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Human Engagement

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The following is a lecture from my Engagement class. A student asked me to make it a blog so that she could easily share it with her students.  Simple request – so here it is.

The purpose of this lecture was to help people better understand how and why engagement works, using a human to human example.  If you don’t understand Engagement and would like to have a clue, simply search this blog for the word “engagement.”  You’ll find a lot to work with.  If you would like to follow this concept in greater depth, go ahead and join me in the class I’m teaching this term – registration is still open:  Engagement. This class will not run again until next year.

Human Engagement lecture:

You go to a party.  You see a person across the room and you would like to talk to them.

 You go to chat with them, walk up, introduce yourself and start a conversation.  That is Stage 1 – you’re doing all the work – they just receive your attention.

At some point that conversation ends and a half hour later, you find yourself looking in that person’s direction again.  You’d like to talk to them but you don’t know if they would like to talk to you.  You look over and they look up at you.  One of several things happens.

  1. They don’t see you and look right past. (you’re not even on the radar – environment too hard or they are actively ignoring you). Rejecting stage 2.

  2. They see you, smile/nod briefly and continue their gaze to another place in the room (you’re on the radar and they are being polite but they do not want to talk to you) – Rejecting stage 2

  3. They see you, make eye contact and smile.  But they don’t move.  You’re feeling bold so you approach and start up a new conversation.  That is Stage 2.  They started it by smiling and that indicated to you that they wanted to talk – but they didn’t approach.

  4. They see you, make eye contact smile and step in your direction.  That is early stage 3.  They are CLEARLY indicating that they want to have a conversation by moving in your direction.  As soon as they take one step towards you, you head in their direction as well That is the start of stage 3 – not only did they make eye contact but they began to approach.  Great!

  5. They see you, make eye contact, and start heading in your direction.  You stand still and wait.  You are pleasant, you smile. But you don’t move.  They come all the way to you. That is solid Stage 3.

  6. Now…things change a bit.  You’re at that same party and the scenario is the same.  Except this time, when they come over to visit you, you’re actually pretty shy!  So when they approach you’re polite but…you don’t know what to say!  So you just stand there smiling and looking a little shy.  So, they start to work to bring you out of your shell.  They might touch your arm to get your attention. (dog jumping on you) They might start an animated conversation. (dog in your space barking at you)  They might invite you to come look at something with them. (playbow)  That is the other person aggressively pursuing you, rather than the reverse.  And when a person is doing that, they are 100% committed to getting your attention. Not much is going to distract them because they want you to talk to them.  You’re interesting!  And what should you do?  Respond!  But – play a bit of hard to get first. That is hard core Stage 3.  You’re willing and available but…playing a bit of hard to get.

Stage 4 adds in work but we don’t need to worry about that right now

Does your dog prefer a toy or a cookie?

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Many trainers, myself included, will ask you to rank your motivators.  We do this because we want to be able to strategically pair the value of the motivator with specific circumstances in training.  The basic idea is that more difficult work or effort would be paired with higher value motivators, and vice versa.

The problem with this is that while it works reasonably well within a type of motivator (preferences for a specific type of food, type of toy or approach to personal play) it doesn’t work nearly as well if you switch types of motivators.

Brito prefers cookies to toys, in the sense that if I made both available, he would opt for a cookie. But in terms of his energy (caused by knowing he is about to chase a ball), his focus, and his endurance, I’d say the ball gives me a better overall result for practicing known movement-based exercises. I cannot compare food to toys because the entire effect is simply different.

Lyra and Raika always prefer a toy, no matter what type of food I might have available, but I still use food in their training, depending on what I am trying to accomplish.

Some dogs clearly prefer one to the other and their preference is expressed across the board, but plenty of other dogs are not obvious; their preferences might be a function of their environment (food might work where a toy might not), the work under consideration (heeling might benefit from a toy whereas a recall might look better with a cookie), or something else altogether, like time of day, the specific cookie (or toy), how hungry the dog is at that time, etc.

So which is preferred?

There is no real answer, and at the end of the day, it’s not important.  What is important is understanding what motivators are most effective, for a given dog, under a given circumstance. Once you have a handle on that, choose the motivator that is going to give you the attitude, energy, and clearness of thinking that makes sense for whatever you are working on.

When considering motivators, think in terms of “appropriate for the circumstance”.

Precision Heeling

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If you’re interested in learning the skill of Precision Heeling, I’m teaching a class on just this topic starting June 1st, 2017 at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  Registration is currently open.  Gold spots are full, but bronze is unlimited and at $65, it’s a pretty good deal for 100 or so videos plus descriptive lecture and active forums plus, you’ll get to watch 10 teams work their way through the materials with my coaching.

