Instructor: Denise Fenzi
The question we ask the dog will always be the same: Do you care enough about what we do together to ask for interaction?
Because engagement is easily turned to work, we can also ask: Will you ask to work with me at home? At a park? At the car wash? Can you interact with me on grass and on cement? When that dog is watching you? Can you interact with me in a playful fashion without specific cues to follow, simply to enjoy the act of engaging with me?
And for the human: Do you know how to engage your dog in a playful and relaxed fashion? Can you respond to your dog's cues and then grow the interaction from simple eye contact to movement? Can you recognize when the environment will win? Do you understand acclimation, engagement, opportunity costs, conditioned emotional responses, and how to ask without begging?
This class will look at engagement in a number of ways:
Engagement as an important element within the relationship for life (this is heavily emphasized in play class).
Engagement as lifestyle (paying attention to your dog and your dog paying attention to you is what gives the basis of connected, enthusiastic, engaged work).
Engagement builds mutual enjoyment, and mutual enjoyment builds engagement. And to a large extent this is both trained (to both parties) and simply a natural extension of spending time with another being
There is no real way to differentiate Focus Training from Engagement Training, but for the purposes of this course, we’ll be looking for active and play/movement-based interaction between dog and handler over classic focus (which can be very calm and task oriented rather than playful).
If you want a beautiful display of teamwork and joy, then a basic understanding of the cues or exercises for your sport will not be enough; you will need engagement. Join this class to develop a deep understanding of this fascinating topic!
Special Note #1: Denise will not work at all from June 22nd to June 25th; however she will work seven days a week for the rest of class.
Special note #2: This class will have a limited silver level pilot program. To learn more, enroll at the bronze level. In the discussion forum is a detailed explanation of the pilot program. Please do not sign up for silver without reading through the explanation of what you will be getting, since you will not have some of the features that you may expect from prior silver level classes.
Note: A 'sample lecture' is available - see the Sample Lecture tab above!
Next session starts: February 1, 2018Registration starts: January 22, 2018Registration ends: February 15, 2018
Registration limits: gold spots available by lottery. Lottery closes May 14. Enter the lottery here.
Silver level and unlimited bronze registration will begin at 9:30 AM PDT, you can sign up for bronze any time during the registration period.
NOTE: SILVER LEVEL PILOT PROJECT
In exchange for giving up your chance to ask questions about materials and the Gold student threads, you'll now have the opportunity to submit two short videos, one minute each, for critique and review. You may submit two questions. Each question MUST have a one minute video attached so that I can actually answer a question that I can see. The question must relate to a topic in the class and the video must be a demo of the question. Please see the discussion forum for a detailed explanation - feel free to sign up at bronze, read the explanation, and then come back here to upgrade to silver if that interests you, and if space is available.
Lecture #1: How is engagement different than Focus? What is offered focus?
The role of movement
Locus of control - internal vs. external
Raika video: focus
Lyra video: Engagement
When focus and when engagement?
Is engagement trained or innate?
Engagement; primary or secondary reinforcer?
The cycle of engagement and work - for training and eventually for competition
Lecture #2: Stages of Engagement
Brito video: The four stages of basic engagement
Stage 1: Human directed engagement
Stage 2: The shift of responsibility from handler to dog; simple eye contact/connection
Stage 3: The shift continues; sustained contact
Stage 4: The shift competes; sustained contact drives work
Kea video: Stage 4 engagement
Stage failure; why and what are your options?
Stage 4: Increases of criteria for classic reward - work!
Brito video: The four stages of basic engagement (again)
Stage 5: Human starts the work - again!
Lyra video: Stage 5
Lecture #2A: Stages of Engagement broken out.
Stage 1: Handler starts interaction
Lyra video: Stage 1
Stage 2: Dog starts interaction
Lyra video: Stage 2
Stage 3: Dog maintains interaction to "drive" handler to reward
Lyra video: Stage 3
Stage 4: Dog offers work or responds very readily to request for work
Lyra video: Stage 4
Stage 5: Handler begins process of work
Lyra video: Stage 5
Key Points Summary
Lecture #3: What does an engaged dog look like?
