A dog that pay attention to you, enjoys the interaction and learns to use their brain (commands: sit, down, stand etc) has been able to follow a lure, toy, or affection, have fun and stay focused as it wants the reward. Why do we reward? We need to help motivate the dog. Give them pay for a job well done! Why use food or toys? Every dog is motivated by different things. However, most dogs are motivated by food. It is a very powerful resource that dogs want. The dog learns to make that association to you. But if you rush this process you will end up frustrated with your dog. Getting frustrated with your dog will lead them to be disengaged with you. Getting emotional with your dog is futile. Dogs do not handle emotions like humans and therefore they do not know what to do with this new information. It is unfamiliar. Dogs can show empathy, that is true and they can be very therapeutic. However the difference with dogs is they can no express sympathy. Dogs need to have a reason to focus on you in a clear uncomplicated way, since you are competing with lots of other smells, sights and sounds. If you keep emotion out of it, stay calm and neutral you will get much faster results.
Every dog learns at a different rate. It is our job to help them and set them up so we can control what things they play with and who they interact with. We want them to be confident in the world they are experiencing but know that we are the most important element to that. How engaged is your dog with you? Do they want to pay attention to you? Do they want to play with you? Be in control of the resources so they associate this fun game with you. Resources are: food, affection, praise, toys, exercise, your time, etc these must come from you. Then you will notice your dog seeking you out for these things. Use them to help engage your dog! If your dog is enthusiastic, you are enjoying your self and so is your dog you are on the right path. This will help strengthen your relationship with your dog as well.
With puppies you want to take them out to a lot of different environments to expose them and make it fun for them. If you make learning fun a dog will engage with you! Use your dogs energy to help in capturing good training moments. You want to shape the desired beaviours (reinforce them) with food, toy or verbal praise like “yes” or “good”. This is what we call a verbal marker. When dog does what you want you simply say your verbal marker “good” and feed food to reinforce desired behaviour. Do not feed first. Always use your voice first. Think of the words: mark (good!) and reward (food). We are using our voice instead of a clicker. The dog or puppy then notices that the things they want come from you and by being with you. Make sure the games are things you can control. If not, then your dog could easily get distracted and it will have the opposite affect that you want. Tug, flirt pole, throwing a ball or disc are great engagement games. What you want is to be included in the game so that you are working together. Then your dog engages with you to want more. Try to use toys that fit in your coat pocket or jean pocket or treat pouch. As your dog starts to desire these items you will get the dog to do drills before getting the desired item as a reward.
Remember a dog can be engaged with you and not necessarily stare at you the entire time. Some dogs will engage more than others. A dog staring up at you is focused. Focus work like heeling is intense and great for shorter duration’s, competition and distraction training. For practice drills I want my dogs to be watching me. In the photo above my cattle dog mix, Jenna, is watching me pretty good, looking for guidance. She’s engaged with me for rally obedience. I do outdoor drills with her too. We play catch with balls and play with a flirt pole. This a result of hard work, practice and enjoying her. She wants to be with me and we have fun practicing. For the purpose of engagement we want our dogs to want to be with us, that they are drawn to us and are paying attention to us because it’s fun interacting with us. So give your dog a reason to be with you!