After this term, I will move this class to the self-study section of FDSA, so if you’d like to join the class “live” then this is your last chance to hop in.  I will miss teaching heeling – I love heeling. But I need to free up my schedule for a few new ideas that I’m passionate about and I really want to develop.  No doubt I’ll be talking more about those ideas here on this blog in the near future.  Always something going on.

If money is tight, please ask for a scholarship and we’ll cover half of your tuition.

Here’s the direct link if you’d like to learn more; Precision Heeling.

I’m also teaching Engagement this term; you can find that here:  Engagement

In addition, a variety of talented instructors are teaching thirty ADDITIONAL classes on the schedule – it’s going to be hard to choose!  Each class now includes a sample lecture so you can see what we offer and how each instructor approaches teaching.

Here is the sample lecture from Precision Heeling; Go ahead and use it whether you sign up for the class or not.

Sample lecture from Precision Heeling:

This class is comprised of four lectures and 23 skills.  In combination with the forums for problem-solving, a student will acquire the skills to train precision heeling or to re-train problems with their basic heeling foundation.  The following are the first four skills from the skill set.

Skill 1: Place front feet on a disk

Method: You may either shape or lure this behavior.

Video Demo:


Note: Teaching your dog to keep the feet up even when you move is very very important – I like to be able to move out about five feet without my dog getting off – that makes the second step (pivoting) much much easier. So…do not rush this step! In the above video, the dog was extremely cooperative – she understands training so she understood what I wanted right away. If your dog avoids the disc, try for one foot first. Even if the dog just brushes the disc with a foot, give a cookie. Position the cookie over the disc as you feed so that the dog is more likely to decide to step on it to reach the cookie than to try going around.

If your dog REALLY does not want to stand on the disc, try a full stair step first – if you have stairs in your house then this will be easy – stand at the bottom of the stairs and hold the cookie in a manner that will cause the dog to reach forward and step up to get it with their front feet. First one foot and then two feet. Then go back to your disc – some dogs just need a bit of help to get that first step up. Still struggling? Change the surface of your disc. It may be slippery or shiny or…who knows?

Skill 2: Keep feet on the disc

Method: After dog’s feet are on the disc, step slightly away and then return quickly to feet a cookie. If your dog’s feet come off, help them back onto the disc and then try again. Start slow! Just a few inches away from the disc and back. In this video, Brito is working on keeping his feet on the disc. He is relatively new to this, so you can see how I handle it when he comes off. Note that I back in and out from the disc- rewarding for staying up. Make sure that both feet are on the disc when you reward! I am also doing a very small amount of rotating (for skill 2 below):

Skill 3: Dog maintains a “front feet up” position even as you move around the disc.

Method: start very close to your dog. Move slightly left or right with your hands centered in front of your dog (with a treat if you prefer to lure; without if you are a shaper). Treat immediately for any movement. Slowly increase the number of steps dog must take before rewarding. Don’t sweat the straightness of the dog in front at this point. Continue until your dog can do 180 degrees in either direction. You should be moving relatively slowly so your dog is controlling their movement.

Video Demo: In this video, I am working with a dog that does not have this skill already, so you can see how I help her to develop what I want.

(learning with lure – tervuren raika)

Video Demo: In this video, you’ll see the finished product – Lyra already knows how to move on the disc. Note my hand position in front – if you center your hands in front, your dog will be much straighter.

(shaped – tervuren lyra)

Video Demo: This puppy is just learning! See how we handle his mistakes, but we want him to be correct as much as possible. we are using food placement to try and keep him relatively straight in front:

(Puppy Brittany Cruise – lured with hand pocket from the front)

Video Demo

Same puppy as above but his second lesson:

(puppy Brittany Cruise lesson 2)

Video Demo: This is the same video from above for skill #1: Note that Brito actually turns more easily if I am further away from him when I rotate; that’s fine too! Find what works best for your dog. Because Brito is also learning to offer positions, you’ll see him doing all sorts of things. Just ignore the positions and focus on what his front feet are (or are not) doing:

Skill 4: Accept pressure of your body near disk:

Method: Teach your dog to be comfortable with your feet very close to the disk in both front and side position. Note that my feet are centered and facing the disk, or parallel to the dog and disc when I am standing next to my dog (heel position). If your dog avoids you and tries to leave the disk as you move in closer, take your time. This is normal. If your dog tries to come to front position when you attempt to move to the side, use a piece of food on the outside of his head to hold him still (shown in Lyra video)

Video Demo:

As you can see, this skill is new to Raika. Note that the pressure of my body plus the movement of the food is not enough to get her moving, so I put my knee out to add pressure. She understands and the second time she moves on her own

(front position – trainee Tervuren Raika)

Video Demo: In this video, you should be focusing on how close I am to the dog; the fact that I added a pivot was simply to give you a better camera angle – do not add this step at this point unless your dog already understands pivoting on a disc:

Long Held Beliefs

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Recently an article came out that challenged a very common dog training/raising technique.

