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Sarah Wilson
Award-winning Pet Expert
Teacher, Trainer & Author


In this episode... Motivation! How to create it in your dog, convert distractions into cues, have more fun and match motivators to your dog/situation to get better results ... motivation is what it is all about. Listen and enjoy! Next episode: Creating Consistent Response.

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Jingle: Pet Life Radio.

Female Announcer: You’re listening to

[school bell rings] Okay class, take your seats.  I said take your seats!  Class, sit!  I swear you’re all acting like a bunch of animals. [animals’ noises]

Pet Life Radio presents Teacher’s Pet, where you’ll learn how to understand and communicate with your pet and them to be the best pet they can be.  It’s time to see the world from your pet’s point of view.  So give a tail-wagging welcome to your Teacher’s Pet host, Sarah Wilson.

Sarah Wilson: Hi, welcome to Teacher’s Pet, on Pet Life Radio.  I’m Sarah Wilson.  Are you ready to be motivated?  Well I’m ready to talk about motivation, because that is the key to training, both how to motivate your dog and how to motivate yourself.  So we’re going to speak to our sponsors.  Then we’re going to get back and get going, so stay tuned.

Female Announcer: [school bell rings] Okay, class, grab your tuna flakes, biscuits, and bones.  Teacher’s Pet will be back in two shakes of a tail, right after recess. [barking]

[commercial break]

Male Announcer: Let’s talk pets, on

Female Announcer: [school bell rings] Okay, class, hang up your collars and leashes.  Teacher’s Pet is back in session.  Now park yourselves on the floor. [barking] I said “park”, not “bark” [exasperated sigh].

Okay, Teacher’s Pet, with pet expert and author Sarah Wilson.  Pay attention – there may be a quiz later.

Sarah Wilson: Welcome back to Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio.  This is Sarah Wilson.  So, you want to know how to think about motivation?  Here you go: Motivation is whatever your dog wants at that moment, and learning how to use it.  Sometimes that’s treats; sometimes it’s social interaction.  Other times it’s play.  Other times, they really want to chase the squirrel. 

Now how do you use that to convert that into the behavior you want?  That’s the challenge.  One of the things I think about a lot is a saying by Ray Hunt, who was a wonderful horse trainer.  And he used to say, “Figure out how to make your idea their idea.  Then let them do it.”  And when you can embrace that concept and integrate it into your training, you will be amazed how much easier training is, because you’re enlisting your dog’s cooperation, as opposed to trying to put your will on them.  Training becomes something you do with your dog, not something you do to your dog. 

Example: Julia was a German Shepherd we owned for many years, and she was highly predatory to deer.  She loved to chase deer.  And we lived in Gartner, where there were a lot of deer on our farm.  And I didn’t want her chasing the deer, so here’s the quandary… how do I get her to want to stop chasing deer?  Unless I can get her to want to stop, good luck stopping her once she’s in pursuit, as any of you know, who have had this problem.  So the thing I did was I started to take her beloved tennis ball, because a lot of predatory dogs are also highly motivated by toys and balls.  And I kept it in my pocket, and the only time I took it out was when there was a deer in view.  I had to be quick, but the minute I spotted the deer, I waited for her to see it in the distance and I would say her name, “Julia!”  And she would whip around and I would throw that ball in the opposite direction.  Pretty soon, the deer became the cue for her to run back to me and for me to get her the ball.  How easy is that?  Right? 

I made my idea her idea.  My idea is, “I’d rather have you chasing the ball than chasing the deer,” and once I made that her idea, simply by presenting… sounding really excited, being quick about it, having the ball ready and saving the tennis ball for just moments when there were deer for awhile, it was simple to start to just let her do it.  And that was so easy.  And that was one of the things that really got me thinking along these lines.  I could have run after her, yelled at her, told her “no”, blah, blah, blah.  It isn’t going to help, because I’m not replacing a strong motivation with something that’s equally fun.  All I’m doing in those situations is replacing something really fun with something not fun, me being upset.  And what does that get you?  I’ll tell you what it gets you… speed.  The dog becomes very speedy. 

