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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
So this may be a bit of a jumble. Probably could go in the training thread but I wanted to kind of gather my thoughts. I’ve been having a lot of dog trainer-y thoughts lately.

Apologies in advance for length. Please feel free to chime in with thoughts/ideas! Maybe someone else will find it interesting. If not I’ll just collect my thoughts and training plans. Yeah I should probably blog but I don’t wanna.

Hank and I are hitting 1 year together. It’s been fun. Not always easy but very fun. He is a great teacher and great at throwing me for a loop. I feel like in this last year I have learned more about dog training than the rest of my life combined.

Where to start…

The Bond?

So I guess I start with Hank’s nature and mine as well. Hank is a very very talented dog. He is spectacular dog and I could tell from the moment I saw him. It is true that the bond took a long time and is still taking a long time but the second they brought him out to me I knew he was coming home with me. He has an air about him that I like.

Hank is my first foray into getting a dog not only because you want a dog but because you want a dog to DO something. I did not really care how *well* per say but I knew he and I would be doing sports. As casual as I am about competing, I found this changed things in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I see this with others and so I don’t think I’m abnormal. But as much as I didn’t mean to make there be any pressure there was. Nothing like ‘I’m going to take you back if you suck’ but more a recognition that I had goals and those goals flavored a LOT of my time with Hank.

And I’m not sure that’s BAD but it can get in the way of pure bonding.

Moving on

Training Holes

I am realizing Hank and I have some training holes I never would have expected. And I am figuring out that the main reason for these holes is my lack of a large fenced in practice area. With Hank being young and terrier-y even though he’s got great focus I either trained on leash or I was out in a remote area but also relying very heavily on keeping him invested. And I did so by keeping him engaged with toys or food all the time or he was crated.
In doing so we’ve fallen into a trap of luring.
Now it really didn’t FEEL like I was luring him. Trying to take away the lure (cough lotus ball cough) has been trying.

Now let me back up a bit and say I think impulse control in general wasn’t a strong point for us. Hank is a pretty drivey dog. He operates slightly differently than some other dogs though. Hank is either through the roof or flat. So much of my work has been keeping that through the roof. It’s worked well enough but he has a tendency (and it’s only taken me a year to ‘get it’) to focus his insane energy on things vs actions. Now, he does throw that energy into his work and agility but to quote a friend ‘the ball is his master’.

In an effort to keep him up and not flat, I’ve kept his focus on the toys. Now trying to work without the toys ends up in a mess. Either he’s flat or (more commonly) he’s over the top frantic but not listening to me at all.

Training plans
Of course I shouldn’t be that naïve to think agility would be that easy with you, Hank.

I swear he is almost a prodigy in agility. My trainer keeps telling me ‘you’ve done well with him but he is so so talented’.

Ha. Anyways.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about things. We are starting a play class to try to get back to the foundations we missed. My thoughts are that I need to increase value for non treat ball rewards, particularly personal play. Now hank is great at personal play at home (if painful about biting) but out and about he’s so-so and at agility he’s nilch. I am not sure anything will be as valuable to him as the treat ball but if I can up the other rewards and teach him that the treat ball comes later in our play sequence and that playing will get him the treat ball…..

My trainer’s thoughts were that we need to work with Hank where he can see his treat ball but teaching him that I control the treat ball, not him.

So we are working both angles right now. We have been doing deliberate play/training sessions with no food or treat ball at all out in public. Basically I am bringing a tug. Last night was our first try at this and it went fairly well. I first got him on campus and we played a mild tug then walked a half mile or so. I tried to get him to play but he would not. I think he was hot. I sat a bit with him then gave up and we walked. I found him a mud puddle and he laid in that then we got a really good tug and personal play session with him and with dogs and people around. I feel like my mechanics are getting much better too but that’s probably another journal…

Then today we started ‘work around the ball’ and letting him get the ball after some self control. It wasn’t huge things but I see improvement already. At first he could not keep his head with the ball in sight but gradually he was getting that he did things with me and focused on me then I would release him to get the ball. The hardest part for him was when I put the ball off to the side and released him to a single jump past the ball. I had to make it easier but he did it. Baby steps.

I still run into the issue of no fence. I need to find more opportunities to let him loose with no fears so we can iron this out.

My other thought is do I put the treat ball away permanently (well… you know what I mean- for the time being). I love the enthusiasm and speed I get out of him with it. I want to encourage that but It’s a thought I’ve been throwing about for a while.
 

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Just a couple things I thought of right away.

You took the Engagement class at Bronze, right? I feel like a lot of the stuff you are trying to do is exactly what was recommended in Engagement. Teach him to interact with you, play with you, work with you, and only then bring out the reward. I think you could still use the ball, but he has to learn to work with you before he knows you have it. Basically it lays out the steps you need to get away from luring.

