How does one identify what motivates a dog to play or to learn?

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There’s a difference between rewarding your dog and motivating him to play or learn. It’s a subtle difference, but motivating means creating an environment where the dog has a desire to perform an exercise.

There are four ways to motivate, and which method you choose will depend upon such things as your dog’s temperament, genetic drive, your relationship or bond with the dog and your experience and skill.

These are the motivators:

• Food: Almost every dog likes a treat, but it really needs to be something of value to the dog. If you give her something that she really doesn’t like, you won’t have a very successful session. It’s also better, obviously, if the dog is a little hungry; not so hungry as to distract her, but enough to make her want that food!

Worried that your dog will become overweight? There are plenty of healthy, low-calorie snacks that your dog might love; see our post on “Healthy Foods.”

• Toys: This is especially effective for dogs with large prey drives, as those breeds can be motivated by chasing moving objects. Dogs bred to hunt, such as terriers, have intense instincts. Before you employ this method, be sure your dog is very clear on the rules—no growling, snapping or holding onto the toy.
• Praise: Dogs generally love to please their owners, but obviously this method works best if you have a strong bond with your pet.
• Force: Sometimes a dog has no prey drive or doesn’t care about food or praise, so corrections will be used to get the dog to do what you want. This, frankly, is a terrible method of training and, chances are, your relationship with your dog will go down the tubes.

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