It’s so easy for trainers and dog owners alike to get focused on teaching their dogs household rules and obedience and skip the fundamentals that we need our dogs to understand in order for true learning to take place. One of the very first things we must teach a dog in order to have a successful relationship is that paying attention to the human is rewarding.
A dog who is ENGAGED knows that payments (praise, treats, toys, and fun) come from their handler and that the environment around them is less rewarding. Before we can ask a dog to do what we ask, we must show them that listening to us is in their best interest.
Practice these 5 tips to work on getting better engagement with your dog:
1. Hand feeding: teaching your dog to focus on you by feeding from 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, other 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.
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!!