Magnificent Motivation Training
Tip 1: WARM UP & TRANSITIONS
You have your training plan ready and you know what you want to work on today, fab! Before commencing, ensure your dog has had a good warm up, both physically and mentally. We need to be sure our dogs are focussed and switched on before trying to train a specific skill. We love focus games such as; boundary games, magic hand, middle, orientate back to me, nose touches to name a few! We also love warm up exercises such as; leg weaves and left and right spins to increase arousal.
Quick, clear and concise transitions are key to keeping motivation high.
We’ve spoken about this before, but its important to mention this again! Have everything ready to go before starting your training session-this is key! Your dog should either be in a crate or on a bed, and you should have your rewards ready to go and accessible. Once you are ready, release your dog and immediately commence the exercise. Manipulate the environment so your dog’s crate/bed is close to where you want to train.
Transitions also include the end of training the exercise and what happens in between this and heading back to the crate or bed. Keep your dog’s focus by playing games that will get you from the work area back to their rest area.
If you become stuck with an exercise, or maybe you have lost your way during a handling sequence, if you stop to ponder, your dog is then left to wonder. This is a fantastic way to deminish motivation, so don’t let it happen! If you need to stop to gather yourself, before anything else, take your dog back to their crate/bed first. This also goes for those times when you are receiving feedback from your coach or training partner. Pop your dog back on their bed/in their crate first and then listen in.
Training Tip 2: CONFIDENCE
Remember when you learnt a new skill? When you first learnt that skill because it was new, you took it slow to begin with because; A: you wanted to get it right and B: you didn’t yet have the confidence to do it quickly. This is the same for our dogs.
Dogs that are unmotivated often lack confidence and need a boost. What can happen is that we increase the difficulty of a skill too quickly or ask for too much in a tricky environment and our dogs find it hard, by showing this they may slow down or they may even become unfocussed. This isn’t a naughty dog who doesn’t listen, this is a dog who is desperate to get it right but lacks the confidence in that situation.
Keep things achievable and FUN for your dog! Don’t always test, test, test! Can you imagine what it would be like if every day you attended school you had to complete an exam! You wouldn’t find learning all that fun at all!
Ping pong between skill building and going back over the easy levels. Build those blocks of learning slowly, ensuring the foundation is sturdy and secure.
Training Tip 3: SHORT, SWEET & REWARDING
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Disney World what an AMAZING place! So many fun rides, so much excitement! Its an incredible experience but we aren’t there forever, the experience is longed for and then over with so quickly. Now imagine if you went to Disney World every day. You saw Mickey and Minnie Mouse every day, you went on all the rides every day. Now how would you feel about Disney World? You’d find it a pretty boring place, right?!?!
Think of your training sessions as Disney World for your dogs! Boost the excitement and motivation by keeping your sessions short, leaving your dog wanting more! Vary what you train, so that your dog doesn’t get bored doing the same things day in, day out!
Reward LOTS! And we mean that! Don’t be stingy! Build lots of value in the skill you are teaching so you dog pairs amazing things with that skill. If you take the time to build reinforcement history with the skills you teach your dog, your dog will get to the point where they simply cannot wait to perform the skill! This is the type of MOTIVATION we are talking about!! The beautiful thing is, you can transfer the value of the reinforcement to the skill itself, so the skill in itself becomes the reward! Wow!
Training Tip 4: MOVEMENT
Put simply, dogs who lack motivation should be on the move! Your training plan should tip in the scales of balance of movement based behaviours, rather than static and impulse control type behaviours.
Movement increases excitement and arousal, this is pinnacle to boosting MOTIVATION!
Behaviours such as spins, leg weaves, race to dead toy, restrained recalls are great, to name a few! There are so many more! Go to town with movement!
For those who train in agility; don’t over do the startline wait! Only ask for one when you REALLY need one…and to be honest that is really only in competition! When completing an exercise in training, we will either ask our dog to wrap a barrel or cone before obstacle number one, or we will start our dog from a boundary bed or crate. Startline waits can really hamper motivation, only use one when needed.
Training Tip 5: BE AWARE OF ACCIDENTAL PUNISHMENT
So something went wrong; you didn’t quite get the agility sequence right, your dog didn’t quite understand what skill you were asking for. You sigh, shrug your shoulders, show your disappointment. This CAN be punishing to our dogs, even though it isn’t what we traditionally think of as punishment as it isn’t obvious, but it is to our dogs. If we are doing this a ton, 3 guesses what can happen to our dog’s motivation…..
Be aware of yourself when training. So it went wrong, stop, ask your dog to perform a behaviour they find easy and love, reward them and reset or head back to their bed or crate so you can re-think.
Success in your training all comes back to your planning! We love the DOG TRAINING TRAFFIC LIGHTS our friends from Absolute Dogs have come up with. ALWAYS have this in your mind!
About the Author: Lauren Langman is responsible for the design and development of all Devon Dogs classes, events and workshops. She competes in Agility at Grade 7, the highest rank of competition in the British agility arena. She regularly competes and wins at top agility events in the UK including Crufts and Olympia, and has represented the UK at World Agility Championship level on many occasions.