1) Where is the dog looking?
2) What is the dog's demeanor?
3) Who appears to be driving the interaction?
Video: Brito failure
Video: Brito success
Trained cues or tricks - what is their role in Engagement?
Engagement; From Handler to Dog - a critical topic!
Lecture #4: Acclimation
What is it?
Why do it?
When it is done? Communicating that to your dog
What is the right environment? Your dog's senses
Is your dog now available for work? How will you know?
No more Stage 1 engagement!
Video: Brito acclimating and then handler directed switch to engagement
Setting your stage on the road: Fear, Acclimation, and Motivation
Using a number system to gauge environments, dog's emotional comfort, and motivation
Handler's value as a support system
Dog driven choices - power for softer or fearful dogs!
Video: Brito brand new area acclimating
Lecture #5: Rest periods within work
What is it?
Why do it? Blog: Squishing
Incorporating squishing, acclimation, rest, and work
Video: Lyra - rest - offered engagement - work
Video: Lyra - relaxed down - engagement - work
Video: Lyra - rest - squishing - work
Differentiate rest from relaxed down
Lecture #6: Handling Failure (disengagement)
Introductory level - no response
Video: Brito disconnect
Why irrelevant for many dogs
How to use Negative punishment
New area acclimation (reward/disengagement prevention)
Negative punishment vs. rest period
Lecture #7: Adding in work:
How to add work?
What type of work?
Video: Brito adding work to engagement
Lecture #8: Engagement - What makes a human engaging?
Getting started – Expression
Play as "movement"
Jumping on the trainer
How do dogs play?
Video: Lyra and Cisu play
Video: Lyra and Denise play
Video: Brito and Denise play
Lecture #9: Exploring Variables: Changing criteria for engagement; when and how?
Let's do it! Video: Brito: Proximity challenge
Video: Brito Intensity challenge
Video: Brito Duration challenge
Classic rewards off body:
Video: Brito stage 2 rewards off body
Video: Lyra stage 3 rewards off body
Video: Lyra stage 4 rewards off body
Alternating challenges (raising criteria) with easy sessions
Lecture #10: Mouthing/Biting and barking
Handling mouthy dogs
Video: Lyra play toy in mouth
Video: Juno redirect mouthing into obedience
Remove Frontal Pressure
Change type of play
Change your tension
Barking within Engagement/Work
Lecture #11: Conditioned Emotional Response and Engagement; what is the link?
The "habits" of work (CER)
Where does stress fit in?
CER and Engagement work - the critical link
Lecture #12: Forced Play, The Fun Test, Choice and a dog's CER
What is forced play?
Taking the Fun Test
Video: Finnian taking the toy fun test
Video: Finnian taking the food fun test
Video: Finnian taking the personal play fun test
Handling fun test failure!
Results of forced play
Lecture #13: Handling Multiple Rounds of Engagement before classic reward
cycles of engagement
choice, engage, work, ENGAGE, reward
application to obedience competition
Video: Brito acclimation, work, engagement, work, reward
Lecture #14: The fifth stage
Coming full circle: Cueing engagement; handler driven
The basic assumptions on readiness
Evaluating and responding to failure
Video: Brito fifth stage
No required prerequisites. This class has beneficial overlap with the following courses:
Building Relationship Through Play (lecture notes for this class can be purchased here)
Bridging the Gap
Dealing with The Bogeyman
The following lecture is released very early in class and provides our basic working structure. Please see the syllabus tab to gain a better understanding of the entire program.
Lecture #2: Stages of Engagement: How and Why
Now that we’ve discussed what engagement is and why we want it, let’s talk about how to teach it. This class will focus on the first 4.
