Here’s a phrase that I’ve been hearing lately:

“I don’t want to wait for engagement because I can’t do that in competition.”

So true.

It actually reminds me of the following phrase which I used to hear a lot but which is much less common these days:

“I don’t want to train with food or toys because I can’t use them in competition.”

While both phrases are absolutely true, the speaker is confusing training with competing.  It behooves a person who wishes to compete to move past training the behaviors and forwards towards a trial ready dog.  If you are relying on food, toys or offered engagement to get behaviors out of your dog, you’re not ready to compete.  It’s that simple.

“Training” is the process of acquiring behaviors while developing an emotional state of “want to” towards work.  We use food and toys to train and develop a good attitude, and we use offered engagement to refine our dog’s determination to get the party started without clutching a cookie or toy in your hand.

Food, toys and offered engagement all facilitate your training, but they wont get you into the ring.  You’ve only just begun!  Now you need to prepare for competition.  I wrote a six part blog on that topic which is now a PDF – you can find that pdf on Trial Readiness here for free.  And since free is free, you might as well help yourself.

If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of working through training phases, some of which use food, toys and offered engagement, then there is one more reality I’d like to mention:

You cannot take corrections into the ring either.

So if you decide not use food, toys or offered engagement in training because you can’t take them into the ring, then by that logic you need to eliminate the use of corrections in your training as well. Exactly how you plan to get behaviors on a dog with no food, no toys and no corrections is beyond me.

Training and preparing for competition is never static.  While you are teaching one set of new behaviors you might be polishing anther set, and a third set might be the ones that are being prepped for competition readiness. That is all good and normal!  Don’t doubt yourself.  Just keep an eye on your training and be relatively clear on what you are trying to accomplish with each session.

If you want to train or polish a behavior, keep your cookies front and center.

If you want to improve engagement, keep your patience front and center.

When you have behaviors and engagement, then you can worry about preparing for competition. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.