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Engagement Part 3

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At this point you probably have a pretty good idea of the basic stages of engagement.   I left you with a dog that will engage easily and voluntarily for a sustained period of time, offering both personal interaction and formal work before earning a classic reinforcer.

At the same time that I am working through those stages, I’m also practicing  from stage two with the cookies or toys away from my body.  At first they are close by – only a few feet away.  But eventually, they are very far away – possibly the distance that I might expect to work at a trial between the location of my dog’s crate (where I could keep the rewards) and the competition ring itself.

The important thing to remember is that variables are worked individually and that you start small! Sometimes you’ll have rewards on your body but you’ll choose a reward that happens to be on the ground or nearby, and other times you’ll have nothing on your body at all, but you’ll have access to rewards that your dog may or may not know about.

The trick is to work through the variables slowly and over time – blending personal interaction, play, toys, food and work – in a variety of combinations, to the point where your dog is no longer asking the question, “NOW do I get my reward?”  Instead, the package becomes the reward.  If you’re lucky and you do a good job with your personal play skills, you may get to the point where the interaction with you is reward enough to maintain high quality work in competition.

Some dogs will always focus more on the classic motivators than others, which is fine.  Create a path that works for you, but don’t give up too soon.  A truly engaged team takes months and years to create, and if you make a point of blending the possible rewards from the beginning, you’ll have a much easier time when you decide to enter a trial.

Here is a video with Lyra.  I ask her to engage and she accepts.  I ask her to work and she is willing and enthusiastic.  I then giver her a classic (food) reward that is close by but off my body. To be trial ready, those rewards would have to be 100 feet away, and she would need to be able to work for a much longer period of time for only personal engagement as middle steps.  And in Lyra’s case, it would always be a toy, since food is a relatively weak motivator for her.

(ignore Brito – he got out of the house and I left him in the area while I finished up with Lyra).

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. Denise, your series on engagement has been a great help to me with my wild child, 11 month old Bearded Collie. It gives me a great starting place every time we set out to practice something. We rarely make it past Stage 2, but we will given time.

  2. Thanks Denise for the series on engagement. Makes great sense when in a training mode. But I have always wondered: what happens if the dog just wants to play and ‘engages’ you at other times (outside formal training)? Do you play (reinforce ) without asking for ‘work’ or perhaps a trick, before giving the reinforcement? My small dogs (terriers) live indoors and often ‘engage’ at other times for a toy (home is boring) – in fact sometimes more than at formal training because we don’t train every day. Will the dogs be confused why sometimes i reinforce without asking for work and sometimes I ask for work before I reinforce. And actually they do not engage that much outside because of all the interesting distractions to check out . I find that every new place eg new trial setting, I often lose the engagement I built up at the regular training grounds. They can never get ‘bored’ so easily at the noisy exciting trial ground. Well, perhaps I haven’t found that reinforcer that will overcome everything else – like natural curiosity (I call my terriers ‘nosey’) and wonder if they will ever ‘grow’ out of it. Or perhaps like your post on “Perspectives” they really are not interested in ‘working’. I only use positive reinforcement, never forceful, but they certainly don’t show the enthusiasm of working dogs. Yes, your post on Perspectives poses important questions.

    • Hi Lillian, I’m happy to discuss training and blogs on Facebook – feel free to follow me there – I almost always link to blogs there as well and conversation often follows. I generally don’t discuss training here – not enough time in the day!


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