When I was a resident at U of Penn, my husband had a Harley Davidson, Screaming Eagle Electroglide. It was a fancy, bright blue motorcycle with orange striping. He loved it and I hated it. I completely supported his decision to own and ride it, but I wasn’t getting on.
He tried all kinds of tactics. "It is no more dangerous than getting on that crazy horse of yours and going on a trail ride through the hills of Pennsylvania by yourself," he said. "No." I said.
"I would love for you to come on a scenic ride with my Harley friends. I would love to spend some special time with you. It is wonderful to feel the wind in your face." he tried. "No. No. No." I replied.
Then one day, he called me down to the driveway where the bike was parked. On the back of the bike was an open box, which I later learned was called a sportpack. All he said was, "It fits three shoe boxes."
Now, you have to understand that as a resident I didn’t make any money, so my shoe shopping hobby was put on the back burner. Well, I got on that motorcycle and I went shoe shopping. My husband had found my currency. What I was willing to risk my life for was … shoes.
If you are going to motivate your puppy, you had better know his currency. If you like to hand out kibble as treats, that is fine, but don’t expect your puppy to work really hard for them in stressful or new situations. For most pups, the treat value hierarchy looks something like this:
- Meats, cheeses, peanut butter
- Freeze dried treats and soft treats
- Crunchy biscuit style treats
Now, I have patients who work very hard for Brussels sprouts and broccoli. It is up to you to find what your pup really likes and harness it for your training sessions. Save the super special rewards for the extra hard tasks. If your pup sits on your first request and does it about 90 percent of the time, you can most likely use low value rewards like crunchy treats or kibble to reward sitting. On the other hand, if your pup is having a hard time with impulse control behaviors, like being quiet when a dog walks into your house, you should use higher value rewards such as chicken or low fat cheese to reward him in those situations.
You can even vary up the rewards in one training session. Make sure to have a large enough treat bag that you can fit a couple of snack bags with treats inside. Then, depending on the task, you can reward with the appropriate treat.
For some dogs, the end-all isn’t treats, but instead are toys or some other reward. When I took Maverick to dog class last night, I had cheese, peanut butter, freeze dried liver treats, soft treats, and organic hot dogs. Still, I could see what his real currency was: the opportunity to play with other dogs. So, I made sure that before he played with his Viszla friend, he sat first. Next week, he will have to sit and make eye contact before he plays with her.
If your pup loves to run in the backyard, stand at the back door and ask him to sit or lie down. When he completes the task, throw the door open and let him run outside to play. If your pup is toy motivated, reserve his favorite toy for the new tasks that you are teaching him. If you are working on down, when your pup brings the ball back, take the ball, ask him to lie down, and then throw the ball.
Make a list today of all the things that your pup likes and where you think those things rank in his doggie brain. Would he get on a motorcycle for that reward? Would he overcome his fear for that reward? If so, put those rewards at the top. If not, place them on the bottom. If you don’t know what your pup finds rewarding, spend a couple of days trying some things out and just observing him. You will find out what he likes. Then, harness those rewards and reap the benefits as your dog works hard for you.
Dr. Lisa Radosta