What does your dog get excited about? Food, walks, greeting people? Every dog adores something, often to its owner’s dismay. Chasing squirrels, digging in the dirt, jumping all over the furniture, you name it!
My question is this: why is it that so many of these dogs’ favorite activities translate to trouble? I have found through many training experiences that often the best way to make a breakthrough with a difficult or “stubborn” dog is by engaging him/her by offering their favorite activity as the reward for their participation in training!
One particularly unique example of this approach involved a client with a young, male beagle. This pup, whom I affectionately called “the nose,” had a strong affinity for the scent of urine. He spent the first 2 weeks in a group class with his nose super glued to the floor. Finally, we agreed to meet for a private session. I decided that rather than stress about this Beagle’s obsession with canine “p-mail,” we’d use it to reward him for eye contact on command, sitting and staying. We held him on a 4-ft leash and stood 10 feet from a frequently visited fire hydrant. We kept our training requests simple at first, then gradually made them more challenging when he was ready, but the process was simple:
Beagle does something we perceive as “good” –> we announced our approval with “yes” and then rewarded him by saying “go sniff!” and walking him to the fire hydrant for 5-15 seconds of sniffing, depending on the level of difficulty in the skill he performed (you could say we varied the size of the ‘paycheck’, for how much work he put into it). To the shock and awe of my client, their beagle began to learn and engage for training exercises in his group class. While most students used treats, this owner would point to any surface a few feet away and say “go sniff” to reward their dog. By the end of the group program, this client’s dog went from most distracted to “most improved.” Five years later, I still talk about this beagle to clients who complain about their dog’s vices. It’s always refreshing to see them discover how their dog’s “bad” behaviors can be controlled and recreated to create many more good behaviors!
The goal is to find what motivates your dog and use that to engage him/her in training. Not all dogs are impressed by treats. Once you learn what is highly motivating for your dog, training will become much easier. What is your dog’s favorite activity, or reward?