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Engagement/focus

Discussion in 'Dog Training and Behaviour' started by O2.0, Nov 20, 2020.


  1. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    This topic comes up all the time, either folks asking how to get their dog/puppy to focus, or folks advising owners to work on engagement.

    If you google engagement, there are a lot of examples of lovely sport-bred dogs laser focused on their job - well, once you realize to add "dog training" after engagement, otherwise you get a bunch of corny proposal videos.

    What's missing (in my searches at least) are examples of not your typical obedience breeds practicing engagement in a pet-dog scenario, and examples of what engagement is not.

    So here is Penny being engaged and not being engaged.
    Background: Penny is probably around a year old, side-of-the-road special, who had minimal to no human contact that I could tell before we caught her and brought her home. She has been with us for 3 and a half months now.

    This first video is engagement. Apologies the audio sucks. Basically I'm saying this is an example of engagement. I have cheese, and she's interested in the cheese but she will work for anything I have. If I grab a leaf she wants it, when I throw the leaf in to the water, she chases it and comes right back to me and everything about her attitude is an excited "what's next?"
    The key here is every time she gets rewarded, she wants more - give me something else to do. I want to work with you. She's not bombing off to go entertain herself after I give her a piece of cheese, she's right there with me - engaged.
    This part is important: When I'm done, I cue her that we're done. "Okay" and even though I have to say it twice, notice that as soon as she understands we're done, here whole demeanor changes. She goes to do her own thing. Which is fine BTW, I don't expect her to be fully engaged on an entire walk. (See next video.)


    This is an example of not engaged. She isn't blanking me entirely, but she's not in what I would call "work mode."
    There's a lovely example of the environment trumping her coming back to me. Notice I do NOT call her again, I don't want to encourage her ignoring me. But when she does come I do reward her. For those of you following her progress, this is why I don't have a formal recall cue yet, she's not quite ready.


    A typical outing will have both engagement and not engagement. That's the goal. Along the way there will be moments of complete disengagement, and you work towards that happening less and less.

    Engagement is always the dog's choice. There is no coercion tactic that creates true engagement. You can get a dog to pay attention to you out of concern because you're unpredictable and they feel the need to be ready to appease you, but that's not real engagement where the dog is enthusiastic and saying "I want to work with you, tell me what to do next." You can only build that through conditioning value to your rewards and interaction with you.
     
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  2. Boxer123

    Boxer123 PetForums VIP

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    I’m assuming you start in a less exciting environment? Just thinking of my little Loki.
     
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  3. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    Yes and no.
    I started all of this way back teaching Penny a marker word - for her it's yes. You hear me say it in both videos.
    This was (I think) the second time I worked with her using a marker word, all I'm doing is marking when she looks at me and teaching her how to take treats. It's cool too how much more drive she has for food now than she did back then. She was still very cautious here.

    So yes, I started in a low-distraction setting teaching her what 'yes' means. But once she had a marker word, I just used that to reward anything out and about that I liked. I didn't purposefully look for fewer distractions, instead on a walk I watch her pretty much the whole time and mark the behaviors I like.
    Time the walks right before meals so she's nice and hungry and then mark and reward everything good.
    Ear flick in my direction? Yes - treat.
    Something interesting happens and she turns and looks at me? Yes - treat.
    Runs off then stops to notice where I am? Yes - treat.
    Takes a separate turn, notices we're heading a different way and changes course? Yes - treat.
    Basically anything that translates to the dog acknowledging my existence I mark and reward.

    In the meantime at home I work on clicker training sessions (without a clicker, I just use yes because clickers are terrifying) and building food drive with games. She learns that learning new things is fun, learns that working for food is fun.

    Also out on walks I incorporate the fun games she likes at home and games she's already playing outside. Like chasing leaves. I just make myself part of that game.

    Eventually this all comes together and she is able to focus enough to go in to work mode even when out in a distracting setting.
     
  4. Sairy

    Sairy PetForums VIP

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    Lovely engagement. I wish people spent more time working on this rather than focusing on teaching more formal cues. It's all very well teaching a whole mariad of tricks, but without engagement and focus you really have nothing.
     
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  5. LittleMow

    LittleMow PetForums Member

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    Nice to see the progress Penny has made from the clicker video to the engagement 1, her confidence has grown so much.

    Had a great walk with Bodmin this evening, he was checking in and choosing to hang around me towards the end (he's always on flexi or long line atm, but still he could be running around at end of the lead). He's starting to default to me when there's something about that he's not sure of, and he gets a high end reward for this.

    Night before, mmmm, not so good. He just couldn't focus (or I couldn't get his focus). Trying to not call him when he's like this, just waiting for him be ready or show some level of interest. Would you say this is the best approach? Should I be doing something to get his attention? Put him back on his short lead for a bit?

