Like every small business owner/ entrepreneur in the world, I have been hugely impacted by COVID 19. And since dog training is not considered “essential” my brick and mortar business is at a standstill as I try to grow and promote my website, Truly Force Free Animal Training. In the beginning of the pandemic, I was in survival mode and was frantically trying to find ways to create an income. As the weeks have gone by, I still work everyday to create new content or do something to promote my book, “The Evolution of Dog Training” and Truly Force Free Animal Training because that is the only type of business I am allowed at this time. However, I am beginning to notice that it’s harder to be motivated to work on my business. I am also noticing that people around me are losing their motivation to do basics things- like take a shower or brush their teeth. This realization got me thinking about how all animals- including our dogs and us, need motivation to move from task to task.

As an entrepreneur and as a person who has an autoimmune disease (Chronic Lyme Disease), I am, for the most part, very self-motivated and resilient. I can generally motivate myself to do anything, and I usually received some type of “reward”. In many cases, my “reward” is more income (a new client, selling my book, teaching a class, etc.). But sometimes, the reward is helping a person with their dog, meeting a great person or being acknowledged for my work. With COVID 19, I am working harder than ever, yet I am getting little or no rewards (my businesses are still struggling and I have not received any loans). Instead, in some ways, I am feeling “punished”, since I am not receiving aid and have no idea when I will get to teach classes again. Although theses are hard pills to swallow, I’m still able to find some way to motivate myself. BUT, this got me thinking about how sometimes we assume our dogs should be motivated to do things just because it is what WE want them to do.

Motivation does not come naturally for many dogs (and people) and how we are motivated to do things makes a big difference. In dog training, there are 2 general ways people motivate their dogs, by either using positive reinforcement or “corrections”. With positive reinforcement, the dog receives something they like for doing a task correctly (or attempting to do it correctly) which will encourage them to do the task correctly again in the future. With “correction” based training, a dog is punished if they do something wrong so they will be “motivated” to it right next time. As a positive reinforcement trainer, I see how rewarding dogs helps them learn with less stress and more understanding every day, and how punishing often leads to stress and can shut a dog down. This understanding of motivation of dogs has made me see humans in a new way in light of COVID.

Many people have lost their jobs, their businesses and even family members due to this virus. And people are losing their motivation to keep moving forward (due the negative consequences of the disease). Others, who are lucky enough to receive unemployment (especially if they are making more than they did when they were employed) are being “rewarded” for being home, and are losing motivation to go back to work. This made me think about how unrealistic is for us to think that dogs should be motivated to do things we ask “just because we want them to”.

The next time you’re training your dog or you’re asking your dog for a learned behavior and they do not respond how you want them to, you need to ask yourself- is this motivating for your dog? If your dog loves to play fetch or go on a walk, the activity is itself is motivating. If your dog does not love water, then you may need a toy or treats to motivate them to go into the water, because if you force them into the water, you may accidently be punishing them and they may never learn to love water. And if you feed your dog from the dining room table, remember that you are reinforcing your dog to want more food from the table!

What examples can you think of where you may have reinforced your dog accidently? Or probably punished without realizing it?