Engagement training is the very specific training process where responsibility for starting and pushing for work is transferred from the human to the dog. That is different than having an “engaged
dog, which could happen with no specific training at all.
Do you need Engagement training?
Maybe, but maybe not. People have been competing with dogs successfully for a very long time, and many of those teams had no formal engagement training at all.
Here are some considerations in a nutshell:
If you would describe your dog as lower drive, or with a tendency towards stress, or as having low frustration tolerance, or as easily distracted, you will very likely find engagement training helpful.
The reason is that formal engagement training is all about teaching dogs to opt in when they feel safe and to accept personal interaction as a reinforcer (or as a bridge to a toy or food reinforcer). That can be just the ticket for dogs that need you more because of a higher stress temperament or for dogs that are unable to work well for several minutes before receiving a toy or food reward. This is especially helpful for both low drive dogs who simply don’t care enough to work hard for a long period of time, and also for high drive dogs that begin to express frustration behaviors when they are not reinforced sooner or because they have developed a habit of working even when stressed.
And if your dog is high will to please, not particularly prone to frustration, medium to high drive, and low in stress? You may not need formal engagement training at all.
That profile is your natural competitor. The dog wants to get along and cooperate, enjoys the reinforcement they will earn for work, and doesn’t freak out when it doesn’t come fast enough. A winning combination!
Take a look at your situation.
If you’re not sure if engagement training might help you, go ahead and send me a note, either through FB messenger or through my website here and I will tell you if I think my online class might be a good fit.
If you think engagement training might help, but you don’t have the interest, resources or time to take my online class, then start here:
Take your dog to a new environment, ideally not too distracting, and give your dog plenty of time to explore and settle in. When you have done that (called Acclimation), then stand still and wait. When your dog gets bored with doing nothing and looks at you simply because there’s not much else to do, go ahead and start an active treat or toy party for about 10 seconds. After that is over, go ahead and encourage or allow your dog to disengage and start over again. I call that “Take a break”.
The more places you do this basic pattern the better! It allows your dog to learn the basics of opting in and also developing some serious motivation to check in with you when you’re standing still and quiet. The dog learns that when they look to you then interesting things will happen, and allowing them to decide “when” helps to prevent them from working stressed or nervous; a classic result of a human-directed start to work.
If this is the only thing you do in regards to formal engagement training, you will likely discover that your dog’s willingness to work for you, and the ability to engage for longer periods of time, is very likely to increase.
If you would like to take a structured class that goes into more depth and addresses the myriad complications that are bound to arise, that’s great too! I’d love to have you. Bronze level spots cost $65. Go here to learn more: Engagement