Pet Tips

What Drives Your Dog – Pet tip 207

When it comes to understanding dog behaviour in an attempt to modify it for training and/or obedience purposes, we quickly come to the term of a dog’s ‘drive’. What we are referring to here is what motivates a dog. By exploring a dog’s drive, we can use this to our advantage during training. Different dogs have different drives and different breeds of dogs have different drives. Despite the differences though, most dogs have two very strong and important drives; the food drive and the prey drive.

Most people know about a dog’s food drive as most dogs are highly motivated by food. Even though many domestic dogs have their food dishes out all day long, offer them something just slightly different and you can normally command their full attention. When using food as a reward for training a couple of pointers can help;

  • It helps if the dog is a bit hungry as this will get the dog even more motivated to learn. Training before feeding is therefore recommended.
  • Although this is hard for some dog owners, the food reward can only be given once a task has been successfully completed. You can’t feel sorry for the dog and give in as this interferes with the learning process.
  • Once the task has been completed, give the dog the food treat immediately.

The prey drive is another drive that you can use to your advantage when trying to train your dog. Not all dogs have strong prey drives but many do. If your dog does have a strong prey drive, then you can focus on this as the motivator instead of food. This type of drive has the added advantage of not getting your dog too used to the food reward which can cause the dog to gain weight if given excessively. Normally a dog with a strong prey drive is highly motivated to play chasing games or fetch games with objects like balls or Frisbees. You can use these rewards much in the same way as a food reward. Let’s say you are trying to teach your dog the sit command. Once the dog successfully sits you can say ”good dog” and immediately throw the ball or Frisbee. A good pointer if you’d like to try this method is to only use the dog’s favorite ball or toy during the actual training session and not leave it out for the dog to always play with. In this way, the dog won’t get bored of the toy and it will become a more valuable motivator. Another tip is to have a second ball or Frisbee to show the dog. That way you can show it to the dog and as he’s dropping the first object you can say “leave it” and this teaches the dog another command.

If your dog has both the prey drive and the food drive, it might make sense to vary the two from time to time. This might make the training sessions more interesting for your dog. As always, if you are having trouble with training it’s a good idea to seek the advice of your vet or a professional dog trainer.

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