If you haven’t had this situation with deer or squirrels or something, maybe you have with food.  How many of you have tried to stop garbage-eating on the ground by telling the dog, “Leave it! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”  And coming up and scolding him, “I don’t want you doing that!  Blah, blah, blah!”  And what does that get you?  A dog who eats really fast.  Because there’s a no-win for the dog.  Right?  The only win the dog has in that situation is eating the food.  That’s the only fun available to him or her, is eating, because you’re not any fun.  You’re not offering anything fun.  So you get a dog who sees something, glances back at you, measures how far away you are, and scarfs it down. 

Now, what if you put the dog on lead, started with something not that interesting and had something fabulous in your pocket, and you practiced walking toward it.  And when the dog started to get the least bit interested, backing up, calling their name, doing whatever you need to do.  The minute they look at you, praise them!  Feed them something fabulous!  Yay!  So that food on the ground becomes the cue for you being really fun and wonderful food being available.  Now you’ve got the dog thinking, “Oh, when I see food on the ground, my owner is fabulous!”  You get a dog who races over to you, as opposed to one who grabs and goes, or grabs and swallows. 

So these are the things I want you to start thinking about.  In every situation where I want to get more control on my dog, how can I motivate them to do it?  Your dog wants to go out the door.  Great.  Have them sit.  The minute they sit, “Good dog!  Go.”  You got to be quick about it and you got to be fun.  You’ve got to let them know, “I caused this to happen by my behavior.”  Too often, the dog sits at the door and someone who’s new to training goes, “Good dog.  That’s very good, yay,” tries to pet them… they don’t want that right then.  They don’t want it.  What they want to do is get out the door.  So let them go.  Use that. 

Now another thing I want you to think about is to always ask your dog in any situation what they find motivating.  You think food is motivating?  It is for a lot of dogs.  But there are plenty of situations where it isn’t.  And I watched a dear friend of mine who loves her dogs; she called her dog over in our field, and the dog came running over.  She tried to give him a treat.  He didn’t want a treat.  She wanted him to want the treat, so she kept going after him saying, “Here’s a cookie.  Here’s a cookie.”  He started to run away, and pretty soon you’ve got a woman chasing a dog around a field with a cookie in her hand.  And what is she actually doing?  She is actually teaching him to dislike the cookie at that moment. 

I have a wonderful picture from an adoption website, where they’re trying to get a good picture of this poor frightened dog.  And what they’re using in order to get the picture is apparently – you can see in the corner of the picture – the rawhide, a knotted rawhide bone, which they think the dog will like.  So that’s why they’re using it.  Good thought, but they’re not looking at the dog.  The dog is terrified of the rawhide bone.  He doesn’t have any idea what it is, wants to know why something’s being shoved at him.  It’s clear in the face of the dog -- big eyes, pulling away, totally tense.  And certainly that expression, that situation, that’s not wonderful.  But it’s a wonderful example of how we have to be sure that just because we think something is fun, we better check with our dog first.  So you’re always going to ask the dog. 

And different things are rewarding to different dogs at different times.  I worked with a wonderful male Akita years ago.  He wanted nothing to do with me.  He didn’t want me to pet him.  After all, who the heck was I?  He didn’t want to play with me.  He didn’t want a treat from me.  He was sitting there looking noble and fabulous.  He was not aggressive; he was just classically uninterested and rather appalled that someone he just met was attempting to touch him.  You could see it in his face.  He’s like, “Oh, eww!”  So what did I use as motivation for him?  What did he want in that situation?  I’ll tell you what he wanted.  He wanted me to leave him alone!  Fine.  That was the motivation.  So when I gave him a command such as, “Sit,” I would take half a step toward him.  And the minute he sat I would take a big step back.  And that was what he wanted.  And he soon was working beautifully for me, because he realized that obedience to me would cause me to go away. 

For a social dog that absolute same behavior would function as a punishment.  Because the dog, that dog, the social dog, would want me to get closer.  So for them the reward might be me stepping closer, and the correction would be me stepping away.  And that’s why you always have to think in training and look at your dog and look at the situation, because not all things motivate all dogs the same way.  And don’t get stuck with one type of motivation.  Food is easy, until it’s not.  And then, often you have nothing.  So I love using food; I use a ton of food in training.  Really useful, it’s quick; but don’t use it as an excuse to stop praising, to stop playing, to stop finding other ways to interact. 

