Start developing a “work ethic”

It’s more common to meet dogs that have not had to “work for a living” than to encounter people with dogs that know how to “say ‘Please'” and who enjoy training for the sheer pleasure of the activity. Not to say that that could remain intact without positive reinforcement, but it’s a totally different story training a dog that is accustomed to getting his way…let’s call them “privileged” ;). A few years ago I met a very privileged, one of a kind Portie. By nature, she’s “cool”—mellow, social, pretty low energy level. When I first started with her, I had her for at least a couple of weeks while her owner traveled. He said, ‘Maybe you can teach her some agility or something’. Unfortunately for his dreams, agility is not the place to start training. Agility is akin to a college level curriculum, while engagement is a mandatory pre-school skill that always takes priority over anything else you want to train.

At first she was “not having it”, and couldn’t be bothered to work, no matter how clever I was at making it worthwhile. It took literally months for this dog to finally learn that it is fun to “earn”. And then, there was a major turnaround. Can you believe she is one of my most keen and clever “students”! She learns things so fast these days, with me alone training her. Most recently, it took her just a few short sessions (about a couple of minutes apiece) to pick up a trick I affectionately call “Tailspin”. Here’s a video from a typical Pacific NW kind of day…please excuse the dirty, foggy mess.

These days, this dog begs for a chance to train. She caught the joy! 😉



2 thoughts on “Start developing a “work ethic””

  1. I’m interested in how you engaged this pup. I currently have a dog with very little drive and desire to please. I trained him since the moment I got him at 12 weeks of age. He has leaned many skills, but when it comes to stringing things together in agility or rally practice, he is very easily distracted or actually just walks away. I provide yummy treats, cheer him on, engage him before we start, reward along the way, but I still struggle with keeping him engaged. He is a good boy, who loves to snuggle, swim and take walks. I have a ton of fun with him, but he does not seem as motivated as other pups I work with. I make him work for his food at times, other times I just feed him. I vary the training and keep the sessions short.
    I have trained many pups, but am a little stymied with him 😃
    I would appreciate any suggestions 😃

    1. Without knowing a lot more about you and your pup, I suspect that you may have a habit of paying equally well for a variety of levels of difficulty and probably stayed at too easy of a level in the training processes for too long. That said, we definitely don’t want to make it too hard, but, if your dog is used to getting 1 treat for every single simple behavior, when you ask for harder or chains of behavior without a primary reinforcer following each separate component, you can see why your dog finds it hard to get motivated about the greater workload. Your dog is like, “The work is hard but the pay ain’t great” 😉

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