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Basic Engagement

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“Engagement” is a popular word lately and it’s one I’m rather fond of.  Indeed, so fond that it is in the title of the first book I wrote with Deb Jones; Book 1 Developing Engagement and Relationship.

So…what does it mean?

In a nutshell, engagement is “focused intent” on you, your motivators, and whatever activities you have in mind.  The definition is the easy part.  Now let’s talk about what I might do if I have it.  Or don’t have it!

The following video is long (15 minutes) so I will not go through all of it in detail but look for the following things:

Note how I give plenty of cuddle time to allow him to come back to work stronger.  During these moments I usually sit on the floor and simply scratch him and talk nicely to him.  This is his break; his chance to look around and feel safe.  You’ll see him use this opportunity.

Notice the process of rewarding engagement with work.  When I think he’s ready, I ask for energy.  If he gives me energy, I ask for work.  And we go from there.

Here is the order of engagement:  1) dog feels safe (quiet cuddles and looking around). 2) Ask for energy.  3) Ask for work.

Let’s look:

2:34 I feel like I don’t have as much dog so I stop with training and go back to a period of engagement before returning to work.

3:34:  Here he looks over at the people.  I can feel that he has “softened” in his engagement with me but I ignore it.  By 3:43 it becomes obvious that I should not have ignored it.  We stop and go back to relaxing.  I want him to look around and feel comfortable so I’m keeping this interaction low key.  This is cuddle time.

4:10 I switch from cuddle time to re-engaging his energy so we can go back to work. We then move back into work, alternating with fun engagement type interactions.

6:00 Bringing in the platform is  risky because I put it in front of the people – I am “testing” to see how much dog I have.  I lose!  He goes for the people on the first attempt but he gets it right after that.  I’m glad I made the attempt; sometimes you won’t progress if you don’t take risks.

7:00 Another dog in the area breaks his concentration – no problem!  I bring him back for more cuddle time and a rest.  Then back to work!

8:44 Brito is worried about a dog but it’s brief.  I’m aware but we head back to work.  When it happens again at 9:00 I stop and go back to cuddle time – he needs a mental break.

We look together in the “scary” direction.  I’m not trying to engage him for work – I’m trying to let him know I’m here with him and we’re safe! I WANT him to look at what bothers him until he is comfortable.  Slowly I re-engage and then we work.

11:00 He’s not tired yet and I think I have enough dog so we switch over to articles.  You can see several dogs walk by and he’s comfortable!  Those breaks are paying off for me now.  Indeed, my patience with him for the past twelve months is starting to pay off in all of his work.

13:30 When he starts missing his signals I know it’s about time to stop.  He’s mentally tired.  We end with super light work and easy engagement, and then we’re done.

Note that he is dragging a long line for safety but it has no role in either engagement or work.

I was very happy with this session overall.

To recap:  the order of priority is emotional comfort (cuddles or acclimation), engagement (Dog focuses intently on you or starts offering behaviors to push you into training), and work (you comply with your dog’s request – work begins and you drive the direction).


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

3 responses »

  1. Dear Denise, I have read a number of your postings and find them really helpful.
    I have been training my dogs (min schnauzer aged 5 and JRT aged 4) for abt 3 years, for OB, agility and rally.
    What you say about engagement is so true.
    My JRT is nervous of people standing and watching from behind the competition fence. I reckon they may be sometimes cheering or waving, though not necessarily so. This really lowers her performance and in some cases she refuses to do the station in rally or weave poles in agility when these are placed by the side of the fence.
    How can I give her the ’emotional comfort’ in such cases? Our practices do not include similar settings. I realize that at such times, engagement is almost impossible and she just does not respond to my verbal encouragement (given in rally and agility).
    It’s a pity because she is a clever dog and when calm and engaged does perform really well.
    It’s not more training that I need, but rather – how to solve this nervous behavior.
    I have tried taking her to crowded places to walk – but. it’s pretty hard to ask for work in those settings, except short stay exercises. She would ‘watch’ me when I ask maybe for a few moments, get rewarded and then begin to focus on the surroundings again.
    I am not sure you would be able to answer my query, but can you suggest websites that give advice on this?
    I live in Malaysia and there are no ‘dog behaviorists’ here. The trainers do not have enough experience on this type of problem.

    • Your problem is common. Take a look at the following classes at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy – they are online so will work for you.

      1. Dealing with the Bogeyman. This class will help you learn to help her relax in public and how to read your dog most effectively:

      2. Confidence building for the Obedience and Rally class. This class will help her learn to look forward to the ring:

      Both of these classes are currently full at the level but bronze is open and you will learn quite a bit. The cost at bronze is $65 and class instruction starts on Dec 1st, so your timing is perfect – registration just opened yesterday!

  2. Fantastic video! Thanks for posting a whole training session and with a dog that is still in the ‘early’ stages of learning. It was interesting to see how long you spent in engagement. I don’t know many people who would spend that much time of a training session addressing the emotional state of the dog. It was nice to see in practice some of the things you talk about in your book. 🙂


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