GOLD STUDENTS: In this class, your first video assignment will be to show me stage 1 so that I can see that you understand the concept and can play effectively with your dog with food or toys, but after that I probably won’t need to see it again. Also, please do NOT progress from one stage to the next until I give you direction to do so.
Before You Begin:
Here are a few instructions that will be relevant to all stages:
Work in very comfortable environments where you don't have to worry about fear issues, acclimation, handling failure, incorporating work, etc, until those lectures are available AND your dog understands the basic process. Please note that I do not follow this advice in my videos, especially with Lyra, because if I had done these stages in a comfortable place, there would have been nothing for you to see in terms of handling failure (Lyra won’t take her eyes off me unless the environment is more challenging). I need you to see stuff! Below you will find both good and poor examples to help you understand.
For this class, and unless instructed otherwise, please work your dog on leash or only in a space where you know he will engage instantly without exploring at all.
Keep each engagement lesson to less than five minutes (not including acclimation, when we get there). If your dog engages easily right off the bat, you will probably work for about 2 minutes.
Stage 1: Handler Starts Engagement
In the first phase, the human starts engagement by showing the dog a combination of personality and classic reinforcers.
To do this, start in a quiet, familiar area, get out a bunch of cookies, and feed them to your dog in a rapid-fire fashion. Because YOU are starting engagement, put the cookies right under your dog’s nose if you need to. As you do this, move around by backing up so that your dog is following the front of your body and eating cookies. You can (and should!) talk to your dog during this, but don’t be overwhelming.
Here is an example of EFFECTIVE and well-done stage 1 with a toy with Brito: Note that engagement starts the moment I put Brito on the floor - we work in a comfortable place and when he tries to leave I use personality and the toy to get him back quickly. This is what your video should look like (minus the work):
Here is an example of EFFECTIVE stage 1 with food with Brito, but you'll notice that I am "pulling" energy out of him a bit. I'm probably one notch too high:
The dog should not be asked to DO anything - simply eat! If your dog enjoys play or toys, you can absolutely use those instead! But choose something where your behavior can “magnetize” your dog for about ten seconds. If you can’t engage your dog for 10 seconds with your current choice of motivator, then switch to a higher value motivator, verify that there is nothing else to do in the environment, and also make sure that you aren’t overwhelming your dog by accident!
When you finish one rep of about 10 cookies, signal with your hand and your demeanor that he is “free” again. I say “take a break” and indicate that the dog can leave me. Please note that “take a break” and “okay” are not the same for me. “Take a break” means I’m ready to work more if you are. I stand still, waiting for the dog to initiate another round of engagement with eye contact and movement towards me when he’s ready. “Okay” means he’s truly free - and we both walk casually again. (note: By waiting for the dog to look at me, I've actually entered stage 2 engagement. For stage 1, I would tell the dog to take a break, wait a few seconds, and then actively use the food or toys to re-engage the dog)
If the dog DOES NOT LEAVE when you offer a break, then go right back to engagement - the dog can choose to stay with you and will be rewarded for that!
Now, repeat this process in a new space (possibly only a few feet away). And again.
In this video example of stage 1, notice that I do all of the work; Lyra just eats. Note that she is not very engaged. That means I picked a bad environment! You do not want your dog to look like this:
This stage should only be done a few times, and then never again. This stage is meant to teach the dog that you have toys, food, and fun, but if you keep it up over the long run, you'll set yourself up for a lifetime of working harder and harder to get and keep engagement - or you'll resort to corrections to maintain attention when your dog is no longer a puppet being manipulated by your efforts. Not to mention you'll make sensitive dogs downright neurotic with a long term application of this approach (a story for another lecture).
Stage 2: Dog Starts Engagement
The next stage of engagement occurs when you shift responsibility for starting training from the human to the dog. This shift is critical because it allows you to assess the dog’s readiness to work and his overall comfort level. It should happen fast!
