Tricolour Cavalier KC on sofa


In an interview Jean Donaldson says, ‘no motivation, no training’.

The family I went to yesterday describe their seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jack, as stubborn. I would call him unmotivated. That little face says it al!

Motivation really is just the drive that makes him want to do something. It can be inspired by gaining something rewarding, like fun, food or appreciation – or by avoiding something he doesn’t like.

So far as our relationship with our dogs is concerned, the choice is a no-brainer. Reward not fear.

When the lady wants him to go to his bed, she has to lay a trail of treats to bribe him because otherwise he takes no notice of her (the little monkey will go to bed for the four-year-old daughter!). He likes to pinch the children’s toys and then, when the lady tries to take them off him, he growls and may snap. I noticed that if she calls him he ignores her unless she tries very hard. However, when the man tells him to do something he does it straight away and he simply takes things out of Jack’s mouth with no trouble at all.

I suspect that Jack is just a little wary of disobeying the man but knows the lady is powerless to make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. Refusing is fun as it gains him so much attention.

If he takes a child’s toy, it leads to a somewhat scary game where he will ‘treasure’ the item and if he could speak he would be saying, ‘I dare you to come and take this’. What’s in it for Jack to give the item up straight away or, more importantly, not to take it in the first place?

Blenheim Cavalier King Charles


So far as going to his bed or coming in from the garden is concerned, what’s in it for him, after all? Not complying gets the best results.

It is really so easy to get our dogs to cooperate if we motivate them with plenty of positive reinforcement and appreciation for doing what we want. It’s so important to show them what it is we do want. Different things motivate different dogs so we can experiment. Rewarding is a lot different to bribing. Calling him to his bed and rewarding him when he gets there is a lot different to throwing treats into his bed and luring him there.

Jack is a plump little dog and probably seldom really hungry, so I say he should be fed a lot less and earn some of his food. He can earn special stuff for special things like exchanging or dropping something he has nicked. If this is approached with a sense of humour and all confrontation is avoided, the problem should disappear. Jack never damages the item so they can safely ignore it. At the moment it’s a bit dangerous as the young children may try to take one of their toys off him and the parents are constantly on edge.

The family can do plenty of exchange games – always exchanging for something better (to him) than the item he’s got – the rule being nobody, ever, should force anything off him. He will then find the ‘pinching and treasuring’ game not worth playing anymore. They can teach him that if he picks something up, it’s a far better game to bring it to them instead of ‘possessing’ it.

For the lady’s attention to have value to Jack, attention shouldn’t be constantly available on tap – whenever he demands it. He needs to be taught to earn her attention whilst giving her his full attention when asked. For food to be of value there should be less of it and rewards a little more tasty.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jack, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).