What is Engagement? Why is it Important?
Updated: Sep 1
In this blog we will explore the benefits of engagement in dog training.
Engagement means, sustained focus on the owner for an extended period of time because the dog wants something you have (food, toy, interaction). In order to achieve good engagement with your puppy, you have to be fun and interesting in the eyes of your puppy. By expecting your puppy to perform tasks without first harnessing their attention and focus will most certainly end in frustration and failure. The difference between good dog trainers and average dog owners is the fact that trainers understand engagement and we spend those critical development periods when a puppy is young, building value in interacting with us.
Engaged dogs are naturally more motivated to participate in training sessions. A dog that finds training enjoyable is more likely to cooperate, learn new skills, and retain information more then a dog that is mentally checked out and hasn't learned to engage with his or her owner. Engaging activities such as games, marker training using food, and interactive exercises make learning an exciting experience, keeping the dog enthusiastic and eager to participate. You can even cue engagement in your dog to ensure you can get their attention whenever necessary.
2. Preventing Behavioral Issues
An engaged dog is much more likely to not develop behavioral issues such as leash reactivity or aggression given the dog comes from stable genetics. A common mistake most people make is taking his or her new puppy on long walks around the neighborhood letting them engage with everything except the owner. Without building value in yourself, you run the risk of your puppy developing leash reactivity, for example: The neighbors crazy pit bull runs and slams into the fence barking like crazy every time you and your puppy walk by. Your puppy feels insecure or frustrated and barks back and you cant do anything except drag the puppy out of the area. Over time, your dogs barking gets worse to the point where they are now uncontrollable, while barking and lunging aggressively every time they see a dog, requiring professional help and potentially weeks of training and thousands of dollars. All of this could have been avoided by spending a few weeks building your dogs engagement in the backyard before heading out on walks. When you do finally venture out with your puppy and you're coming up on the neighbors house, you can use some well timed, thoughtful food luring to make sure your puppy walks past the snarling beast without even giving a glance, all in all preventing any future behavioral issues.
While every new dog owner wants to hurry up and get started teaching sit, down, stay and shake, you cannot overlook the importance of engagement. Try teaching a dog a simple behavior when a puppy is not paying attention to you. It becomes frustrating to say the least. Your dog learns to ignore you and "check out" over time when you are following them around, repeating yourself, trying to get them to perform tasks. Most people are boring from their dogs perspective, it all starts with motivation. If your dog wants what you have, you can spend a little time teaching them that engaging with you is fun, which allows you to get plenty of repetitions, teaching complex behaviors or just hanging out with your dog.