RSS Feed

Engagement: Why the Extremes?

Posted on

I watch people train dogs for a living.

One thing I see is people silently staring at their dogs, handing over cookies for behaviors they like and withholding cookies for error.  The currency is cookies.

If you use food as your primary commodity for developing a relationship, then you might find your relationship feels very…hollow.  And if I ask you about your lack of sincere interaction, you might tell me that your dog is independent or doesn’t care about you so you don’t bother with it.  That’s certainly possible.  The other possibility is that how you are choosing to interact is creating that disengaged dynamic.

How about starting and ending each training session with some sincere form of interaction that your dog enjoys? It could be a belly rub.  It could be a game of chase.  It could just be happy talk and pleasant eye contact.  Connect.  Not with cookies.  Not with toys.  Just you.  Connect – and then train.  And when you end?  Connect again.  If you cannot find a way to do this right now, ask yourself how you might get there.

On the plus side, I can see that dogs trained this way clearly chooses their behaviors – to opt in and earn classic food reinforcement or to opt out and experience…nothing.  But what I don’t see is the development of the underlying relationship – you and your dog, that will glue your team together under pressure or when the classic motivators are gone.

And then I see the opposite.  I watch people who are “on” their dogs non-stop.  Second by second, attempting to control every thought, movement, and behavior that their dog might express.  Good or bad, but never relaxed and simply enjoying the process of training.

And what is the end result of this controlling approach?  As always, it depends on the temperament of the dog and the skills of the handler, but it seems to range from a stressy intense worker who channels that emotion into the work to a dog that takes off at the first hint that the trainer has stopped paying attention.  It’s not hard to see why the chance to escape from the physical or emotional control is hard to resist, hence- the dog leaves the moment the owner lets down their guard, or, when given choice in the matter, never opts into work in the first place.

Why is “middle” so hard to achieve?   Maybe because the right answer varies by dog – one dog’s “middle” is smothering or disconnected to another.  Maybe beacuse handlers have their own opinions; what they are comfortable with and their preconceived notions about how a dog should behave. Maybe beacuse handlers are working so hard to learn the skills that they forget to enjoy the process. Maybe because professional dog trainers are good at training dogs to perform specific behaviors, but are less good at training humans in the underlying relationship skills.  Regardless of why it happens, I certainly see the results when people cannot find middle.

Here’s the goal.  Develop a warm relationship with your dog.  “Warm” means that you sincerely acknowledge what you like within training and life as a whole.  That could include food or toys, but it really needs to be more.  It needs to be you as the basis.  Set up circumstances so that the dog can choose to be with you – to train and to learn – because they have learned that it works for them. And if your dog opts in – don’t get intense.  But don’t get clinical either.

Find the middle.  Express how you feel!  If you’re pleased with what is happening – let your dog know rather than having the cookies do the work for you.  And if you’re not pleased – consider your options.  Maybe just let your dog go back to doing not much of anything.  You don’t have to add control, but you also don’t have to try to ratchet training up so that your dog is compelled to stay.  Just let them go.  And see what happens, over time, when you offer sincere warmth for interaction and simply neutral existence for the alternatives.

If you’re not sure how you’re doing then videotape a training session and watch it. Do you look like a disconnected pez dispenser?  That’s bad.  Work to look like a human who loves their dog.  Or do you look like a neurotic parent supervising a child on the edge of a cliff?  That’s bad too.  There is no cliff.  Let your dog discover on his own just how much you have to offer.

And on another note…congratulations to me!  This blog has been nominated for  a Maxwell Award for “Best dog blog!” Even better, my book, “Beyond the Back Yard: Train Your Dog to Listen Anytime, Anywhere!” has ALSO been nominated in the category of Best Training Book.  Yay for me!

 

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.

25 responses »

  1. Congratulations! ! Well deserved! !

    Reply
  2. Kathryn Butterfield

    I love this! I am trying to find the perfect mix of “tries too hard” and “if you love someone, let him/her go”…. interesting I raised 6 kids and found it easier to mix those up into a workable successful relationship with them than I do with my 8 month old Golden pup whom I adore and want to do”everything right” with… i want that easy breezy you are my favorite human and I choose you over ______ anyday! This post confirms what I feel to be right and I thank you for it! What I needed to hear today !

    Reply
    • Here’s something to remember…when your toddlers were two years old, I doubt they chose you over the world. And I bet you didn’t think anything of it. Your baby dog is 8 months old…stay realistic….offer interesting things to do….be a friend….and then set up the environment (your house?) when you want to train, so that you’re a no brainer choice.

      Reply
  3. I agree, yay for you. I love your blog–clear, and makes sense!

