I spent most of last week at a training for work. My “real” job. The topic you ask? Motivation. That is when it hit me. What a great Search And Rescue Saturday topic.
For those that do any type of dog training the key to being successful is knowing how to motivate the dog so it enjoys the work it is doing and wants more. We don’t hesitate to use whatever our dogs totally enjoy. It can be food, the dogs’ natural drive to find is prey, or our favorite, a play session with a tug or ball. Some handlers will even use just petting and a happy interaction. A dog with the proper motivation and one that loves to work for it makes a solid search dog.
To give you an example of using food for motivation I will refer to how we trained Küster. The first trails that there laid had a small treat in each footstep. As he progressed in his training and started to learn the game of finding people we started to put treats randomly alone his trails. Lately, he will just blow past the treats because there is something else he would rather do. We will get back to that. This is where the handler needs to decide what reward they want to motivate their dog.
Breeds Are Different
Not all dogs are the same. Our team has three trailing K-9’s at this time. Each of our dogs was basically started as young dogs and trained in the same way. But, each dog now has a different reward system. Otis, the Bloodhound, is all food all the time. I could show him one of Küster’s tugs and a chicken strip; Otis will go for the food. Show Küster the same and it’s the tug. If you remember a few years ago our team had a Redbone Coonhound named Sula. She’s a diva. Her reward was a Kong tennis ball with a squeaker. No other tennis balls need to apply. It sounds totally weird but that is what she wants. That was her motivation. If it works use it. Remember, we are in the business of finding people.
Küster’s most favorite reward is the play session he gets at the end of each trail. When he works a trail successfully he gets to play ball or sometimes play tug. If he wants to screw around or just do his own thing it’s back to the car and no play. Believe it or not, being put away for not working can be a motivator in itself. But, that may be for another Saturday. Sula, as I noted in the previous paragraph get to play fetch with her favorite tennis balls.
Finding that special something is the key to rewards that motivate. You will know and it makes training fun for the dog and the handler when it fall into place.