I think the impulse control work around the ball is also a fantastic idea. I just finished the DVD series on foundations stuff by Mary Ellen Barry and a lot of it was impulse control work with food and toys. I also know a lot of people who work heeling around food or toys. I think that will be great for him if he can do work while his ball is on the ground.

More importantly, I would work up to the point where his ball is back on his crate, and he knows that if he goes into the ring and works he will get his ball back at his crate. Right now he's probably stressed because being in the ring at a trial means that his ball is nowhere to be found. Teach him that his ball will be there, it just won't be in the ring or on your person.

I wouldn't personally give up the ball for good just yet. If that's what he wants, I think it's fair to reward him with that. I just think he needs to learn that it's available even if he doesn't see it or it's not in the ring with him. Though building other reinforcements is never a bad idea either. I think he'll figure it out. He's a smart dog.

And I hear your pain on the no fence situation. Watson has a big problem with running off in training facilities. He can be perfect and engaged on leash, but once the leash comes off he knows it. It's just not something we have been able to practice that much because I missed my opportunity when he was a baby and still good off leash everywhere. Though just having a fenced in yard wouldn't really help - learning to be off leash on our home property still isn't the same as other places.
 

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I love your post and I agree with what elrohwen said! As an example, here is something I'm working on that's slightly similar. The main idea is, like yours, 'I want engagement without any immediate expectations for a reward, but a reward will come in time'.

For me, when I let Soro offleash in a field he is gone sniffing. Yes, I can emergency recall him and very basic commands (Sit. Too far. This way...) still apply. But trying to engage him when he's sniffing basically requires me to end sniffing (which is sort of like a punishment for him) and the training session/behaviors I ask for are very flat. I am seeing a lot of progress by asking for simple and dynamic behaviors such as hand targeting, spins, jumps, etc. BEFORE I let him offleash. I'm trying to teach him that engaging with me means he will get his uninterrupted sniffing time. But also, since he is antsy about frolicking in the field he is a little more spazzy with the commands. I take the sloppiness (eh...) with the energy (I like!) and what happens is a pretty energetic training session and then he gets to run free.

Basically, I think things like impulse control games, variable reinforcement, and delayed rewards all help. But instead of bringing the ball into the training session, maybe it would help to have the training session and THEN bring out the ball. And I'm not talking even a 5 minute session to start... More like two or three simple behaviors that he already loves to do with gusto, then reward. I know you wrote "Now trying to work without the toys ends up in a mess. Either he’s flat or (more commonly) he’s over the top frantic but not listening to me at all." But HOW have you tried working without toys?

On having your dog be either engaged or gone, I've been there also. Like... 3 seconds of not doing anything? I guess I'll go sniff the field then!... It's taken a lot of time and still something we're working on, but what's really worked for me is 1. teaching a settle and 2. delaying rewards and commands

Just my thoughts on what you've written. But it goes without saying, you've done a lot and you are doing great!
 

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But instead of bringing the ball into the training session, maybe it would help to have the training session and THEN bring out the ball.
This is pretty much exactly what the FDSA Engagement class is all about :) Start with offered focus then reward, then get engagement (don't ask for work, just play with your dog and engage) before reward. Work up to adding in work. The classic reward doesn't appear until the dog has met your initial engagement requirements for that session. If they never meet them, then oh well, you end the session with no reward (but they did get to sniff around and do their thing)
 

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Hahaa! Sounds like a course I would enjoy :)
The only thing I would personally do differently is I would never allow my dog to 'never meet them.' And I would do that by never setting engagement requirements they would fail. Maybe on a lazy/boring day all I ask for is 3 seconds of heeling and then reward (go sniff!), or 5 seconds of tug, or a simple sit pretty... But I would never place expectations that I didn't think my dog would meet. To me, that is sorta like setting the dog up to fail.
 

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Hahaa! Sounds like a course I would enjoy :)
The only thing I would personally do differently is I would never allow my dog to 'never meet them.' And I would do that by never setting engagement requirements they would fail. Maybe on a lazy/boring day all I ask for is 3 seconds of heeling and then reward (go sniff!), or 5 seconds of tug, or a simple sit pretty... But I would never place expectations that I didn't think my dog would meet. To me, that is sorta like setting the dog up to fail.
You might change your mind if you took the class. It's sort of like what you are talking about, but also different in kind of a profound way. For one, heeling would not be added in at all until you consistently had good engagement for at least 10sec (consistently!) before producing the reward. So you would know if your dog could engage in that environment at all. You also would not really ask for heeling right away, but wait for the dog to offer work instead. Many dogs will work before they are ready because you told them to work, but the quality of work and the engagement isn't there. Hopefully they will really only choose it when they are ready.

