In my last blog I walked you through the basic Stages of Engagement, using Brito and cookies to illustrate with a video. Note that I show all of the stages for illustration, but in training with my dogs I do not go through all of the stages – I start at the point where it makes sense to me for a given dog, based on the challenge level of the environment and the experience level of the dog.

In this blog I’m showing the same basic process, but this time I’m using Lyra and I take my expectations further.

In the first 48 seconds we work through the first three stages of engagement.  First I create engagement with a toy.  Then I wait for eye contact before engaging with a toy.  And finally I wait for engagement and then sustained interaction before rewarding with a toy.

At 48 sec – note my posture.  Here I am “inviting” her to come and play with me.  So we’re back to where we started in stage 1 – I am starting the process, but this time I am asking her if she’d like to play without using any classic reinforcers to back it up.  Note that there is no toy present – my invitation is to engage, not to play with a classic motivator.  After we play, I ask her to set up in heel position.  Based on her expression and behavior, I think she would rather that we continue to play than set-up, but she is not distressed nor does she lose engagement with me.

As a result, I simply ask her again if she’d like to play (1:06 – 1:10).

Her set up continues to be a bit slow, but I’m not too concerned about it.  I can work on that away from engagement training.

We then go directly into work – her attitude is positive so I feel good about this.  I don’t ask a lot – she gets her toy reward by 1:29.

The next rep is more demanding.

At 1:29 I start the process of asking her if she’d like to play with me – my human play bow at 1:37 is accepted and we go back to play/work.

At 1:47 we work – I avoid the issue of setting up by going directly into heel position.

She works until 2:30, at which point she earns her toy.

If your dog will not play with you without food or a toy, that’s fine.  As long as you can get sustained, focused contact with your dog before you start work then you’ll be fine.  I have worked hard to get Lyra to play with me, and it’s a valuable barometer of “how much dog” I have in various environments, so it’s my choice to take her training this route.  It might not make sense for your dog depending on how you’ve trained and what kind of a play relationship you have established with your dog.