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We all know it: the dog that watches its owner carefully for the next word, that checks in with its human partner while hiking without a leash, or even the patient puppy that checks in with its human partner frequently. These are examples of the engagement between the dog and the pet parent. Commitment means having a connection with our dogs.
As a dog trainer and pet parent, I firmly believe that engagement is one of the most important things we can work on with our dogs to develop. Strong commitment gives us a focused, committed and willing pet partner. We shouldn’t force engagement, but we can build it in different ways and encourage engagement together.
To understand engagement, it helps to understand what it is not. Engagement isn’t a dog that is fixated on a treat or obsessed with a treat, like toys or food, or even barking to get your attention. A dedicated dog wants to focus on you and work with you and take care of you no matter what you do or where you are together.
Creating engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that takes work and time. Here are tips to get you started:
Start your routine walk
The best way to bond with your dog is to reward him for engaging with you. When you go for a walk together, reward your dog every time he looks at you. Reward immediately and make sure your timing is immediate so that your dog understands the relationship between the action and the reward. I often use a tag like “yes” when my dog looks at me and then goes inside with my reward. And of course reward them with something better than nibbles, like a tasty treat.
The next step is to teach your dog “watch” behavior. Once this is a learned behavior and your dog begins to offer it, reward your dog for looking at you naturally and making eye contact unless you specifically ask for it. This can lead to an offered behavior the more you teach and reward, which will lead to your dog watching and engaging with you.
Trick training gives you the opportunity to show your dog how much fun training can be. Training together will help your dog understand your communication and the rewards associated with training while your dog is focused on you. These are all things that will strengthen your bond and increase the drive to get in touch with you.
Every dog deserves a game. Taking the time to play with your dog will build that strong bond. Let him win games every now and then to make it fun!
By building engagement, you will soon have a dog who will bond with you, enjoy training, be less stressed in new situations, and be easier to train and focus no matter where you go together. Have fun training together!
About the author: Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA is a celebrity dog trainer based out of Los Angeles. She has trained everything from bears to tigers to leopards, as well as domestic dogs and cats. Nicole has performed on Amazon’s The Pack, The Today Show, NBC, Fox, MSN, Mashable, Pet360, Travel + Leisure, Huffington Post and more.
Related: Use food to keep your dog occupied