Engagement – What and Why?!

dog training engagement

A common question I get asked by new clients is ‘What can I do between now and my first session to help?’ and my reply will always, always, always involve engagement.

Engagement is the act of participation and involvement between yourself and, in this context, your dog. The more you practice engagement with your dog, the more they will learn to seek it out.

So what does it look like? This is a really personal question. At the basic level it looks like the human and the dog in partnership carrying out a certain activity. There should be an equal amount of participation from both sides, and the energy should be matching.

I always start engagement with asking for eye contact. This is a way of achieving engagement that the dog can learn to use without prompting. A dog who will willingly return to seek out eye contact is a dog who is engaged with the human – get it?

Some dogs love to play – a dog who will always return a toy to their human to elongate the game is a dog who is engaged. A dog who would prefer to run away with the toy is not engaged.

This can be built up to dogs who request training time from their humans, because it involves ‘playing games’ together, and – get this – dogs who come looking for eye contact on walks just to ‘check in’ to see if engagement is on offer. This makes recall a breeze to teach, as the dog is already offering it.

If your dog does not want to, or know how to, engage with you then training becomes difficult. We need them on side, and offering us behaviours. We need them to keep learning with us and not walk off, become bored, or shut down. We can only do this if the dog wants to be with us.

So, how can we teach this important life skill?

Personally, I think playing games is the best way. Dogs love to play; a dog who doesn’t play usually has another underlying issue somewhere – anxiety, fear, over arousal, under socialisation, pain or discomfort etc. Some dogs like to play in a much softer way than others, but this is still play for them.

I have videoed a selection of five games, from soft and easy, to energetic and harder to help get you started. Engagement games should be fun, fairly fast paced and simple; they aren’t a brain work out for your dog.

I want your dog to be as invested in their partnership as you are, you need to be your dogs favourite toy, favourite game and favourite distraction. You will find training becomes a whole lot easier if you can manage it!

Engagement games for helping to build a partnership with your dog!

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