I’m not interested in discussing the merits of the author’s thoughts.  What I found much more interesting were the reactions of people reading the article.  I got the feeling that people were mostly upset about the fact that somebody would dare to challenge a popular technique.

What’s up with the sacred cow thing?  Just because an idea has been around for a long time does not make it right.

Dog training is evolving.  We will all discover that we’ve been wrong at various points in time. The ability to do a bit of reflection – recognize that maybe we were wrong before and might need to change – is a skill worth developing.

And there is another, equally valid, possibility!  Maybe our combination of personal experience and research suggests that we should not change; that the evidence does not support this new direction.  And that’s great too!

But what is not great is hardening ourselves.    When controversy rears it’s head, we need to look.  Every time.  Think about it! Mull it over a bit.  Respond calmly and rationally or don’t respond at all.  Maybe the article’s fallacies further reinforce what we know to be true – that’s fine – support your beliefs. Maybe the truth of the article reinforces what we need to learn to evolve; that’s fine too – it might be time for change!  And finally, maybe the controversy is enough to get us thinking but not enough to change.  Again, a wonderful conclusion that allows for more discussion, thought and research.

What worries me is a response of “this is wrong because it is not what I learned but I refuse to explain why” or “because I don’t agree with this part we must shut down this discussion altogether.”  There’s nowhere to go with that; no way to learn or consider what one might have missed.  Ultimately, being right or wrong doesn’t matter nearly as much as a willingness to engage the hard questions.

If something makes you uncomfortable and you decide you don’t agree, take a moment to explain why and state your sources (which may involve personal experience).  Keep an eye on your tone; the goal is to disagree, not to stop discussion or to shut down a person’s willingness to think and share. OR… stay out of the discussion altogether! But an argument that says you’re wrong but I don’t have time/interest/inclination to explain it? Or an argument that says you’re wrong in one part so I can’t possibly engage the rest of your discussion?  That’s not a winner.

On another note…

Looking to advance your dog training skills?  Check out Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  We have 33 classes and registration opened yesterday; maybe there is something for you!


Pinpointing source (Nosework)

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Brito and I have been playing with Nosework, taught at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  So fun for everyone, especially my hunting Brito!

Today we’re playing a game to help him learn to get as close as possible to the source of the odor.

This unedited video shows what I’m up to.  In short….get the right container, cut exactly one small hole approximately the size of the dog’s nose, and teach your dog that it’s not about the container at all; it’s about where the odor is emerging. (Note: Make sure the edges are smooth so that your dog finds it pleasant!)

Brito’s been playing at Nosework for a couple of weeks; he loves it! I have a couple of other games in mind when he masters this one:

Training is training is training.  What happens when you look at a sport as an outsider rather than as a person with a history of tradition, “shoulds” and “this is how we do it’s?”  You won’t know until you try.  As long as you’re kind, the worst thing that happens is you have to back out of the hole you dug and head in a new direction; a small price to pay for the chance to explore and learn!  Heck, if you think about it for a moment, maybe you’ll think up ways to apply this idea to scent articles for your obedience dog or tracking articles for your tracking dog.  Or maybe the whole activity will be so fun that you can use it to reward other skills that you’re trying to develop – one activity as a reward for another!

If you want to learn more, either from the beginning in our Introduction to Nosework class (NW101) all the way up to Reading the Nosework Dog for competition readiness (NW380), check out the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy’s Nosework program. This term we’re offering five different Nosework classes; something for everyone at pretty much every level. The combined knowledge of our Nosework team (Stacy Barnett, Julie Symons and Melissa Chandler) is really exceptional!  Go ahead and join the fun!

Learn your dog, Part 2

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Last week I talked about watching my dog in a contained area, free to do as he chose.  I talked about what I learned and why I do it.

If you tried that exercise and found it interesting, here’s another simple one to try.  If this one sound familiar, that’s probably because it comes from my online class and book, Train the Dog in Front of You.

Starting wherever you want, attach a leash to your dog’s collar.  No food or toys visible. Only one dog at a time.  Now…go.