I love it when trainers say, “Well food is the only thing dogs really respond to.”  Well it is if that’s all you use.  If I was raising a child and I gave him a buck for every single thing he ever did around the house, and I never praised him and I never played with him and I never interacted in some other way with him, pretty soon all he would work for would be the buck.  But don’t mistake that for saying that children aren’t capable and don’t enjoy interaction, play, hugs… but if it’s never made available, they never learn the importance of it.  So be sure that you praise as you give the treat.  Be sure that you praise in a way that makes your dog want to be near you. 

Some dogs are very sensitive.  I’ve got PJ, one of the most sensitive dogs I’ve ever met.  If I was to go, you know, “Yayyy!  Whooo-hooo!” she’s likely to turn and walk away.  It’d be too much for her.  Where another dog might thump their tail and think, “Ah, this is great!”  So always look at your dog.  Always look at your dog.  The biggest expert you’ve got on your training program with your dog is… your dog!  Listen to everybody, contemplate everything, think, but always ask your dog.  And if your dog is happier, more responsive, calmer, at the end of a training session; if you are happier and more inspired at the end of a training session, then that was a good training session.  And I don’t care if you used food or play or praise, or something totally different.  I don’t care.  What I care about are the results. 

So become results-oriented, not method-oriented.  Because no method works for all animals and all people at all times.  It just doesn’t.  Haven’t found it yet; don’t expect I ever will.  Hope I never do, because the variety is so much fun.  So never get cornered by a method or by a motivator.  There’s always more you can use.  And the more you use, the more you teach your dog that through you all good things come, the better off you’re going to be, the more responsive your dog is going to be, the more your dog is going to look to you whenever they want something.  And when a dog looks to you whenever they want something, you are five steps ahead in training. 

So we’re going to take another break now, hear from our sponsors, and when we get back, I’m going to answer questions and show you how to put some of these ideas to work for you in various situations with various dogs.  So stay tuned; come back.  I look forward to doing this with you.

Female Announcer: [school bell rings] Okay, class, grab your tuna flakes, biscuits, and bones.  Teacher’s Pet will be back in two shakes of a tail, right after recess. [barking]

[commercial break]

Male Announcer: Let’s talk pets, on

Female Announcer: [school bell rings] Okay, class, hang up your collars and leashes.  Teacher’s Pet is back in session.  Now park yourselves on the floor. [barking] I said “park”, not “bark” [exasperated sigh].

Okay, Teacher’s Pet, with pet expert and author Sarah Wilson.  Pay attention – there may be a quiz later.

Sarah Wilson: Welcome back.  I got this question from our message boards at, and it’s a great question and it illustrates this point beautifully.  And this poster said, “My normally gentle Marty saw my friend Sandy this morning and became a bucking bronco.  I could barely hold onto the lead.  What to do?”  We’re all familiar with this.  Our dogs see something they really want, be it a good friend of theirs, human or canine, a squirrel to chase, whatever it is.  And how do we make that work for us instead of not work for us? 

So the first thing to do is “what would I prefer my dog to do when they see a friend?”  And in this situation, as a trainer I would say, “Sit on a loose lead.”  If they sit on a loose lead, that would be fabulous.  We’ll worry about walking on a loose lead next, but first we need the dog to sit on a loose lead.  And what is the dog’s motivation at this point?  Well apparently it’s seeing their mutually good friend Sandy.  So let’s use that.  And instead of him being a bucking bronco and successfully dragging his owner to Sandy, which only teaches him that bucking bronco behavior works, and this is very, very common because people don’t know what else to do, you’re going to start making “sit” the way to get to Sandy.  Now I would start this by playing a round of “Mother, may I?” which is explained in our book, the DVD combo My Smart Puppy

