Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Engagement is a team effort!

Since I'm thinking about puppies, and things we need to remember it reminded me of something I learned at the last seminar with Debbie Zappia. 
If you do this from the start, you won't have those worries of leaving anything in your training area for fear the dog will be "distracted" and snarf your food or steal toys.  The puppy learns that food on a table is not "free."  From the start the lesson is that reward is accessed through you, the handler.
Keep your food on a chair or table in the area you are training.  Don't fill your pockets and carry more food on your body than you need for that little piece.  Running back to the table gives you a chance to re-load and energizes the dog, giving them a little mental break, as well.  The message is: don't touch the food. give me behaviors, and I will give you the food.
Naturally, when you begin, any dog is going to want to help itself. I think it is easiest with a dog just learning the concept, or a smaller, younger dog, to use a chair or low table. You cover the food with your hand and when the dog backs away (the doggie zen concept of having to give up in order to receive!) you verbally reinforce with your marker and give the dog a piece of food. You don't smack the dog or make punishment; it is your job to cover the food and reward the dog for appropriately moving away. Then take the dog away from the food with you, by leash guidance and go back to work.

When you need to reload your food, hold the dog by the collar and ask it “are you ready?.. let’s GO!” and run to the table where the dog can put their feet up. Keep the leash short enough as you approach the table to encourage the dog up.  When I took off and raced Marco to the table, and he was still eating some food, dawdling, Debbie complained “Everyone is leaving their dog!! Take the dog with you!!”
This is a different approach than what a popular trainer is teaching, where you take off and run away from the dog... apparently to engage him to chase you.  And this is what I did, thinking it was good.  What I recognized afterwards was doing that was very similar to bribing the dog with a toy, instead of rewarding behavior with a toy.  I took off and the dog weighed whether the dropped food, the crowd, or a host of other things were more exciting than me running away.  And who was doing all the work? me!!  Far better to make this a team effort and not allow your dog to check out on you. Your escape should not become a cue for the dog to pay attention. 
Remember that when you do take your dog to re-load you don't just stand there and fill your pockets; it remains a team effort.  Keep the dog in the picture by rewarding it for attention there, as well.  With the dog watching, you verbally encourage with your "good" or "nice" and give a piece of food for attention without mugging.

A much better method of engaging your dog by remaining a team.