The only rule is that your dog makes all of the decisions.  If you started from your house then your dog will select the direction of travel from the front door.  Your dog will decide when to stop and when to go.  Your dog will decide what to sniff and what to look at.  If your dog chooses to backtrack then you will allow for that.

Your only job is to keep your dog and the environment safe.  If you selected an environment that causes endless issues, for example, your dog wants to approach dogs in a place with a lot of dogs or is trying to pee on inappropriate things, then you picked the wrong environment.  Try again.  Work very hard not to reprimand, not to pull on the leash and not to re-direct your dog unless it’s required for safety.  Be pleasant and warm if your dog checks in, but don’t start a party.

For this exercise, I selected an outdoor shopping mall for Brito and for Lyra, I selected a wide open park. You may want to do this exercise several times to gain the most possible information. Which sense is most dominant for your dog; does he stare off into the distance or is he all about his nose?  Does he stop and listen for sounds?  Does he try to taste things or eat them?  Does he move quickly through the area or is he methodical and calm?  Does he check in with you, and if so, after how long?  Is he frantic?  Does he enjoy this exercise or does it make him stressed?

Did this exercise provide you with any surprises? Information about how you might want to train your dog differently?

If your dog got the point where he just stopped and stared at you, what did you do next?  If you decided to ask him for a few behaviors, how was his attitude?  Did he stick with it, or did he opt out and go back to what he was doing?

I (and many of my students) found this exercise enlightening, to say the least.

Try it.  Tell us about it in the comments if you wish!

Learn your dog, Part 1

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These days I’m watching a lot of dog behavior.

Let’s look:

I can see that hunting is very important to Brito. He will do this for a very long time.  Can you see how he is determined to find the scent and pinpoint it accurately?  Can you see that he is fully oriented to this activity?  He is intent on what he is doing but aware of what is happening around him (which would not be obvious in this clip but I watched for more than 30 minutes…).  He’s hunting.  That is Brito’s dominant interest; using his nose and searching for game of some type or another. In this case, it’s a rat and her babies under the deck.

For most of my observation time, I am sitting 20 feet away.  I have a ball and food and he knows this.  Here and there he’ll come over and visit me, though the first time he didn’t leave that spot for over 30 minutes.  When he visits I give him cookies and throw his ball until he remembers the critters and then he returns to his hunt.

Because I find dog behavior interesting, and because I like seeing my dog ultimately happy and engaged, I can watch this for hours and indeed, I do.  And I learn quite a lot.

I want to know what my dog cares about.  I want to know what my dog looks like when he is ultimately engaged and happy.  I want to know how long he will persist in tasks that absorb him on the most fundamental level.  How does he handle frustration?  Is his threshold for frustration high or low? What variables influence that frustration level?

And in spite of his absorption and his love of this activity, I can call him to me if I want him or if I want to play.  Most (but not all) of the time he is able to respond to a recall cue away from the deck.

He does not come to me because I have food or toys; he could have had those at any time simply by walking over and asking.  He comes because that is his habit; that is what he has been trained to do and it’s what we do together.

And if I want I can ask him to work.

He does not work because he prefers that to hunting.  He works because that is also his habit; it is what he has been trained to do and it is what we do together.  But if I ask for more than a minute of work under these circumstances, we’ll regress in our training.  I know that because I’ve tried out various combinations of hunting, working and playing.

Here, I have learned that his attention span is fantastic for activities that matter to him. I have learned that if I sit close to him (2 feet), he will check in with me more often than if I sit further away (20 feet).  If I leave altogether, I have learned that he will persist on his own for a few more minutes but then he comes to find me.  He wants me there as a companion or possibly as a source of comfort – I don’t know.

I have learned that if he asks for work after he has hunted for an extended period of time – maybe 20 minutes or so – he can give me fantastic work!  More intensity and effort that I ever see in a more traditional training setup.  Maybe he is channeling his frustrated hunting interested into prey – chasing the ball.  Maybe he is simply in a fantastic mood from his hunting activity, and it is carrying over into his work.  Maybe he’s happy that I am letting him be a dog and giving him a chance to do his own doggy things.  I don’t really know, but it’s all interesting.  Maybe over time I could try and ferret out the relevant variables.

I am fascinated by dogs being dogs.  Observing, listening, wondering, considering.

Try it; let your dog be a dog.  Just watch.  Don’t interrupt.  Don’t influence.  Just watch.  What do you see?  What does your dog love, independent of you?  How, when and why does your presence influence your dog?

Next week I’ll give you anther simple activity to learn more about your dog – who he is independent of you.