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Implementation of a plan to decrease arousal and increase motivation – Presented by Robert Dougherty Jr and Alena Heyer

The Penn Vet Working Dog Center raises and trains dogs for Law Enforcement (LE) and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) careers. High motivation for work is critical for success. Dr. Esther Schalke at the 2019 IWDC presented the difference between arousal, (high emotional alert) and motivation (controlled desire).

For patrol dogs, over-arousal can result in redirected aggression, difficult or impossible for suspects to hear warning announcements leading to missed opportunity of surrender, decreasing use of force.  Dogs that work from a state of arousal are more difficult to control, exert valuable energy prior to working, are less controlled, less clear-minded and focused on the task, and can be a liability to their handlers.

In a group of young dogs (15-20) training for LE or USAR, we controlled arousal by requiring a calm response from the dog prior to work or reward was introduced. The dogs were evaluated for any reduction in motivation to perform a task. In our experience, implementing a calm response in various phases of training did not decrease their ability to perform a task at a high level of training expectations and carried over to operational expectations.  We also discovered that by establishing controlled motivation early in the dogs’ training, we were able to increase external stimuli that heightened arousal levels yet still maintain motivation and control of the dog through clearly communicating to the dog what was expected of them. Concerns that reducing the level of arousal would reduce motivation to work were unfounded.

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