How do I engage my dog? This age old question has stumped many dog owners. Simply put, engagement is the act of stimulating a dog’s internal mechanisms, which lead to a willingness to participate in a task with someone. It is the most important aspect of training and bonding with your pup. If they aren’t interested in you, they wont want to continue being around you for fun. Engaging or manipulating a dog’s drive is key to successful engagement. Drive is a pattern of sympathetic responses to a particular stimulus. It is a product of nature but can be affected by nurture. This creates many subcategories and combinations of drive. In my opinion, the more common types of drives are hunting drive, fight drive, and submissive drive.
There are three tiers that you need to have to successfully train a dog. They are focus, engagement, and independent thinking. These tiers provide the foundation dogs need to retain a new information. If done correctly, consistency, and fairly you will have a pup that actively-listens instead of only listening if you have rewards. (*Depending on the dogs lifestyle, nutrition, routine, and environmental settings) Engagement is the the only tier that you don’t teach a dog. It either exist or it doesn’t. You can teach a dog how to focus and think independently.
Getting engagement varies from dog to dog. As mentioned earlier, training a dog within the scope of their breed’s main traits is the most efficient way to engage a dog’s drive. However, this does not imply that all dogs of the same breed are clones. Their personalities, learning styles, and demeanor can vary.
For food motivated dogs you can increase their engagement by using high value rewards such as cheese, chicken, hot dogs, blueberries, and other similar items.
For play motivated dogs you can increase their engagement simply by playing with them. Dogs with a high play drive do not care about the toy, they care about playing the game with the person.
There are some dogs that aren’t food or play motivated. You can make the dog skip a meal, to increase their appetite. You can also train during the times when the dog is most active. This will help increase the likelihood of them engaging in the training.
Ages 3-14 weeks are crucial for your pups social development. This is when puppies are full of courage, and they are willing to try new things. This time is also when they learn what to fear. Traumatic or intimating events that happen during this period are easier to overcome. If these same events happen outside of the socialization period, they may have negative effects that last a lifetime. Socialization is when a dog positively experiences an event enough times that it becomes common. Thus, decreasing the likelihood that a negative experience would produce a trigger. Do you think those group puppy classes are a waste of time, think again. These classes help pups learn how to be a dog. Verbal and nonverbal communications are constantly taught by rambunctious, timid, and curious puppy classmates.
Engagement is important but don’t force compliance. There are also times when you should decrease the intensity of training, or end the training session entirely. Typically dogs use calming signals to show you they are overwhelmed. These calming signals are exaggerated yawning, exaggerated lip licking, scratching, and showing the whites of their eyes. Do not ignore these signals. You may be pushing your pup too far or they have no clue what to do. Remember, it’s ok to end the session or practice elementary commands to bring positivity to the session.
The Art of Luring:
Luring has a major part in getting a dog into position. This skill requires that you are convince the dog to follow a reward to a predetermined position.
It’s simple, place the treat between the meaty portion of your thumb and lower index finger. This positioning limits the likelihood that you get nipped. Then slightly cupp your hand, so that the dog can push their snout snugly into your palm.
If you aren’t interesting or if the environment is too distracting, you will have a hard time engaging your pup. These tips will help, but they aren’t the only ways to get your pups attention. If you watch how dogs try to get each other to play you will understand that persistence is key.
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