But “Mother, May I” is you put your dog on the leash; you have a bunch of really good treats in your hand.  You throw something semi-interesting at the other end of the room, or about ten feet away if you’re outside in a calm area, say a tennis ball or a big biscuit, it doesn’t matter, but something semi-interesting.  And you have your dog sit.  Now you can either wait there for them to look up in surprise, or you can say their name; I don’t care what you do.  You can make a [kiss sound], whatever it is, get the dog to look up.  The minute the dog starts to look at you, the moment… you’re going to smile, praise, give a treat and take one step forward.  You’re going to have them sit, and you’re going to do the same routine again.  Every time the dog looks up at you, you’re going to smile, give a treat, and take one step forward.  If the dog loses his mind and rushes at the biscuit or toy or whatever you have as a temptation, you’re going to back up, NOT turn away and go away… I want you to back up, and you’re going to pulse the lead, which is like a squeezing out a sponge motion… you’re going to back up, pulse the lead, and you’re going to say the dog’s name.  The minute the dog looks back at you, you’re going to smile, praise and give him a reward, and try again, from whatever spot you’re in.  You’re going to stop; you’re going to have him sit; the minute he looks at you you’re going to take one step forward. 

Pretty soon, your dog’s going to learn that when he looks at you, you guys move closer.  So you’re going to get a dog who looks at a distraction and looks right back up at you.  Perfect!  That’s perfect, because if we can get your dog to cue off of distractions, to make distractions themselves the cue to look at you, then you’re going to have a dog who self-moderates their behavior at least a little bit.  Right?  So they see something they want…instead of leaping for it, trying to grab it, trying to drag you, they’re going to stop and look up at you, at which point you’re going to notice it, smile, reward, and if they can have the distraction, let them have the distraction for this game.  So you’re going to slowly move forward until you get almost up to the biscuit or the ball.  You want to stop this game before your dog lunges and tries to get it, in a perfect world.  You’re going to step forward and take the temptation and give it to the dog.  If it’s a biscuit you can give him a small piece.  If it’s a toy, play with the toy!  Let them know this was great.  We play this game, and you’re going to have a game at the end with this toy.  And then do it again. 

And when you practice this, maybe for a couple days for maybe three to five minutes at a time, you’re going to get a dog very quickly who sits and looks at you instantaneously, which is FABULOUS!  When the dog knows that, then you can start playing the same game with this friend.  So every time Marty looks up, you’re going to smile, you’re going to treat, you’re going to have a good time and take one step towards Sandy.  If he loses his mind you’re going to back up, squeeze-pulse the lead – again it’s like squeezing out a sponge, not starting a lawnmower; we’re not looking to fling Marty around.  If at any time any of your leash handling causes the dog’s front feet to leave the ground or for them to physically spin around, whoa!  Easy!  It’s not supposed to be that rough at all.  It doesn’t need to be that rough.  It doesn’t help to be that rough.  And the dog can feel a fly land on their ear, for heaven’s sakes.  They know what the feeling is.  They just don’t understand what the feeling means.  So if your dog fails life… and by this I mean he’s lunging and dragging you toward something -- that’s a failing mark on that little section of life -- you go home and you do more homework.  You try to get to ‘good’ and you also try to make your idea their idea. 

So in this example, my idea is “if you want something, look at me.”  So I set up this game so that looking at me gets them what they want, and very soon they start to look at me whenever they want something.  Then I have made my idea their idea, and then I let them do it.  I try to notice, reward, smile, anything I can do to reward that behavior.  And I had Pip out for a walk the other day, and she was so clearly doing this, and she sometimes gets a little stressed by new things.  And what I noticed was she would look at the new thing, and when she started to get a little stressed she would simply look right up at me and I would smile, praise, and treat her.  So she was using this to relieve her own pressure.  Instead of barking, she now had another option, which was to look at me, where she knew she was going to get praised and fed and told she was wonderful.  So that’s a win-win for both of us.  This is a wonderful life skill.  You start it with “Mother, may I?” and then you build from there.  And you will just be amazed at how much easier your dog is to manage if they take two seconds and look at you before simply reacting to the distraction.  Alright? 

So that’s a game plan, and it works, and it’s really easy to do.  And if you’re having trouble, you go to the three basics, which are “slow it down”, “break it down”, and “reward more frequently”.  If you’re having trouble, use less of a temptation, which is a way of slowing it down.  Start farther away, which is a way of slowing it down.  Break it down – take a smaller step forward and reward more frequently.  Be right there to smile and feed at your dog’s tiniest effort to look at you or make contact with you, and you will build from there.  So if you’re having trouble, slow it down, break it down, reward more frequently.  Alright?

