Changing Motivators: How Do you Motivate An Unmotivated Dog?

Last night, during Rally Obedience class, Odin was a little off his game. He was tired from a day of play, full from gorging himself with stolen snacks (freeze dried liver. Yum!), and it was around 85 degrees during class. He was sluggish, unmotivated, and not driven to partake in the classes activities. I knew that I would need to change up his motivation in order to get him reinvested in the game. The happy voices that I usually use to help motivate him fell on deaf ears and he was full of stolen treats so his regular training treats were of no interest to him. When your dog is not motivated to perform or train using their usual motivators what do you do? If we were at home rather than in class, I would have given him a pass on training for the day. However, since we were not home and in a training class I was going to need to change up his motivators in order for him to complete the training and the rally course. How do you motivate an unmotivated dog?

There were three things I did to help motivate and encourage Odin to perform and train in class.

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  1. Take a Break
    • Sometimes your dog may just need a quick break to reset. I gave Odin 5 minutes of chill out time which included belly rubs and playing tug of war with his rope. Just like we may need study or work breaks, dogs may need a quick break in order to re-engage. Giving your dog time to relax and play will make training become fun again.
  2. Increase the Food Reward
    • You may need to increase the value of their treat or try a different type. Just like how we would not want to eat pizza all day every day, dogs do not want to have the same treats day after day. Try changing up their treats or try something of higher value. Since Odin was ignoring his regular training treats, I upgraded him to bits of hotdog. Once he knew I had this high value treat, he become re-focused and motivated to work again because his reward was of higher value.
  3. Use Toys as Reinforcement   
    • You don’t always need to use food to train. Toys can be used in a similar fashion. If your dog is more playful than hungry, then toys will be more motivating to work for. Toss the toy or play a quick game of tug as a reward for behaviors rather than treats. This is another thing I used to re-motivate Odin to work. Since he is very ball focused, I can use his tennis ball to re-engage him and motivate him into working if he knows the ball will be his reward.

If your dog isn’t going for their normal motivators, making a few adjustments can go a long way. Trying taking breaks, changing up their treats, or use toys as reinforcement. Changing up motivators can make your training more enjoyable and rewarding for both you and your dog.

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