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Engagement, description and Importance

This is a situation, we talk and explain extensively with many of our Southernwind Families and families to be, we have seen so many puppies being raised incorrectly due to the lack of "connection" and POSITIVE RESPECTFUL Leadership establishment" How many of you look at people walking their dog with a loose leash or better yet, no leash at all, and the dog is walking calmly next to them and ignoring everything around them.

This image is real for everyone, BUT it takes daily practice. My favorite OLD quote from many great successful trainers is Practice Makes Permanent. This means that you need to commit to daily practice with your dog.

I have observed many times the owner or handler often tries to force the dog to learn using any number of different training techniques, although the dog may learn, an adversarial training technique can cause relationship issues, the most obvious being that neither the dog nor the owner will enjoy the training. A much easier way to train is to teach the dog to pay attention to you and have some fun at the same time.

For training to be successful, the dog needs to be participating actively, which means focused on the handler, engaged, and invested in the training process. A dog that is engaged knows that his payments come from the handler and is motivated to work for the human. But how do you build engagement? Is it the handler’s job to get the dog’s attention, or is it the dog’s job to request the handler’s attention? Make your relationship MATTER to your dog.

I advise my puppy owners to do hand feeding to the puppy or dog(s) and I put up toys so when I pull them out, I have my dog's

undivided attention.

Clear communication, characterized by simple, uniform, consistent cues without having no relevance noise and indicating an opportunity for reinforcement, forms the foundation of a good training relationship.

The most critical skill for a team to have when embarking on training for performance-sport competition is the mutual skill of “offered attention” or engagement. For the dog, it’s making the choice—and it must be a choice—to look to the handler. The choice is driven by the knowledge that the handler has some kind of reinforcement that the dog wants; that the dog understands that he can have it through his behavior; and that he’s physically, mentally, and emotionally able to pay attention, and earn it.

A dog who is ENGAGED knows that payments (praise, treats, toys, and fun) come from its handler and is motivated to work with its human. Before we can ask a dog to follow commands, have good manners, or be safe off-leash, we must show them that listening to us is in their best interest.

Each repetition of wait-choose-reinforce puts strength in the mental awareness you have with your dog. Over time, rehearsing these skills and repeating this scenario over and overdevelops a powerful reinforcement history. The cumulative weight of reinforcement history is what defines the training relationship.

Some "games" you can share with your dog to create Engagement:

1. Hand feeding: teaching your dog to focus on you by feeding on the hand may sound basic but it works! Especially if you have a dog who comes to get their reward and then immediately checks out. Extend the amount of time they pay attention to you by giving rapid-fire rewards and hand feeding.

2. Teach tricks: you may not use tricks in day-to-day life but tricks give you the opportunity to teach your dog about learning, how your payment system and communication works and keeps your dog focused on you! Once your dog understands those concepts, another training (like obedience) is a breeze.

3. Eye contact: teach your dog a look or focus command and pay them when they do it! A dog that is watching you is 100% engaged and ready so that when you do start to ask them for more complicated behaviors, they are committed. Mark and Reward Eye contact whenever your dog offers it. Extend the amount of time they pay attention to you by giving rapid-fire rewards and hand feeding.

4. Hide and go seek: engagement should be fun! Build your dog’s drive to stay engaged with you by making a game out of it. Sneak off with some tasty treats and call your dog to find you. The more your dog is aware of where you are and wants to seek you out, the more they have learned paying attention to you is beneficial.

5. Tethering: if you have a pup or a dog who is new to you, sometimes tethering a dog to you (attaching them via leash to you) can be a simple way to encourage them to focus on you instead of everything else that’s going on around them.

A dog who has practiced engagement is easier to train, has a stronger bond, can better handle distractions, and enjoys the training experience. So get out there and get your dog engaged!!

On our next Blog we will write about more Great Tips on How to build focus and engagement with your dog!!

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