Finding Motivators for Picky Dogs

It’s been quite the change between Loker and Clark. Loker eats pretty much everything I give him. Clark, on the other hand, is extremely picky. For example, I chopped up some hotdogs the other day to see if he would eat them during our training session. I was pretty hopeful that this would beat his usual favorite, string cheese. I walk over to him, drop one on the floor in front of him. He sniffs it, licks it, picks it up in his mouth, and then spits it out! I was left speechless because Loker would have inhaled it in less than a second. I mean, what kind of dog spits out a free piece of hotdog???

This blog post is dedicated to all those out there who have trouble motivating their dogs. I realize that I am very lucky that Clark will at least work for string cheese, but compared to Loker, it has definitely been an adjustment!

Unexpected Motivators

With Clark, I was lucky enough that his breeder started him on string cheese. It must bring back fond memories and feelings for him. When she would work with him and his litter mates on conformation, she’d have a pocket full of string cheese. She was right to start teaching him how to work for food and play at an early age. She is the ONLY reason I got Clark. I knew he’d come from a home that had socialized him with all sorts of noise, people, dogs, and objects before I even met him. Many dogs don’t get this kind of start at life and it can be a bit harder to motivate them to work if they hadn’t been exposed to it early – especially if they aren’t particularly motivated to begin with. Let’s look at some daily activities that dogs usually look forward to and thus can be used as motivators:

  • Going outside
  • Feeding
  • Chasing squirrels, rabbits, or other rodents
  • Meeting friends (human or canine)
  • Jumping in pool/lake/water
  • Putting on leash to go for a walk

When using unusual motivators to reinforce polite behaviors, you are essentially using the Premack Principle. In laymen terms, it’s the “eat your veggies before dessert” principle. Do something you don’t necessarily enjoy before doing something you do enjoy. I’ve heard many successful training stories that resulted from using this simple concept. One that comes to mind recently is one where the dog voluntarily opened her mouth to swallow a pill before receiving dinner. This principle can be used to teach loose leash walking, waiting at door ways, and coming when called.

Example: Coming When Called

One example I’ve used with Loker is coming when called when he wants to chase a squirrel. First, I have him on a long 20ft leash before the opportunity presents itself. Then, when he sees the squirrel I ask him to come with lots of encouragement. As he comes towards me, I continue to encourage him and when he gets to me, I say “good boy” and “Ok!” to let him know he can chase the squirrel. After a few reps, he knows he can work through me to get to what he wants.

In what ways have you used the Premack Principle in your training? Share below!