So, lets go on to our next question.  Here’s a question from Jody about Sadie, a Jack Russell Australian sheepdog, hmm, maybe cattle dog, maybe shepherd, but in any case a Jack Russell Australian something cross, who’s about four years old.  And what she asks is, “This is a beautiful dog I rescued.  I love her!  She’s so smart.  But what is the best way to teach her to stay?  I mean really stay.”  Alright, let’s think about this.  How do we get a dog to want to stay where we put them?  The classic way of teaching “stay” is we tell the dog to stay and then we back away, we back away, often chanting, “Stay, stay, stay.”  And then when we get a certain distance, we call them.  What is the most exciting part of that behavior?  Getting up.  So what do dogs tend to do if they’re trained that way?  Get up.  Because dogs do the most exciting part of the behavior. 

So let’s turn it around.  By that measure, let’s make staying the most pleasant part of the behavior.  I don’t want you making stay exciting, because excitement tends to get a dog up.  But what I do is I tether a dog on a flat collar to something solid that they can’t pull or move.  Often I just hook the loop of the lead around the doorknob on the far side of the door, and close the door on the lead, so now it is well and truly tethered.  The dog cannot get it off the doorknob.  And I have the dog down, and I will stay very close.  With ‘stay’ you are working on four different variables.  You are working on duration, distraction, distance, and diversity.  Alright?  Duration, distraction, distance, and diversity.  Meaning, how long the dog is staying, what’s going on around the dog while they’re staying, how far away you are from the dog, and all the different places where you practice this behavior. 

Distance tends to be the first thing a novice starts with, and for experienced trainers, it’s the last thing we do, because we want to be right there to help the dog get things right.  And if we’re ten feet away and they get up, you end up going, “Unh, unh, unh, unh, unh!  No!  Down!  Ooh-ooh.”  And you make it a big deal, and/or you stress the dog, and the minute you add stress to “stay”, what happens is the dog starts to get anxious.  And what do many dogs want to do when they start to get anxious?  Come to you.  And when they come to you the dog gets corrected and when they get corrected they get more anxious.  What do they want to do?  They want to come to you… they get corrected.  This makes the dog more anxious.  Do you see this?  So “stay” becomes the command where the dog sort of puts their head down or gets stressed and goes, “Oh, no!  I hate stay.  I never win at stay.” 

For me, I know I’m doing well teaching stay when I tell my dog “stay” and their tail starts to thump.  And they go, “Oohhh.  I love stay.”  So I’ll start it with the dog tethered.  I’m going to kneel right in front of the dog.  I give the hand signal; I say, “Stay,” and then I put a treat between their paws.  I do not hand them the treat.  Why don’t I hand them the treat?  Because I don’t want them to be focused on my hand.  I want them to be rewarded for staying in that one spot.  And I will do that over and over: Stay, treat, stay, treat, stay treat… so pretty soon when the dog sees the stay signal they go, “Here comes the cookie!”  And when I have that in place, then I start saying, “Stay,” and start counting.  Maybe five seconds, maybe eight seconds, maybe three seconds, and then I give the treat.  So I begin to create a gap between the signal and the reward. 

The other thing that happens is that when people do this, they become very silent.  Alright, they say, “Stay,” and then they step away and they stare at the dog.  And they wait to see what’s going to happen.  And if the dog gets up, “Unh, unh, unh, unh, no!”  And then the dog starts to feel stressed because they’re not getting rewarded.  When I start ‘stay’ I want to go, “Stay.  Good.  [sweetly] You’re so good.  What a good dog.”  I go back to my dog frequently.  I stroke them.  I drop food between their paws.  I step away.  I step back.  You want to reward all that good stuff. 