    My OH has a habit of calling him while he's busy sniffing rabbit holes or eating grass, I know he won't respond. We're really trying to work together with Bodmin and I don't want to sound like a broken record, so have been biting my tongue, but I must say I find it frustrating :Banghead
     
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  6. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    Oh that's HUGE!! Yay Bodmin and mom. If he's turning to you when unsure, you're doing awesome!!

    I would just wait him out, just like you're doing. And that happens, some days the planets aren't aligned, the wind is blowing the wrong way, and your dog has no brain. It happens. As long as you recognize that's the mental state the dog is in and manage it appropriately. These are not the days to practice recalling away from the postman :D

    I don't ever beg for attention. I'll ask, but I don't beg. If it's there, great, if it's not, he's on a long line, you can manage what you need to.
    Now, once I have a dog with an established history of engagement, who's past the teenage years and knows what's what, then I may have a moment of "hey, tune in buddy" or I might stop and see what's going on make sure there's no injury or illness. But at Penny and Bodmin's stage? Oh yeah, you'll have days when you don't have your dog's brain. Don't push it, manage what you can (may need to cut the walk short), lower the expectation, and keep rewarding the good stuff.
    How old is Bodmin?

    LOL we've had Penny since mid August, and she knows her name, a pretty solid touch cue, semi-solid sit, an okay-ish down, and... yeah that's it. We've played around with spin and twist, and hop hop (up on to things) and a rudimentary place cue. I haven't even attempted a wait or stay (stay is sit or down until I release you and haven't worked on duration at all).
    I'm so not in a hurry to teach any of that because I'm really still working on the foundations of engagement and focus. And it's so true, once you have that, the rest is really easy.

    There's a Control Unleashed class coming up in December and I think I'm going to sign her up - again, all about being able to focus no matter the distraction.
     
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  7. JoanneF

    JoanneF PetForums VIP

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    Two things from my experience - first, training partners is harder than training dogs. Sometimes it's easier to just go with the flow; when we got T and I was trying to use ”stay” at the kerb before crossing, Mr F insisted on using ”wait”. We use ”wait” now. It's just easier, and to T it's only a noise.

    Other times I will do what I think is the right thing, and just let Mr F bumble along with his thing. Which brings me to the second point. I think our dogs are smart enough to tell the difference between people. So if what I do works for me, that's fine.
     
  8. Burrowzig

    Burrowzig PetForums VIP

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    Yes. Sometimes Fly runs with other people at agility, and although I'd tell them the commands I use for different obstacles and moves, they inevitably default to the cues they use with their own dogs at some point. That she does the right thing anyway (most of the time) is most likely down to the body language element. Although she has watched their runs at training for years and I don't know if she'd pick up that they say 'through' for the tunnel and I say 'tunnel' - and that the different word means the same thing.
     
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  9. Sairy

    Sairy PetForums VIP

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    Yup, OH and I use different words to mean the same thing. Holly knows what we both mean so it's fine.
     
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  10. Cleo38

    Cleo38 PetForums VIP

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    I've been doing little sessions with Kato. just walking round the garden with him atm & playing recall games. We only do a bit as he gets tired easily (his little legs working over time!). He's doing great even with Archer there as a distraction but I do need to think about what cues I want to use with him (on/off cues, release cues, etc) so I am consistent
     
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  11. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    I think we are all going to need to see way more videos and photos of this progression :D

    Oh for sure! And they also know which family members will let them get away with what.
    My daughter is the one who lets Penny out on school days and they love playing with each other and they play rough and they play chase and here I am trying to teach Penny not to bite humans and not to run away. But you know what? She's learning not to bite me or the other family members and she still bites daughter pretty roughly. I just shrug and tell her that's her fault.
    My son has spent some training sessions with Penny doing collar grabs, and guess who Penny doesn't run away from as much? Yep...
    It's all good :)
     
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  12. Blitz

    Blitz PetForums VIP

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    Interesting thread. I think too that watching or whatever you want to call it is the basis for all training. Even if that is all the dog has actually been encouraged to do you can then get almost anything else with body and hand signals. My standard poodle had been taught to watch but I had never done any formal training with her. I did a very basic beginner round with her once and she did cracking heelwork and a cracking recall simply because she was totally engaged and I am experienced so gave her the right body signals which she followed. She never had treats.

    Today I was out with Candy. Again she has never had treats except for beep collar conditioning. It was flipping freezing so I shoved my hands into the opposite sleeves. Candy would not take her eyes off where my hands should have been even though I was actually wanting her to do a poo!
     
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  13. Sairy

    Sairy PetForums VIP

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    I was thinking of this thread this afternoon whilst out with Nik's Auntie, whose dog is completely disengaged with her on walks. They got him at 10 months old. He's a staffy x whippet and he is very interested in his environment and totally disinterested in who is on the other end of the lead. I've set her some homework to do with him. Hope she does it.
     
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  14. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    Not disagreeing, just general musings on this topic -
    Is engagement and "watch me" the same thing? I don't know?

