This week I had two consults with two brand new dog behavior clients. Both families were awesome, and also pretty different from my last few clients. In 2012, I worked with several dog-reactive dogs and a couple of human-biting dogs. This week’s clients were both families with great young dogs who wanted some guidance so their already-good dogs would be better.
This got me thinking: how do we motivate owners to do the work with their dogs?
I am in my second-to-last semester of my master’s program in Behavior Analysis. For the last year and a half, I have regularly had to design, conduct, and report on various behavior change programs. I have done the majority of these projects on the athletes I coach; a few have been done on myself and my lovely wife. Every so often, though, the parameters of my projects allow me to work with my dogs.
This, I think, has been huge in shifting my work from the traditional dog trainer approach to a more scientific approach. Right now, I am working with Lenny on a recall program. Every single step of this process is video recorded, measured, and graphed. Yes, I am a huge dork, but this is so cool. I am seeing all of the things we talk about in my classes happen in real life. It is, honestly, quite thrilling.
So where do my clients come in to this? Well, I keep working with Lenny for a few reasons: 1. I want her to come when called, but honestly this is probably the least motivating aspect of the project for me. 2. I have to present this project as a poster to two classes of grad students in just two months and it has to be the best. I am a wee bit competitive. Ah well, we all have our flaws, right? 3. Graphing and seeing her progress is so effing motivating to me.
That’s right. This whole project is pretty much motivated by the beautiful graphs that are coming out of it.
So to bring it back to my clients again, what I need to figure out is what motivates them to keep working with their dogs? There are, of course, some pleasures built into the whole system: working with your dog is fun; seeing progress is fun; the approval of your dog trainer, I assume, is reinforcing. But many of these are delayed. Sometimes you don’t see progress right away; sometimes your dog doesn’t make the process fun; you only see your dog trainer once a week, and is her approval really all that important?
What I am interested in is how can I get people really excited about working with their dogs regularly. Do regular dog owners enjoy a good graph? I would love to collect data on all of my clients’ progress, but I’m not sure whether that would actually deter owners from doing the work with their dogs. Should we implement a token economy, such as a sticker system? Maybe X number of stickers gets you 10% off your next visit?
I am open to your thoughts, folks! What would make you work with your dog more? What would balance out the pain of having to actually collect data on your dog’s behavior (or would you secretly love it like I do?)? Help!