The only action is that you allow the dog to acclimate to the environment, then stop and wait for them to engage. If your expectation is 2 seconds of eye contact, then you wait for that. But if you feel that your dog is capable of giving 10sec of engagement before you produce the reward, then wait for that and don't reward 2sec of eye contact. And if your dog isn't capable of it on that day, oh well, you've stood around and he's had a good sniff session. No harm. But it may make him think about his options in the future when you return to that spot. If he really understands how engagement works at that point, he knows how to make you produce rewards (by engaging) and can offer that if he's ready.

ETA: What you are talking about is pretty much exactly how the class Get Focused is run. It's a good class, and it's stuff I do with my dogs, but I think it's much simpler than Engagement. And sometimes, for a naturally engaged dog, that's all you really need. Hazel is naturally engaged and I've done basic focus work with her and she's good to go. But Watson is very different from her, and that basic focus work has not given me a dog who can work anywhere without seeing rewards first. Engagement is the next step and in most ways it is more difficult (for the handler, not the dog).

Focus is about you asking the dog for work. Engagement is teaching the dog to push you for work. You're right that if you are asking your dog for work, you do not want to put him in a position where he will fail. But in Engagement, he is pushing you. If he doesn't push you that day, no harm. Either you set up somewhere easier the next day, or maybe he learns something from the fact that nothing particularly fun happened that session, compared to other sessions.
 

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Thanks for the post elrowhen! I think I've been overlapping engagement with focus. Also, I'm not sure if in your scenario the dog is on leash and sniffing at your feet, but in my situation my dog is off leash and a good sniff is sending him out into the field. What you are saying definitely makes sense though. With a green dog I would definitely be waiting for engagement, and rewarding for eye contact in almost every situation, and not jumping right into asking for behaviors.
 

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Thanks for the post elrowhen! I think I've been overlapping engagement with focus. Also, I'm not sure if in your scenario the dog is on leash and sniffing at your feet, but in my situation my dog is off leash and a good sniff is sending him out into the field. What you are saying definitely makes sense though. With a green dog I would definitely be waiting for engagement, and rewarding for eye contact in almost every situation, and not jumping right into asking for behaviors.
There is a ton of overlap! Those are just the definitions of two FDSA trainers. I'm sure there are other ways to define the concept.
And yes, in your situation you are doing focus drills. I wouldn't call that engagement work as Fenzi defines it.

The dog can be off leash for engagement in a safe area (or if he just won't leave) but you really need to limit his acclimation area so that engaging with you is ultimately more interesting than sniffing the same patch of ground. And letting your dog have free time to sniff off leash like you mentioned is not engagement or even all that related to it. You are using it as a reward for focusing of engaging but once you release him the session is over. Engagement is what you would do in the context of an agility ring or obedience ring. Not all the time.

As far as asking for work, I still don't think I'm conveying how long you would wait going by Denise's process. There were dogs in the class with titles on their names who didn't get to add work until 4 weeks in. These aren't green dogs. But engagement training is pretty different from most other focus training in some key ways and the dog has to understand it before you put work back in.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Engagement class has been very very good. That said I didn't make it through all the material yet! I think I need to revisit.

The idea of failing/not engaging and allowing the dog to 'fail to engage' has been hard for me. There was a bad dog agility podcast about the myth of ending on a good note which also reaffirmed the same thing. (Well sorta different but kinda the same idea) Now this is HARD for me but seeing it in action I see it working well for us. I want that one good rep. Or I want that one good play session. Oh man so difficult to just walk away!

I am seeing even only in a few sessions some good stuff coming from all this. Hank is engaging a lot more even outside training. On walks, he'll turn to me very snappily. He's keeping eye contact longer. Better impulse control. He's cuddling a LOT more (coincidence?) There's a lot of conscious choices from Hank that I really like though.

Course I ended yesterday's play session bleeding on the arm so not sure that's a improvement.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Now the question is do I allow him to 'fail' a bit in class while he tries to get a handle on his brain in overdrive with the ball in sight but not on me? Ideally this would have been fixed prior to running real courses but now we're going in retroactively and fixing things.
 

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Now the question is do I allow him to 'fail' a bit in class while he tries to get a handle on his brain in overdrive with the ball in sight but not on me? Ideally this would have been fixed prior to running real courses but now we're going in retroactively and fixing things.
I would say "yes". I've seen people who, after Engagement, pull their dogs off trials just before heading into the ring if they see their dog isn't engaging at that point in time.
 

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Now the question is do I allow him to 'fail' a bit in class while he tries to get a handle on his brain in overdrive with the ball in sight but not on me? Ideally this would have been fixed prior to running real courses but now we're going in retroactively and fixing things.
I think you have to, honestly. At least, I don't see a reasonable alternative that will get you where you want to be. It's a pretty big leap for him (or so it sounds), but I'm also not certain it's a thing that can be broken down much.