    I feel like engagement has to have that element of eagerness out of the dog. In the video from when I first started teaching Penny what "yes" means, to me that's not true engagement.
    She's working for me okay, she's interested, she wants the food, but the drive and attitude of "come on mom, let's *do* things" is missing.
    Whereas in the video by the stream, she's really in my face, demanding and ready for more more more. That's what I work towards and how I like my dogs working for me. I'd rather the dog be leaping at me and pawing at me, that I can fix later, or work around. But I like that level of intensity and enthusiasm to be working for whatever it is that I'm offering.

    Maybe I'm wrong though? What do you guys think?
    I mean, maybe that's why my dogs tend to be OTT heathens :D Poor Penny, she came to me a calm, demure, normal little swamp rat and I've turned her in to a meth puppy! :Hilarious

    That said, even when she's in meth puppy mode I can get a response out of her so maybe the monster is more controllable if you you help create it? :Woot
     
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  15. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    That drives me crazy. It's akin to sitting down for a coffee with someone who's reading the newspaper the whole time. It annoys me to be out with a dog who doesn't realize I exist. What's the point? To me walks are as much about having an interaction with your dog as exercise.
    I mean, sure there are times when I want to go for a quieter walk and maybe not 'talk' as much, but most of the time walks are time from me and my dogs to hang out together - together being the key word.
     
  16. Sairy

    Sairy PetForums VIP

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    I completely agree. I actually don't bother asking my dog to watch me as I want her to make that decision of her own accord, not because I've asked her to. However, I absolutely like her to be at my feet pestering me to give her something to do and I love the intensity of her enthusiasm. Perfectly OK with being jumped up at (even when I was pregnant Holly jumping up didn't cause issues as she puts no weight on me at all) and I even don't mind the odd bark or occasionally being mouthed. I want the drive and enthusiasm. But I've always been the same - I love working with a dog who is a bit nuts. Give me bats*** crazy over ploddy any day. But that's just my personal preference.
     
  17. Siskin

    Siskin Look into my eyes....

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    A taught Isla watch me when she was a puppy by holding a treat in my fist and not letting her have it until she looked up at me (initially it was given when she stopped biting the hand trying to get it out, but the ultimate aim was for her to look at me and hold that look).

    I still do this with her when giving a treat as greedy dog that she is at 7 years she is still inclined to grab a biscuit off me rather then gently take it. I know a lot of people try to teach ‘gently’, I’ve done it in the past, but to be honest I’ve found the watch me or should I say look at me and hold the that look then have the treat really works well as it gives a chance to calm herself and gently take the treat with my fingers attached.
    All I do is stand with the hand containing the biscuit at my side and look at her. After the briefest of glances at the hand she sits and stares into my eyes and after a few seconds she gets her treat, not a word need be spoken.

    Interestingly when I taught her this as a puppy I do believe it helped to stop her relentless puppy biting, especially the hands.
     
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  18. O2.0

    O2.0 PetForums VIP

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    LOL definitely!
    I mean, if I need for the dog to be calm and steady like around a small child for example, sure. But if I'm working the dog, I want drive, eagerness, and yep, a little bit of crazy :D

    That makes sense to me, given that puppy biting is often really just a way for the puppy to connect and feel close with you. Good eye contact can have the same feel for a dog. Or in the case of Bates when he's staring me down *willing* me to give him a bite of what I'm eating, or take him for a walk :)
     
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  19. Torin.

    Torin. PetForums VIP

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    Yeah, there's a lot of supportive data behind that sort of thing now. Breeders who follow Puppy Culture and teach manding report much less bitey pups, because non-toothy human-appropriate ways of communication.
    https://dignblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/manding-giving-puppy-a-voice/

    However I do think of that as different to engagement, although similar. Asking for a thing vs being highly aware in case a thing is offered.
     
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  20. Siskin

    Siskin Look into my eyes....

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    That is interesting, not heard of ‘manding’ before, it’s school day again.
    This attention to their humans that dogs acquire when they are really in tune with their owners has a good deal of benefit for them, I guess it’s how they structure their day knowing that at certain times their person goes off to work, the time their likely to be home, walk times, food times and so on. I’m sure Isla spends a great deal of her day keeping an eye on us for what we are about to do and often appears to know what we are going to do next seemingly before we do. Of course she doesn't, she’s just learned to pick up on clues due to our actions. She knows when we’re going out and she’s not coming because of perfume/after shave smells, when we’re going shopping because we’ve picked up the bags, when OH is about to go outside to dispose of the coffee grounds in the garden because he’s filled the cafetière with water and is stirring it around - going out into the garden means an opportunity to sniff round the bird feeders to see if any seed has been dropped. It goes on and on, lots of little things all due to her watching us and working out what they mean and if what she needs to do or whether it benefits her or not.
    It’s good to have time to notice what she does and what her thought processes are and how she’s learned. One benefit of lockdown I guess
     
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