“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).