Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Working With Low Motivated Dogs

People often ask me, how can I get such a good performance from a beagle. It seems like all over the world there are still instructors that will tell you that there are certain breeds you cannot work with. Naturally, I disagree.

Some breeds are easily motivated, you just show them a ball or a treat and they will work for hours. And with some breeds, like beagles, you need to work on their motivation and concentration. I think they are just too smart to work for nothing.

To work with a low motivated dog you must first motivate YOURSELF. You have to be really interesting and fun for the dog. There are some pieces of advice even I can give you to help you become more interesting for the dog, but, naturally, you will have to do all the actual work yourself. Because, to be honest, to get good performance from a dog you need to work regularily, no excuses.

I will add more tips when I think of them (there is so much to say about this topic), and you are welcome to post questions and your own solutions regarding this subject.

1.) Keep your lessons short and fun
I never work with Xsara so long that she would get bored. I finish when she is having the best time so she always wants more.

2.) Use multiple rewards
If your dog is food crazy, use very good treats for jackpot and plain dry food for regular work. If he is toy crazy, involve some play in the work. Let your dog know what was "OK" and what was "WOW" performance.

3.) Reward with your voice
Don't just tell him he's a good boy - get really excited when you praise your dog. They can tell if you're not giving it all, you know!? So if you're not - why should he?

4.) Always finish on a good note
End all your lessons with something your dog does really well. If you're teaching a new trick and somewhere in the middle of your training session he really gets it well, give him the jackpot reward and finish your lesson there. If the new trick isn't going so well, finish with something he always does well (sit, shake, kiss, etc). Make him feel smart and confident, dogs love that.

5.) Don't give a command if you know he's not listening
Before giving a command, get his attention. Every time you give a command and he doesn't do it, you're telling him it's OK to do it the third or the fourth time you say it. Make eye contact with him before giving the command and say it clearly. The same goes about recalling your dog when walking him off leash - don't call him if you know he's not comming on first call.

6.) Talk to your dog
May sound funny but I think our dogs love to learn about us. They are our personal little stalkers. If you talk to your dog, it will be easier for him to understand your tone of voice when you're frustrated or happy and so on. It helps to communicate better.

7.) Teach your dog tricks
I can't even begin to tell you how important tricks are. Apart from being fun, they help your dog remain fit, they occupy his brain and really improve your communication. They help you understand the way your dog thinks. And with every trick your dog learns, the next one will be easier.

8.) Search for new stimulations
If your dog is food driven, teach him to love to play, and vice versa. The work is so much easier if you can use different rewards and you will be able to keep his concentration longer.

9.) Make a plan
Before teaching a new command to your dog, think about how you are going to do it. Divide the work in little steps, easy enough for the dog to understand. Make him feel really smart when he gets it.

10.) Respect your dog
You know he's got teeth too and he doesn't use them to chew on you. So the same goes for you - NO HITTING!!!! There are other ways to tell him "no" - sometimes you really need to tell him "no" for his own safety. If the plain "no" doesn't do it, you can put him in a long "down" or even close him in his crate and leave him alone for a while. Just no cruelty, please!

11.) Be the source of all the fun
Don't leave the toys lying around. Toys are no fun if you're not playing with your dog, too. Play with your dog and then put the toy away. Feed him with the clicker, you can take an amount of his regular meal out on your walk and try working with distractions (just remember how much you have already fed him). Low motivated dogs don't work for you, they work because it's fun (some people say they only work if they want to). So you really need to make everything about you look like fun (or in other words - make them want to).

There is so much more, so I will add to this article regularily. Feel free to post a comment!