Is Frustration a Good Motivator?

by | Dec 6, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

2. the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfillment of something.
If I asked you if you used frustration to motivate your dog, what would you say?
Take a look at these videos. They are the same training session but with two different dogs (breeds/ages/temperaments):
Here is Gletta first: I am using frustration (extinction) to build a duration nose target. Watch her body language when a single nose touch to my hand doesn't work. She wags her tail and tries again and each time I delay the reward, she learns to stay near my hand just a little bit longer each time. Gletta didn't try any other behaviors during those delays in accessing the reward.
Now, let's look at Sprint: Same method as with Gletta. Can you tell what caused me to back off to single nose touches again? If you guessed “foot movement” or “nearly sitting”, then you're right! Those “extra” behaviors tell me that she's not 100% sure what's being marked and reinforced, so she's trying several different things just in case. At best, I'll have sitting and foot movement in our nose touch and at worst, I'll have several behaviors that I need to put through extinction trials to try and get rid of.
Since I mentioned extinction: Extinction is non-reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior. It's not the withdrawal of a reward that's already been offered, and it's not contingent on the performance of the unwanted behavior. Whatever was reinforcing that behavior is simply is no longer available.
So, when the reinforcer for single nose touches was no longer available, extinction is occurring. That's a bit frustrating, right? In both cases, it motivated the dogs to try again and that earned them reinforcement. I'm not afraid of using it in that way, as long as I'm paying attention to the behaviors surrounding the one that I'm teaching.
Let's take another look at a video of Sprint, where she's learning to put her collar in my hand and not nose touch my hand. I do use my right hand for nose touches and my left hand for collars but it's still easy to see where a dog would try the more well-known behavior first. And, we get to see how quickly I realize that I need to make a change to splits in the training process.
When you've been instructed to “wait it out”, I want you to film that session and really look at the behaviors your dog is giving you instead of OR in addition to the one you set out to train. All of those movements are important. And, if you catch them early you have a really good shot at making adjustments and changing things for the better. Videoing and having short sessions is so important for these reasons.
I suspect that, in Sprint's case, if I had continued training collar gives in a way that caused her that much frustration, she would flop onto the floor every time I presented my hand for her.
Back to the original question: Is frustration a good motivator? 
Yes, if the criteria is well established and split into small approximations.
Yes, if the handler is observing ALL of the behavior(s) happening during training.
Happy Training!



Megan Foster


I have been training in agility nearly my entire life. With seventeen years of experience, I have had the opportunities to work with hundreds of dogs within a large variety of breeds.

I began my agility journey with an American Eskimo and a Westie. In 1999, I began competing with my first Shetland Sheepdog, Buddy. Buddy’s lesson to me was about connection and bond. While running him, I knew that agility was what I was meant to do.