It's poetic to think that dogs want to please us, but the reality is that dogs really just want to please themselves. In fact, there are two primary factors that motivate a dog to do something: To earn a reward or to avoid a punishment. When training a dog we should be setting up our dogs for success so they earn a yummy piece of food rather than punishing them for getting it wrong. Wouldn't you like a pat on the back or a little bonus in your check instead of being chided by your boss?
Food is a very powerful motivator for training dogs, but not all food is created equal. The quality and amount of food can have a direct effect on behavior. Animals work harder for more tasty (and smelly) foods. Also, if given a choice, animals prefer several small bits of food to one large bit of food, even if they both add up to the same amount. This is because the act of engaging in eating is itself very reinforcing. For instance, your dog's kibble or dry biscuits may work in the house when there are little or no distractions. Those dry morsels might be equivalent to a $10 an hour job for us. But once we step outside we have to give our dogs a "raise". In the yard or driveway maybe $20 an hour (e.g. commercial training treats, string cheese) will work. On a walk in an uncrowded space we may have to pay $50 an hour (e.g. stinky cheeses, hot dogs, liver, peanut butter), but a crowded event or visitors to the house requires us to shell out the big bucks!: Chicken, beef, sausage, spray cheese = $100 an hour.
Follow these tips* to help make your training more valuable to your dog:
The bottom line: Food is a motivator, just like your paycheck. You wouldn't do a difficult job for minimum wage. Why expect your dog to?
* Excerpted from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI