Many things can motivate us, and likewise, many things can motivate our pets. Both sides of the relationship are important in training. If the animal is not motivated, no behavior modification plan will be successful. If the owner is not motivated, the training will not stick- it will either be abandoned prematurely before the learning has a chance to take hold, or it will be forgotten after training is ‘over’ and the behavior will slowly revert back to its original state. This is why I place so much emphasis on the owner side of the relationship- not because I am dismissing the importance of the pet’s motivation, but because if the training is going to last, the onus is on the owner.

Cats are widely considered to be untrainable. In fact, they are very easy to train. What is hard for many people is to find a way to motivate their cat. Your cat may not be motivated by food, or perhaps he is motivated by a different kind of food than what you are offering. My cat Friendly likes cheese best, while my cat Zuggy prefers cat treats (any flavor will do, as long as it is moist). Neither of my cats enjoys dry cat treats, so I simply do not offer them as a reward. And what about play? Many young cats love to play, and play can be offered as a reward for desired behavior just as it can in dogs. How about physical affection? Most cats enjoy the tops of their heads down to the base of their tails to be rubbed. This is where their scent glands are, and cats find great satisfaction in getting their scent all over you (and the rest of your home). However, very few cats enjoy harsh rubbing or patting- these things will likely serve only to motivate your cat to get out of there!

Dogs, likewise, will work for food, play, and physical affection. Different dogs desire differ kinds of food, play, and affection, however, so it is important to know your dog. Boo loves the old chest rub and rib slapping- it gears her up and makes her so goofy happy. Lenny hates that sort of thing. He prefers gentle stroking of his face and ears or scratching of his chest. You also want to pay attention to the behavior you want out of your dog. If I am praising Boo for remaining in a stay and do not want her to break that stay, by no means am I going to gear her up! That would only get her to break and would be unfair. Instead, soothing, gentle strokes and crooning low praise lets hr know that I am pleased with what she is doing, and helps her to continue that stay.

Dogs will of course also work to avoid physical discomfort or pain, but I am of the mind that you might as well try the above first if at all possible. But this last sort of motivation is the idea behind training collars, prongs, and e-collars. It is also the idea behind pressure- gentle, steady, consistent pressure will motivate the dog to move away from said pressure without causing pain or undue discomfort. It takes practice at first, but once the dog has been taught with pressure, you can use it to communicate with your dog without the senses of hearing or sight. Lenny was taught with pressure, and he will now down almost immediately with the lightest of pressure downward on his collar (just one finger will do nicely) or sit with light pressure upward on his collar. It is a very helpful tool to use to remind him of commands when he has lost his brain.

Owners need to stay motivated themselves during the training process. That is why in some cases I will recommend keeping a log so that you can see gradual progress in your dog’s behavior. This is why I spend a lot of time and energy making sure my clients are comfortable with the training and feel like they can handle it. This is also why all of my clients have unlimited access to me for questions via phone or email while in training and afterward. Having a lifeline (in this case me) and social support can often help motivate people through tough times in training, and these tough times will come up now and again! With tough or embarrassing behavior problems, owner motivation becomes critical, and thus motivation and support are central to my Feisty Fido classes. Knowledge is a great motivator, I have found, and so I find myself an educator to my clients. When I leave, I want you to feel comfortable that you can follow your training plan just as I would, and therefore receive the same results.

Keep an eye on motivation in your home for the next week or so: things that motivate you and things that motivate other members of your household. You may be surprised at what you discover!