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).