where you are at in the training plan (new behaviour versus proofing), different values of motivator will give different results. Plain kibble might be great for a ‘sit’ at home, while cabanossi might be needed for recall at the dog park.

It’s also possible to have something too-high value, where the dog or cat just loses their mind and throws every trick at you to try get the motivator. They can be so focussed on the motivator they lose the ability to listen, like Winston with Popcorn Chicken!

And you know how sometimes you’re so stressed not even chocolate will work to get you going? Dogs and cats in a highly fearful or aroused state may not perform for something that was previously enough payment. They again are so focussed on the fear or source of excitement they lose the ability to listen. The kitty pictured might normally come to ham, but right now he’s so defensive its not working – not even the whole slice thrown at him will bring him out of the corner. Depending on the scenario, behaviours can be taught first at lower levels (pre arousal) and built from there.

If you know what motivators work and what triggers arousal, you’ve set a great base to start working all kinds of fun, and building a great relationship with your dog or cat.

Call me, I can help.

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