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Basic Dog Obedience Training – Two Very Different Ways to Motivate Your Dog to Learn

Basic dog obedience training is, fundamentally, about developing an effective away to motivate and communicate with your dog. We will focus, here, on the two ways to motivate your dog, and why one motivation is better to use on than the other.

The Two Motivations Through Which Your Dog Learns

Pain or Discomfort


How Learning and Motivation Occur

Dogs are primarily motivated to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. A dog who learns to associate pain, or physical discomfort with a particular behavior will be motivated to avoid that behavior in the future. On the other hand, a dog who experiences pleasure associated with a particular behavior will repeat that behavior again, and again. These are the motivations that are used in basic dog obedience training to motivate your dog to learn.

How to Use Each Motivation to Learn

Pain or discomfort

For decades, the primary motivation method used in basic dog obedience training has been using techniques and equipment that applies of pain or discomfort to a dog who is not behaving correctly. Using this motivator, owners are taught to focus on their dog’s misbehavior. They are taught to use training equipment and techniques that cause their dog pain or discomfort when their dog behaves in an unwanted way. When their dog learned, through this type of obedience training, that a certain behavior consistently resulted in a painful or uncomfortable experience the dog would avoid or stop the behavior that resulted in pain. The owner motivated their dog to follow their commands to avoid pain.


The way to motivate your dog to follow your commands and direction using their attraction to pleasure is to reward your dog for behavior you want. Particularly with basic dog obedience training, your dog actually already does most of the behaviors you want, like sit or come, he just doesn’t automatically know what behavior matches what command. That’s where the effective communication comes in. Once he associates the command with the correct behavior, you dog then only needs the motivation to perform the behavior you ask for, when you ask for it. You motivate your dog to seek the pleasure of a reward you give him as soon as he responds correctly to your command. Because dogs are motivated to seek pleasure, once your dog associates that good things happen when he performs certain behaviors, he is motivated to repeat those behaviors because he has learned they produce pleasure. Professional trainers using this motivation most often use a strategy called clicker training.

Why Using Your Dog’s Motivation to Seek Pleasure is Best

  1. Using this motivation builds mutual trust and strong friendship between you and your dog
  2. You will not be jeopardizing your safety, nor that of your dog
  3. Learning for your dog will be easier, and therefore faster
  4. Your dog will enjoy the training, and his time with you during the training
  5. Training for you will be a fun, and enjoyable experience too

Tying This All Together

Your dog has two primary motivations to learn. One is to avoid pain or discomfort, and the other is to gain pleasure. You can train your dog using either of these motivations, but using pleasure to motivate your dog to learn builds the best bond with your dog. It is safe, effective, and fun. Professional trainers who use pleasure as the motivation for a dog to learn most often choose the clicker training strategy because it is quick, and effective.

Your training experience, and that of your dog, will be very different depending upon which learning motivation you use for your basic dog obedience training Use the clicker training [] strategy to make your training effective, and fun. Discover exactly how to use your dogs desire for pleasure to teach him to follow your commands, do tricks, and learn other skills to live happily with you.

Susan Pfadt, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, is the author of this article.

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