What Motivates Your Dog?

hound mix with one blue eye and one brown eye

I’m a woman of mystery. Can you figure out what motivates me?

Rewarding Your Dog

You can train a dog without treats. But you can’t train a dog without knowing what makes her willing to do what you ask.

Honey is easy. A morsel of turkey hot dog, a piece of cheese, or even a sliver of apple are a terrific reward for walking by my side, staying in one spot, or waiting to cross the street. If they’re not available, a quick game of tug or fetch with a stick found on the ground works too.

But we have a new canine houseguest. What motivates Miss Chérie?

Getting to Know You

Chérie is a foster pup from the Tompkins County SPCA. We’re charged with building her confidence. And, if I can teach her one or two good behaviors to take to her permanent home, I’d be thrilled.

But Chérie isn’t Honey. She can’t eat a tidbit while she’s walking by my side. And while she’s happy to eat a stinky peanut butter treat, it doesn’t drive her to do something she wouldn’t do anyway.

Chérie likes toys. I think she’ll blossom into a tugging champion and award-winning destuffer in her new home. But toys don’t motivate her in a training situation.

But I’ve figured out what rocks Chérie’s world. And it makes her a trainer’s dream.

Just Love Me

Hound mix in the garden

Yep, I like following my nose in the garden. But if you’re offering, I’ll be right by your side for a little lovin’.

Chérie wants nothing more than attention and affection. I was worried that by jumping up on the exercise pen we’re using to keep her from playing with Honey, Chérie might injure her surgical wound. So every time she jumped up, I turned my back on her. She’s been four-on-the floor for two days now. Good girl!

Honey has a great recall. We’ve been using liverwurst and chicken breast to reinforce it lately.

But Chérie will come with a little coaxing and the promise of scratchies under her chin.

And although I’ve been told to keep Chérie from playing roughly for the week following her spaying, she’s dying to jump and wrestle with Honey. What could I ever do that’s more satisfying than playing bitey face with a playful Golden Retriever?

How about cuddling on the couch?

If the pups stop wrestling when I ask them, Honey gets a yummy and Chérie sits on my lap for ten minutes of massage.

I’m amazed that it’s working. I still keep them separated by a physical barrier when my attention is split. But I’m able to give them more and more free time together.

Training Chérie

I hope I’m able to meet Chérie’s adoptive family. Because I know a secret.

She won’t sit for cheese. Or walk by your side for a bite of hot dog. But if you caress her ears or rub her under her chin, she’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.

What motivates your dog? How long did it take you to find the key?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. That liverwurst tip goes a loooooong way with Delilah, but it’s not everything. I still wish I could figure out exactly HOW to motivate my dogs.

    Yesterday in the field there was a woman with her dogs, while my dogs didn’t tear off to greet the dogs I couldn’t budge them from their spots to follow me onto the trail.

    I’m so glad you figured out what motivates Cherie, maybe I’ll just swap you one dog for her and you can work with mine and then give it back? I’ll work Cherie off leash, does that sound good? :-)

    • The other thing that motivates Honey is being with her pack. She’s not an independent explorer by any means. So when we’re walking off leash, I’ll periodically walk away from her or hide behind a tree so she doesn’t take me for granted.

      I could never have done that with Shadow. She’d just wander off following her nose. :)

      So we don’t only have to Be the Dog, we have to Know the Dog. Of course, since they don’t talk, that can take a lifetime. :)

  2. Amen! Once you figure out what things (emphasis on the S) motivates your dog, you are well on your way to having a well behaved dog. What motivates a dog not only depends on what the dogs likes, or dislikes, but also what’s going on in their lives at the moment. On hot days, water and Ice motivates my dogs, opening the door to get relief is a motivator for my dog, greeting other dogs is a motivator, sniffing on a walk… I think you get the point! BE aware and use it to your advantage!

    • Great tips, Erin. Yes, you are so right that we can’t get stuck on one motivator. Because dogs like people have different moods and different needs.

      I’m very motivated by chocolate chip cookies. Except when I’m seasick. :)

  3. Once you have found a dog’s motivation – or currency, as Zak George likes to say – the possibilities are endless. It’s great you clued in to Chérie’s so quickly!

    Everyone knows Shiva is utterly food obsessed. It’s her biggest motivator but it is also her biggest distractor. When we first brought her home we actually couldn’t use food to train her at all for the first few weeks. It just made her too crazy to concentrate. Back then, and I find this hard to believe now, praise was actually the only thing she would work for. Like Chérie, she craved affection. It’s how we taught her to sit and how we taught her to be calm in front of open doors. Sadly, this didn’t last long. Once she figured out she was with us for the long haul, she started hankering for the good stuff!

  4. awww this is so precious! I get my dog tomorrow… it’s going to be fun learning what makes him tick!