    Reply
  4. Congrats Denise! Your thoughts on dog training have really changed how I think about things and training and more important the relationship in general. I watch seminars now and all you here is the sound of clickers coming from everywhere but nothing else. All of a sudden that sounds so hollow. Have a long way to go but glad for the new direction.

    Reply
  5. Thoughtful and so well-stated, as usual. This is an area in which I continue to struggle mightily in trying to help many of my students who struggle with just what you describe. I feel it’s especially hard for many folks when they have trained the Pez dispenser” way for months if not years and then they try to get off it and establish communication when the cookie has done all the talking. We’ll keep chipping away at this critical skill, inspired by your words! Thanks!

    Reply
  6. I loved it! So true on every level. I love my dog..and we both show it 😁

    Reply
  7. Reblogged this on Dogs On The Ball! and commented:
    Another great read from Denise Fenzi about true interaction in training to build relationship.

    Reply
  8. Yaaaay for you!!!

    Reply
  9. Congratulations from France ! great thoughtful article ! very inspiring ! thank you so much for this blog !

    Reply
  10. You deserve it Denise! You work really hard at communicating to people how to train their dogs – humanely. Loved this blog! And your book! Think I’ll go hug my dog now. Yep, SHE likes it!

    Reply
  11. There seem to be so many dogs these days that spend their lives locked in cages, dogs that only get released for ‘training sessions’ A real relationship is best built on the everyday interactions, moments and connections, it shouldn’t have to be crammed into the ten minutes a day spent teaching heeling.

    Reply
  12. Well done many times over
    Your blog is terrific , it makes me lol , it gives me food for thought , challenges me to think .check the most important thing . “The Dog ”
    You create a way for people to see their dogs , their training in a way that is mindful of the spirit with in “The Dog.” to care for it nurture that spirit , in doing so the dog and handler gain so much, learning then is joyous for both sides
    I just read this after a short sweet training session
    Both the dogs and Zi say
    Thank You,

    Reply
  13. Congratulations Denise! You are so deserving of your Maxwell Awards. You are so generous with what you share and how you share it. Thank you for everything you do!

    Reply
  14. Oh my, what a timely email! Today I broke my connection with my dog while we took a walk…I won’t bother you with the details, but I needed a good swift kick in the butt and you provided a well aimed blow. Thank you!

    Congratulations on your nomination for the Maxwell Award and a double fist pump for the nomination for best training book, “Beyond The Back Yard”!! I love reading, watching and listening (recent podcast) to your wonderful and insightful training techniques.

    I look forward to the next big lightbulb moment that I reap from your blog.

    Happy dog playing in 2017

    Denise Fenzi wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com dfenzi posted: “I watch people train dogs for a living. One thing I see is people silently staring at their dogs, handing over cookies for behaviors they like and withholding cookies for error.  The currency is cookies. If you use food as your primary commodity for dev”

    Reply
  15. First of all, yes triple yay for you! I considered myself a pretty good dog trainer and instructor before I started reading your amazing blog and books and attending seminars and camps. Then I realized I still had a long way to go, lol!

    Secondly, I sure have experienced this first hand. My lovely Border collie Fay showed no propensity for physical interaction as a young dog and I didn’t do anything to build it. She did show a strong desire for classic motivators and so there you go, I used them. And used them, and used them some more. 5 years later I realized it was a bad decision. I know that hollow feeling and I don’t ever want to experience that again nor do I want my students to experience it. The good news regarding me and Fay is we really love each other and we have worked out a good compromise. Expecting her to value engagement at this point in her life was not easy but I just built little pieces bit by bit and it’s different in a good way even if it isn’t as good as it could have been. Baby Trek, now 16 months old is engagement crazy and I’m a happy trainer! I’ll never live without that connection again, thank you for leading us in that direction. I’ll do my best to help students develop this with their dogs and show them how much better things can be.

    Reply
  16. “disconnected pez dispenser” had me choking on my coffee! Great insightful article and woo go you on the nomination!

    Reply
  17. Yeah for you!!! Congratulations for well deserved awards!!! Your blog posts are always spot on and ever so helpful!!! Thanks 😃

    Reply
  18. Yay for You – and us! Congratulations on your honors!

    Reply
  19. Love your blogs and double the congratulations on your nomination! You deserve it and I am looking forward to more.

    Reply
  20. Congratulations!!!

    Reply
  21. Congratulations so well deserved!!

    Reply
  22. Gosh I now realise I’m not being negative about other persons training methods. I do all of what you have said and have fab. Relationships with my dogs. Love and attention win always

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: