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A Canine Path Of Motivation

Those of you who know me well, know that in addition to working with animals I also work with computers. In specific I train dogs and program software for computers.


In the software world, even more so today with web programming, there is a structure we follow when developing software. That structure looks something like this (lowest to highest):


⦁ Core Functionality

⦁ Reliability

⦁ Usability

⦁ Design

⦁ Experimentation


This structure is not based on the needs of the programmer, it is based on the needs of the client the software is being written for with an eye on the eventual users.


In the world of human psychology there is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and several people have taken this hierarchy and tried to apply it to dogs and dog training. I have never been satisfied with the different iterations of Maslow’s work. The main reasons are that the needs of the “humans” are mixed in with what should be the needs of the dog. Training and methods used in training, bonding with humans, temperature control, grooming, health care (health yes, health care not), helping others, off leash freedom; these and others indicate needs that humans consider dogs have or are intimately intertwined with living with humans and fulfilling humans needs via the dog.


What about the dog? What actually does a dog (or most any animal) need? Without mixing in human control, emotions or considerations; what can a dog achieve past basic survival? What motivates a dog to continue to share life with humans, live in a human world and learn what is needed to be learned?


These questions led me to a possible structure that more closely resembled what a dog, or just about any animal, would actually be, do and have while living life. I also decided not to call it a hierarchy of needs as it really isn’t about what a dog needs so much as it is about how a dog functions – how a dog avoids death and creates survival.


⦁ Energy – that which is needed to fuel the body for survival

⦁ Safety – security of body and resources, an understanding of the body and the environment to ensure the acquisition of resources, confidence that one can respond appropriately, effectively and efficiently to outside forces of change and create a new balance

⦁ Connection – survival as part of groups, family, procreation and the raising and education of young, ensuring the survival of the group and the species. This would include developing a mode of communication that makes connection possible.

⦁ Cognition – Confidence that one can achieve the survival goals of life, ensure appropriate and meaningful mental and physical stimulation, be willing and able to perceive and resolve problems, be resilient to change and understand the need for a predictability of response

⦁ Potential – This is where one achieves the freedom to flow with life challenges, to make choices based on exploration and curiosity for greater abundance of resources and connections, and the mastery of one’s life.


What purpose does knowing about a path of motivation serve?


I deal mostly with behavior and much less with teaching tricks. With behavior issues it really helps to know where a dog is in regards to his own survival. What emotional responses can one expect in working with each individual dog? What drives the behavior and what reinforces it? Is it avoidance or attraction that motivates the dog when confronted with a trigger? What motivates a dog in its responses to others, to the environment, to change?


There are many “tools” one needs in working with the emotional responses and subsequent behavior of a dog. This path is one such tool and provides the trainer with questions that can be asked about the dog and his behavior and responses. Questions such as:


⦁ What is he concerned with/worried about

⦁ What does he respond to / gravitate toward

⦁ What does he avoid

⦁ What is he indifferent to / appears to have no meaning for him

⦁ How does he respond when attracted

⦁ How does he respond when avoiding


Answering these questions while moving through the definitions of each level of the path will give a trainer answers as to what currently may motivate the dog being worked with, what can be used to reward and/or reinforce a dog’s learning patterns, and what will demotivate a dog or send him crashing emotionally. These answers will also tell you how effective the dog is in handling himself and the environment and what methods he could choose to ensure survival or if he is overwhelmed enough to just succumb.


This path also helps us to understand our dog’s potential. Too often both in the past and in the present, a dog is view only for his aesthetic value or as a companion and otherwise only thought of as an “animal”. Applying the path of motivation and answering the above questions with the path as the model also leads us to see what is reinforcing a dog’s behavior and what may be preventing (punishing) them from doing as we wish them to do.


Working your dog’s behavior from one end of the path to the other, looking for reinforcers, motivators and punishers and you will then have the means to quickly and efficiently help your dog become the dog of your dreams. Understanding what will produce resilience in your dog, allow him to be creative about solving problems within the rule structure that you set, permitting the dog to persist in his social and creative interactions is what this Path of Motivation is about.


There is also in this Path Of Motivation the tenants of Chaos Theory - that theory of which Canine Game Theory is based. Following the path, you can see where change can occur and how to respond to it so that you and your dog continue on the path. It points out all the internal and external factors that can affect the survival of the dog in your world. And it even shows that punishment and correction based methodologies of training and teaching can stifle persistence, destroy creativity and smother the ability to bounce back (resilience).