  5. I love this part of the journey. Food works for our dogs, but it varies on their intensity and I don’t use it for everything. I also use giving attention and affection depending on the circumstances, their moods, my mood. And sometimes toys work, but those are under different circumstances, like brushing Brut.

    I think it is so cool that you made that connection with a Cherie and watched her come to life. I’m so glad she going to get a good start to life by being with you first Pamela. What gift for Cherie.

    Isn’t it just fascinating how two different species can come together and try to figure out what the other is saying? Always very cool.

  6. That’s so great that you found her key! And even greater that you’re fostering her. I’ve heard so much about the Tompkins County SPCA, somehow it escaped me that you are right there and foster with them! Sounds like a great place.

    Fortunately my current crew is pretty food-motivated…a nice bit of hot dog can break even their intense stares at other dogs on walks:)

  7. My dogs are people foodies. But the police dogs I’ve watched training will do anything if a game of fetch will follow. My dogs want food rewards for fetching. Dogs are all so different. That’s why one method of training does not fit all.

  8. There are dogs that do stuff for praise and an ear massage? Come on guys! You should get those for FREE! because you’re a dog and that’s your right to get massages and cuddles! and be told you’re a good dog at least once every 5 minutes! I do not get out of bed for anything less than food. Bananas and peanut butter are the best. Just sayin’

    Regards, Georgia x

  9. I guess that Chérie is well named!

    Elka is very food motivated. She’s also getting fairly toy-motivated, squeaky toys specifically. She used to just get far too out of her mind excited if I produced a toy as an “If you do this….” reward, but she’s gotten a lot steadier. And I have a little-dog sized squeaker toy that I’m using to work on heel with her (Well, heeling on my left. She already does pretty well on my right).

  10. Food motivates Cosmo! Any kind of dog food or treat, but the stinkier the better. He’ll also do pretty much anything for a carrot.

    We just started training in Nose Work. Seems he’ll sniff out anything for a shot at a tasty morsel! haha!

  11. Fortunately food has motivated all my dogs, but I was at a loss of what to use for my parrot who wasn’t interested in any food rewards I had. He did love head scritches though so that worked well until I finally found the one food reward that he loves.

    Hope Cherie gets to wrestle with Honey soon!

  12. How nice that Cherie will come just for the promise of a scratch.
    Toby is my foodie. You can drop a dried up piece of carrot and Toby’s there. He’ll also work for toys. Any toy. Praise…? Affection? Nope. He could care less.

    Leah prefers to work for her favorite squeak toy (which is actually the ONLY toy she will touch). Second to that would be some meat. Leah isn’t fond of physical affection (or vegetables) but she will work for praise. She has always been naturally obedient so I’ve never really needed to motivate her much.

    If Meadow ISN’T frightened – food, praise, affection, hugs, (yes, a dog who LIKES hugs), toys – she’ll take it all. But the moment she is scared, she won’t work for much, she pretty much shuts down and the only thing that will recharge her is removing her from the situation for a while.

  13. Amazing. There are not many of those around. At least, from the dogs I have met. What a special dog she is, and a dog lover’s dream, we all want a dog that would work for affection.

  14. Ha! Blue works for food — until you try to correct something, like getting her to sit straight. Then she just quits. Bunny really works for praise, but she expects to be paid in treats, too, just because. Morgan is still a mystery, sometimes it’s treats, sometimes it’s toys, sometimes nothing appeals to her. Kuster will work for treats, toys and praise! lol

  15. Sherman works for food and I am still trying to figure out what Leroy works for., he isn’t food motivated or toy motivated. He likes a nice good chest rub though!

  16. Cali is all about the food!! We never did figure out what made little Kobe click :) He was quite the little lover, but it really didn’t help getting him to sit, or look at us when we said his name!

  17. I don’t think Gretel is motivated by anything but food. She may be motivated by Kissees and affection but I wouldn’t know it because she gets those things 24-7 :)

  18. With Bella, motivation is a constantly moving target. LOL

    With Daisy, its easy. Food please!

  19. So sweet… I love that Cherie is motivated by, well, love. :)

  20. Cherie sounds like a great dog. Good for you for finding what motivates her. You are doing a great job with her.

  21. This is so important for all of us to remember. It doesn’t matter what motivates your dog so much as *knowing* the what. We’ve discussed ‘high’ value treats with our trainers extensively because Bella will not ‘perform’ for just anything. If we want her to overcome fear, if we want to change her feelings, the reward has to be a very powerful motivator to compete with such very powerful instincts.

    What a delight it must be to have found Cherie’s secret. I used to joke that I never had to teach Beau to ‘come’ because he was never ‘away’. I wish Bella’s secret was as inexpensive as a snuggle. 😉