We get training questions through our social media every day. Many of which are about problems in engagement training.
Engagement is simple, but not easy. The fact is understanding how to put sustained engagement on cue is really the art of dog training.
Engagement is defined as getting our dogs to offer sustained focus on us because the dog wants what we have whether it be their favorite toy or their favorite high-value food reward.
The keyword in that description is “sustained” focus.
The most common mistake involves trainers expecting too much too soon. By that I mean, they expect a puppy or young dog to engage for minutes, rather than seconds.
They may expect an untrained dog to engage when they take it to a park filled with distractions. Both are unrealistic goals.
Last weekend we had a new dog owner who was trying to get engagement with his 4-month-old pup in the park. Unfortunately, doing this means the pup is stressed to the max.
There are different schools on training engagement. The work varies from dog-to-dog and trainer-to-trainer. The skill and experience of a trainer plays an important part. In addition, the end goal of the trainer determines how much effort is put into engagement training. Those who are raising a sport dog are going to need more engagement than a pet dog, although, in my opinion, pet dogs should get the same training.
It is easy to show a puppy a high-value food reward (or favorite toy) and get it excited. It’s a totally different thing to be able to put engagement on cue with a voice command and then sustain that excitement for five or ten minutes when it can’t see the rewards. That’s not easy to do and it doesn’t happen in two or three months.
For those readers who are new to reward-based training, you can learn how we train sustained engagement by viewing the online course we produced with Michael Ellis called The Power of Training Dogs with Food.