When you do release your dog from the stay, which I want you to do very clearly, Becky Bishop at Puppy Manners out in Washington told me about the double shoulder tap she uses.  Just reaches down, tap-tap on the shoulders.  Okay, here’s the tap-tap, which is the release for stay.  I love that because that forces everyone to go all the way back to their dog to release them.  But once you release them, don’t give them a lot of praise or attention, because getting up is not the fun part of stay.  The fun part of stay is when they’re actually staying.  So you start to think about things that way.  You stay close; you add in duration and distraction long before you add distance.  You add diversity long before you use distance.  So you start doing stays maybe in the kitchen, maybe on the back porch, maybe on the sidewalk.  You stay right there with your dog.  You hold onto the leash, but you teach them they can be successful, and that when they stay in this place you are so happy with them and so pleased, and good things happen, your dogs will start to love to stay.  And when they love to stay, then you can start adding distance, because it’s much less of a risk. 

I know I’m doing a good job not only when the tail wags, but when the dog doesn’t want to get up.  You shoulder tap and you say, “Okay,” and the dog looks at you with a big grin and says, “I don’t want to get up.  I love this spot!”  Perfect, perfect.  Now what have we done?  In that case, you will have successfully made your idea -- to stay -- your dog’s idea, and you’re letting him do it.  And therefore he is happy and he’s relaxed, and he’s staying.  That’s awesome.  So, great question.  Try these games.  Make ‘stay’ fun.  Make getting up no big deal.  If your dog does get up, I just use a gentle guided down that I’ve already taught.  I say nothing.  Just, it’s a neutral.  You get up, nothing good happens, nothing bad happens.  I just down you again; we start over.  And when getting up gets them nothing, and staying there gets them your attention and warm praise and treats, your dog will be thumping their tail in no time.  Great question, Jody.  And if any of you have great questions you want to ask me, send them to, and I will get them on air if I possibly can.

On to our next.  So here’s our last question of the day.  It’s from Leslie, about Enzo, a Labrador retriever who’s four months old.  And the question is, “I started walking dogs professionally.  But I’m not a trainer.  I started with a puppy recently, Enzo, and I’m afraid I’ve confused him by trying to get him to walk on leash and then letting him fetch off-leash.  He wants to do everything but heel.  I’ve had five walks with him so far.  Is it too late to train him, and what’s the best method?” 

Alright.  Well, bless you for worrying about this so early, Leslie, but a four-month-old Labrador puppy isn’t going to heel in a real-life walk.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Hate to break it to you.  They’re going to explore, be happy, all of that.  You may get heeling in controlled situations for brief periods, but when they’re out and about they’re going to be sniffing leaves and looking at bushes, and all of that’s normal.  So I would be working on, when he gets in front of you, backing up and calling him.  I’d be working on rewarding him anytime he just happens to show up in heel position.  Make that a wonderful location.  You’re going to reward that.  You’re going to feed that.  When you do that right, the dog will start to fall into heel position.  Pip actually begs in heel position, which is fine with me.  Meaning that when we’re on a walk, and she’s off lead and everyone’s careening around having a great time, she will occasionally come and just fall into heel position.  She’ll start prancing next to me, big grin, tail up, happy as a clam.  And that’s fine; I always reward that.  I can be begged from that position, absolutely. 

So you start playing those games with him, making the heel position a great spot.  If walking him is a real hassle, try a head halter when he’s a baby.  And use a collar in other situations for training.  But a head halter can make walking simple for a baby.  And you don’t have to worry about heeling.  So he’s a little too young to ask him to heel, but he’s not too young to start learning foundation behaviors that will add up to heel down the road.  So make that fun.  Don’t think of it in terms of being punitive.  And be really careful about letting him off-leash, to do fetch, unless you’re in a safe fenced area.  And I wouldn’t have a 4-plus-month-old puppy at the average dog park.  And I’d be careful with too much fetch anyway.  Most labs will fetch until their feet fall off, but that doesn’t really mean that they should.  So you want to be a little cautious with that, because labs can overwork themselves a bit.  But, love the question!  And good luck with your dog-walking business. 

And that’s it for this week’s episode of Teacher’s Pet.  Again, email me at, and I’ll answer your questions.  And it was a pleasure speaking with you.  Have fun.  Have a great week and remember, any dog can be a teacher’s pet.

[school bell rings]

Announcer: School’s in session on Pet Life Radio with Teacher’s Pet.  Learn how to communicate with your pet, train your pet, and see the world from your pet’s point of view.  You may even learn a few tricks yourself.  Teacher’s Pet, with pet expert and author Sarah Wilson, only on

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