Do you ever feel like all you do is bribe your dog with food? You want him to come to you so you grab a tasty treat and wave it around until he notices and comes running for it? You want him to drop the sock in his mouth so you get a piece of chicken and tempt him with that?
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t … how frustrating is that! You might even wish he would just do what you ask him to simply because you spend your life providing for him and he should really have a bit more loyalty and love for you!!
Dogs have their own needs, their own priorities and their own ways of thinking. They may love us and be bonded to us but it doesn’t change the fact that they have different motivations in life.
Dogs find reinforcement everywhere, it could be chasing the squirrel in the park, sniffing every piece of grass or, maybe most annoyingly, barking! Sometimes we can easily outweigh these motivations, but other times we can end up in what feels like a battle of wills.
We all have our own hierarchies of motivation, some people will be driven more by money, but for others it’s relationships, or success at work. Motivations aren’t static, they can change daily, hourly or across lifetimes. For example, if you’ve just eaten a big meal, being asked to do something in exchange for food probably won’t cut it. Or if you’ve just won the lottery you probably wouldn’t worry about skipping work and losing your pay for a few days!
This is exactly the same for dogs and it’s the reason why we can’t always get a response from them. We quickly label our dogs as ‘stubborn’ or as having ‘selective hearing’ but really, it’s all a matter of motivation and priorities. If you’re waving a treat in front of your dog’s face when he’s just seen a squirrel in the park, his priority is unlikely to be the food… in that moment his only care is for the squirrel.
Similarly, if he knows what he’s going to get from you then he will know whether or not it’s worth his energy immediately. In human terms, you may not mind working longer hours once in a while in return for a grateful thank you and no extra pay, but if this started to happen every day, you would soon get frustrated and question it.