All dogs have certain basic drives, which are internal mechanisms that push the dog into taking specific action or to behave in a certain way. Drives are the energy that stimulates a dog to act instinctively, For example, when you throw a ball and your dog chases it with enthusiasm, the dog is displaying pray drive.
One could visit any protection, Schutzhund or police dog training facility, and because these trainers select from specimens bred to produce Drive, one will find dogs that are never dis-interested in working. A female dog in full estrus could be walking about the field, a field could be full of chickens running amok, the dog could have a torn ligament, but if the trainer has but a modicum of understanding about choice and drive, the dog will go at full speed toward the sleeve no-matter-what.
Drive is in the nature of an animal, however, as opposed to any other species, it is the most pronounced aspect of the canine mind. In my experience with dozens of litters, I have never known a healthy infant pup who wasn't always interested in nursing no-matter-what. I can't imagine a healthy wolf who isn't always interested in an available prey no matter what. Growing up I never knew one of my father's beagles to not be interested in the chase the instant my father took his shotgun out of the cabinet.
Therefore, if one learns to create choice with the drives that are inherent in a dog, they will be able to cultivate their dog's engagement, commitment and persistence to its maximum expression so that their dog will happily invest its last .01% of reserve into the prey object of their choice.
All of which means that the human creating these instances of maximum drive, giving the dog the means and space to choose and to create the path of that choice, becomes the center of that drive.
What is Motivation
Motivation; the reason why: the reason why not. Anyone whose intention is to affect their dog’s behavior will see better results once they begin to understand and work with an animal’s motivations. In many cases, once the motivations are understood and utilized in the training process, the behavior issues generally just disappear.
Today’s training philosophies center around rewards, reinforcements, motivators and engagement. Negative motivators (punishment and correction) are also large in the dog training world. Most of this philosophy is about stimulus and response, black and white conditioning but claimed to be how dogs and other animals learn. The common perception is that dogs only do things because of a consequence, whether that consequence is avoiding pain or gaining a resource.
The moment we start teaching the dog we are presented with a problem. How do we get the dog interested in learning what we are going to teach? The fact is that the dog will not learn unless he is motivated to learn. In a sense the first thing that our dogs must learn is that they are supposed to be learning. In order for a dog to learn, he must put forth some effort. The dog must be invested in the process or no amount of tasty treats or painful stimulus is going to get the dog to learn something.
Dogs were trained for amazing jobs for thousands of years long before operant conditioning was created. Some trainers were effective and some not, some were “humane” and some not - much as is the case today. The fact that dogs and all other species learn from their experiences and that pleasure and pain plays a role in that learning, is probably older than diatoms. The seeking of life and pleasure and the avoidance of pain and death is the way of evolution.
But learning and intelligence is more about being able to perceive the environment and resolve the problems it provides in order to get pleasure and avoid pain. It’s not about the consequences directly it’s about the doingness, the creativity and novelty of moving through life.
Operant conditioning would have us believe that we are all programmable robots; that we could learn to build a rocket with just rewards and punishments. If that were the case, if creativity, determination, resourcefulness and persistence didn’t exist, we would all still be diatoms.
Somewhere something or someone had to create the concept of a rocket before operant conditioning could teach others how to build one.
There is no question that we all learn from our past experiences, our history. That one factor alone, however, cannot account for more than a fraction of the behavior we see daily. We all, dogs included, are able to act outside the influence of our history. We are able to adapt and we can act counter to any conditioning, rise above it and behave differently.
In my journey as a dog trainer I followed the path of many philosophies. It started with basic obedience training ala the Monks of New Skete and CW Meisterfeld. I followed good trainers and not so good trainers, and started to develop my own philosophy in conjunction with dogs and their learning processes. Two things were prominent in the building of this philosophy. First was that there were many things I learned from these different trainers that I did not apply to my own personal dogs, but would still teach to others. This smacked of hypocrisy and I stopped teaching those things because of it. The second was that I could always get a dog to do just about anything, depending on its emotional state, even when the owner couldn’t. And I began to explore why that was.
What I discovered was that If the dog had a genuine interest in interacting with me, and a genuine interest in creating a relationship with me he was willing to learn what I was teaching and he enjoyed the process. Conversely, there were many owners whose dogs could have cared less about the human, the process, the cues or even tasty treats. Even punishment barely phased these dogs in the long run.
A relationship is a two-way street. That relationship has to include not only the dogs interest in us but our interest in the dog. The motivations behind the relationship should be solid and ongoing, not sporadic or minimal. Boredom and anxiety are the result of a mostly one-sided relationship. AT the very least, your dog will only do as you ask when the rewards are good enough and interest in the reward is high. I could get rich off the number of times someone has told me that their dog does sit, down, and all the rest of the basics, but only when treats are involved.
Training should be a conversation, not a lecture. It involves a form of listening as well as speaking. When handling a dog we must speak with our whole body, not just our mouth. We must recognize that the dog is speaking to us with his entire body. By paying attention to what we are doing, and what the dog is doing, we will begin to pick up on his signals and recognize how our signals affect him. This ability will aid us in all interactions, not merely the moments of training. Relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on communication. Without real communication we have no real trust. Without real trust, we have no real relationship. Without that relationship, training is tedious and unproductive.
Most people confuse "reward", "reinforcement" and "motivation". While these concepts are very close in nature, there are differences.
Rewarding a dog basically means giving him a paycheck, usually in the form of food, after performing an asked for action.
Reinforcement is anything which causes actions to increase in strength, frequency or duration. Reinforcement again is generally in the form of food, but can also be play of some kind, praise, touching and even corrections. Reinforcement is about results, reward is about thanking the dog. Paying/thanking the dog is reinforcing and increases behaviors, the difference is subtle. Reward is about what just happened, reinforcement is about what will be happening.
Motivating a dog means creating an environment where the dog has a desire to engage and interact. This is an environment where the dog is actively trying to figure out what action is being asked of it.