By Al Magaw
I just finished reading a rather in-depth article on team motivation written for people in a position of leadership and realised how many of the same principles apply when working with a team of dogs.
One of the principles of motivation the author spoke of was to reduce the distracting activities that take energy and desire away from the goal to be achieved, which is a close parallel to keeping dogs confined until it’s time to run a team. A dog that is constantly running loose with a multitude of distractions is unlikely to have the desire to give it’s all to “the team”, while a dog that is generally confined is “released” to run when the team is ready to go, making the run even more fun and exciting for each individual dog.
The author of the article wrote a lengthy section on the advantages of having a purpose in life, and while he was focusing on human activity, anyone who has ever noticed the change in attitude in a puppy after it’s first successful run in harness will recognise the pride and confidence the pup has gained in itself after just one run in a team. As training goes on, the young dogs begin to show what position in the team they prefer to be in. Some want to be in front, setting the pace, using their own intellect in making decisions while taking guidance from “management”. Some like to be in the wheel position where their muscle power and strong backs can be put to the test. Other’s prefer to run at point where they can assist the leaders or take over when needed. And like their human counterparts, some dogs prefer to be just part of the team, contributing to the overall success of an activity that becomes greater than the sum of the individuals. That’s such a parallel to human goals!
While humans are interested in monetary rewards and some can be motivated solely by them, most get their greatest reward from being part of the team. Almost the same can be said for dog teams. Some trainers treat their dogs immediately following a run, thinking that the dogs will associate one pleasure with another, while other successful trainers let the activity be the reward itself.
The author speaks of the “risk” of participating in the team in reference to punishment for not performing as well as management wants. If the punishment is too great, the willingness to participate at all is diminished. The correlation to sled dog attitude is obvious
Humans, and dogs alike can be motivated by challenge. The teams that win or finish well in the Yukon Quest and then go on to do the same in the Iditarod seven days later are good examples of dogs being motivated through challenge. A successful result from a difficult challenge inspires self confidence, no matter the species being challenged.
There is not the space in this blog to finish the comparisons between the statements made about team work in humans and dogs, but I will conclude next week. I found the information to be valuable in my quest to understand my teams, and I hope the reader does likewise
Al Magaw is a musher from Salmo, BC. Al keeps a medium sized kennel of 20 – 45 alaskan huskies as well as several pet dogs of various breeds. Al has been training and racing for the last 33 years. Before becoming involved with sled dogs, Al, along with his family, kept and competed with horses for many years. Al can be reached through his website athttp://www.spiritofthenorthkennels.com Al is a guest blogger for Denver Dog Works and can be reached through our website athttp://www.denverdogworks.com