Also, I love this post and that you made it. I initially intended to do it with Molly, then just kind of wimped out.
 

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There is a ton of overlap! Those are just the definitions of two FDSA trainers. I'm sure there are other ways to define the concept.
And yes, in your situation you are doing focus drills. I wouldn't call that engagement work as Fenzi defines it.

The dog can be off leash for engagement in a safe area (or if he just won't leave) but you really need to limit his acclimation area so that engaging with you is ultimately more interesting than sniffing the same patch of ground. And letting your dog have free time to sniff off leash like you mentioned is not engagement or even all that related to it. You are using it as a reward for focusing of engaging but once you release him the session is over. Engagement is what you would do in the context of an agility ring or obedience ring. Not all the time.

As far as asking for work, I still don't think I'm conveying how long you would wait going by Denise's process. There were dogs in the class with titles on their names who didn't get to add work until 4 weeks in. These aren't green dogs. But engagement training is pretty different from most other focus training in some key ways and the dog has to understand it before you put work back in.
Yeah, I would agree with what you're saying. I'm doing focus drills and not asking for "engagement" from my dog. But I am engaging my dog instead of letting him engage with the environment instead. And forgive me if I made it sound like sniffing is engagement because I completely agree that is is the reward.
As for what I meant by 'green,' I didn't mean dogs with zero training but dogs that haven't been taught to self engage as opposed to waiting for commands, asked to focus, or checking out completely. I get what you're saying, though sounds like it would do me a world of good to take the course myself ($$$ issues with that, go figure :D). I'm interpreting engagement training described here as: In any situation your dog CHOOSES to engage you (ex. eye contact, play?) even when you are not asking for anything from the dog. Correct?
I think confusion in part comes from my loose use of "engagement" which on an everyday basis I take to be interactions between myself and the dog rather than the dog and any other distractions. But whether I or my dog initiates it does not matter so much to me at this point.
 

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Canyx, the final stage of engagement in the class, which few people were at in 6 weeks, was asking the dog to engage. Because at some point you have to go into the ring or whatever and tell your dog "we are engaging now". But you have to start by them choosing to engage and push you a bit. I think the high drive IPO types are naturally super pushy and always trying to make people engage with them and work with them. This training is basically trying to get the same thing out of lower drive dogs who have various interests other than engaging.

Laurelin, I agree with the others that I think you need to draw a black and white line for him in class. He is smart. I bet if you do this right and are consistent he will get it faster than you expect. But I think there will be some times in class where you set up and then walk right back out if he's not doing what you want. There was a Bad Dog Agility podcast on retraining start lines that kind of reminds me of this. Basically about going to class and using your time to work on this one thing and bailing from your turn if the dog can't do it.

And feel Denise's zen! Give him the choice, let him make it, and don't get personally invested in the outcome. Sometimes doing nothing is as powerful as running a whole course.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Ha! Did you see Denise's facebook post this afternoon. Totally relevant.

This whole journal post was way more eloquent in my head but glad people are getting stuff out of my jumbled post!

So the mechanics of running him and letting him fumble a bit... Do I make criteria easier and then let him get the ball? Or do I forfeit turns?
 

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Yes! I did see that and thought of this thread!

I would make it easy for him at first. Work up to him doing small courses at home the way you want, and doing baby impulse control at class. After a couple weeks if you think he gets it, then let him figure it out in class. I think if you cut him off too quickly without him knowing how to win he might shut down. Though if he absolutely can't keep his head and focus on anything other than the ball I wouldn't let him run in class at all. Maybe wait for some engagement before you bring out his ball, and when you're happy with it give him the ball. Then take it back and run the course. Then work up to doing the first obstacle before he sees the ball. Etc.
 

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I'd probably make it easier for him so he can figure out how to succeed and what you want - and that he can still get the ball. Make up your own easier courses if you need to, and go from there. Then once he starts getting the idea, start skipping turns if that's what it takes, but skipping turns before he knows how to get the ball, and that he CAN get it, might just bewilder him. Even if it doesn't shut him down, he might just completely miss the point.
 

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I agree with elrowhen and CptJack. Even though I am less aware of the specific details... You are drastically changing the game and your criteria should be lower to begin with.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Ok so here's where we're at.

He is getting fairly good at me tossing the toy and him calling to me then releasing to the toy.

He's getting better at me placing the toy away then we work then he grabs the toy

We are working small things like sit-down-recall-nose touch- 1-2 jumps. And in my yard.

Now in class is hard because of time. So he's doing better with my trainer holding the toy. But I feel like we need more.

Now do I work on a bridge behavior from exercise to toy? It's be swell if he could tug his lead back to his toy and then get it.
 
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