Engagement is a critical component of successful dog training. It involves creating an environment where your dog is actively involved in the learning process, and it can be a powerful tool for building a strong bond between you and your dog. In this blog post, we’ll explore what engagement means in dog training, why it’s important, and how to use it to create a positive relationship with your dog.
What Is Engagement?
Engagement is the process of creating an environment where your dog is actively involved in the learning process. This means that they are paying attention to you and responding to cues or commands that you give them. Engagement can be achieved through positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, or playtime. It also involves teaching your dog to focus on you and respond quickly to cues or commands. When your dog is engaged in the learning process, they are more likely to learn quickly and retain information better than if they were not engaged.
Why Is Engagement Important?
Engagement is important for several reasons. First, it helps create a strong bond between you and your dog by showing them that you are invested in their learning process. This bond will make training easier because your dog will be more likely to listen when they know that you care about them and their progress. Additionally, engagement helps ensure that your dog understands what you are asking of them so that they can learn more effectively. Engagement helps to keep training sessions fun for both of you so that both of you enjoy the experience!
What Engagement is Not
To understand engagement, it helps to understand what it is not. Engagement is not a dog who is fixated or obsessed with rewards, such as toys or food or even barking constantly to get your attention. An engaged dog wants to focus and work with you, paying attention to you no matter what you are doing or where you are together.
How Can You Get Started on Engagement Training
First, I would start in your home environment with no distractions. So, I would ditch the dog bowl for at least 2 weeks (You can always go back to bowl feeding). Measure out your dog’s daily allowance of kibble, and put it in a dog training pouch. Hand feeding is teaching your dog to focus on you, (engagement) it sounds basic but it works, especially if you have a dog who comes to get their reward and then immediately checks out. You can extend the amount of time they pay attention to you by giving rapid rewards and hand feeding. Make sure that every time your dog makes eye contact or checks in with you put money in the bank and reward them. Hand feeding can be a game changer, I know it’s not as convenient to hand feed as it is to bowl feed but this can help your dog and your relationship immensely if you have no engagement. What if you feed raw? You can get around this by feeding from an empty tomato sauce bottle with a little added water. This obviously doesn’t suit all dogs, for example, a dog that’s come from a rescue and has been starved. This can be good for dogs that are fussy eaters because they often eat better when they achieve food via alternative ways to a bowl. If you have a breed like the Labrador you will probably get away with not hand-feeding as they eat everything. Also, some dogs like to work for their food. Contra freeloading is a term used when dogs prefer food that requires effort to obtain. This means that given the choice, they would rather earn their food than be given it for free and this leaves them happy mentally fulfilled, and much more likely to behave in a positive way.
You Can Start Engagement on Your Walks
When you are out on your walk together, start rewarding your dog every time he looks up at you. Reward them right away making sure your timing is immediate so your dog understands the relationship between action and reward. If you are used to clicker training you can use a clicker and reward, or you can use a marker word such as “Yes” as your dog looks up at you, and then you can reward your dog with a tasty treat. You can also practice when walking along and then stopping, don’t say anything to your dog, wait for your dog to look back at you, and then say “Yes” and reward with a treat. Remember when you are outside you may need something of more high value than kibble, like a tasty treat, but if your dog is very greedy your kibble should work fine, especially if your hand feeding and still not bowl feeding for 2 weeks.
The Next Stage is to Use The Cue Word “Watch”
The next step is to teach your dog a cue word such as “Watch”. Once this is a learned behaviour and your dog begins to offer it, (looking at you) reward your dog for naturally looking at you and engaging with eye contact when you aren’t specifically asking for it. This can lead to an offered behaviour the more you teach and reward, this is leading to your dog watching you and offering engagement with you. Once your dog is consistently offering you eye contact you can introduce the verbal cue “watch me”. Another little exercise is say watch me and then hold the treat out to the side, as soon as your dog makes eye contact with you, reward them with a treat and say Yes.
Trick Training Games
Trick training shows your dog how much fun training can be. Training together helps your dog to understand your communication and the rewards that come with training, this also is keeping your dog focused on you. Does your dog know any tricks like spin, middle, through, or around? You can use them on your walks, tricks aren’t just for fun because they can help your dog use their brain and feel more confident and engaged with you as a handler. This training strengthens your bond and grows their drive to engage with you.
Don’t Forget Playtime
When I see a toy box in clients’ houses, and dogs playing on their own. (Not saying don’t have a toy box) I see this as another wasted opportunity to bond with your dog. Playing with your dog is also important, every dog deserves playtime. When you take the time to play with your dog, you build a strong bond. Also, remember to let him win some games every now and then to keep your dog interested and it fun.
Recall is Also Engagement.
No dog should be off the lead without a strong proofed recall, the more freedom you give your dog too soon to run around playing with other dogs, the weaker your recall will become. Always start your recall exercises on a long recall training line, I use a whistle for recall and high reward treats. The reason for using a whistle is it has no emotion (owners can panic if their dog is not coming back). Whistle travels further than your voice in bad weather conditions, and it’s transferable between family members. Dogs can react well to tones and sounds which they learn to link with an action that will deliver a reward. We all talk to our dogs, but some owners never stop and talk at the wrong times, it then becomes white noise to the dog. A gun trainer once told me the best piece of training equipment I could have in my bag is duct tape. When I asked why he said to put it over the owner’s mouth. 🤣 This is why frequencies such as clickers or whistles can work very well for your training.
By having engagement with your dog you will soon have a dog who has a strong bond with you, enjoys training, and is less stressed in new situations and environments. Engagement training is the key from day one of getting your puppy or dog. By using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats games, making sure there are plenty of playtimes involved, starting with short sessions, and being patient throughout the process you can use engagement effectively in order to create a positive relationship with your dog.
JP Holistic Nutrition