We often hear people yelling at their animals – “SIT!!”, “DOWN!!” -, often with no success.
My question to these people is always… why? Why should your animal do what it is you’re asking? The answer always seems to be, “Because I said so.” While I can understand where this statement is coming from, we must understand what lies behind motivation.
Rarely do we as humans ever do anything without motivation of some form. We don’t just run around doing what our boss at work tells us to do for no reason. The job gets done, and hopefully done well, because we are getting paid and because we want to move up and get promoted. Everything we have ever done was done for some reason – some motivation is always involved, no matter how it seems. A funny yet true video from the series Friends describes this “phenomenon” perfectly (if not a bit to the extreme):
How does this relate to animals? Well, there is always a reason for their actions! There is always some form of motivation, even if it is negative in your eyes. If they are ignoring you, the motivation could be a distraction that seems more appealing to them than you in that moment. That could be because you are always yelling at them or not giving them a reward that makes their efforts worth it.
Do you know that feeling when you are shopping or out and about with someone who really gets on your nerves? You take every opportunity to get distracted by something, distance yourself from them, change the subject and so on, just so you won’t have to be with them or focus on them for one more minute. That is how our animals can feel when they don’t relate to our training “methods” – for lack of a better word.
That is why there is nothing wrong with giving a treat when they did something right. Not just any treat – and not just some dried Kibble (that is what they eat anyway all the time… get creative!). Find a treat that makes the difference between $5 and $50 for us humans. Wouldn’t you just leap at the chance to do something for $50 dollars versus $5? It makes a difference.
It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, but put some effort into finding what makes your pet tick and which reward gets them motivated the most. Do they prefer playing with a favorite toy? A certain kind of food treat? Vocal reward (“Good boy!!!!”)? Just like humans, animals have different motivations. For dogs, go buy some biscuits or dog treats that are different from dry kibble and you will notice the difference immediately. Although dry kibble works as a treat technically, the training will take so much longer and the results won’t be as good and snappy as with a good reward. It is important to always remember to use a treat as a reward and not a bribe.
I hope this helps and maybe even motivates you to try something new! What is your animal’s favorite reward? Tell me all about it in the comments below!