Return to the same place that you had easy success in Stage 1. At this point, setting up an environment where you are likely to "win" is quite important. Choosing a dull environment (maybe a 2 out of 10 on the curiosity scale), will cause your dog to get bored faster than choosing a doggy Disneyland, so set yourself up for success.
This time, walk into the area with your dog, then stop, face your dog, and wait. A short leash will make this process go faster. Be still and quiet. Do not have any food or toys visible. Don’t worry about what your dog does before engaging with you; sniffing and sightseeing are just fine at this stage.
Your dog should orient to you fairly quickly based on your Stage 1 work. If he doesn’t, you picked too difficult of an environment. Either increase the acclimation period (once we’ve introduced that) or better yet, choose an easier location.
Once your dog turns back to you, reward after your dog maintains eye contact for two seconds. This length of time is important because we don’t want “drive by” attention. The reward should be an active process - whether you use toys, food, or play, both you and your dog should be moving.
Be sure that your reward is at whatever level best suits your dog. Make an effort not to go over the top with energy if your dog is softer. Instead, match your dog. If your dog offers a 2 in terms of focus and energy, don’t start at a 10! Work that up to a 3, 4, or 5 as your dog shows a willingness to engage with you.
Your dog will soon learn that the route to reinforcement is making a choice to engage the handler.
After your dog makes contact and you reward for about ten seconds, you’ll need to start a new rep. To do this, signal to your dog that he is free to take a break, but if he doesn’t leave, go right back to engagement. The dog can choose to stay with you and be rewarded for that! Remember, continuously move.
Here is Corgi Simon working at stage 2 for a toy. Note Clarissa's excellent handling - the toy is not visible until Simon asks for engagement.
Here is Spitz Reggie. Let's look at a few things; only one of which is stage 2:
11 sec - notice that the handler tries to get him back before he is ready. That won't work so don't do it.
24 sec - Reggie makes eye contact (hard to see). notice that Reggie values personal play more than toy play so the handler runs with it. That is a good decision!
42 sec - this is a perfect illustration of using personal play at stage 2. They were playing. They stopped, Reggie made eye contact. The handler went back to playing. Really good! To the end of the video the handler made excellent choices.
Stage 3: Dogs Starts Engagement and Must Sustain It
In the third stage, I want sustained engagement from the dog before rewarding him.
Using the same location as before, repeat stage two, except this time, after your dog makes eye contact, begin backing up and talking/interacting with your dog for several seconds BEFORE you get out a classic reward and hand it over. After a short period of time (ranging from several seconds to a minute, depending on the experience level of the dog within this stage), give the dog the classic motivator he wants.
The goal here is to teach the dog to have sustained interest in engaging with me. If the dog checks out before I have a chance to reward, I start over again - possibly for a shorter period of time in order to set him up for success.
Here’s a video to demonstrate what this might look like, this time with Lyra. She fails at first; she checks in but it’s not sustained interest, so each time we start over.
What this looks like will vary by team. Some dogs will jump on their handlers. Some dogs will play actively. Some dogs will follow in the front with a more quiet demeanor - but they remain connected. Some dogs will wag their tails and move forwards. If you have taken a play class, go ahead and use what you learned about personal play to help you. (If you have not taken that class, don’t worry. Issues of being attractive to a dog will be discussed later in this class.) What matters is not how you define engagement, but whether or not your dog appears to be mentally connected to you and enjoying your company.
Here is a young Golden just learning about Stage 3 engagement. His handler is asking "more" than a spin - now she is getting a spin and a jump up. She responds with perfectly matched energy and then...he gets his cookies:
Stage 4: Dog Asks for Engagement and Work
In the fourth stage of engagement training, I expect some kind of formal work before offering any classic motivators. The ideal sequence would be that the dog will briefly explore the environment, choose to engage with me, stay engaged for a period of time, and then either offer to work or respond instantly to a very subtle request on my part - all without knowing what motivator he is working for. After performing a simple behavior such as a few steps of heeling, the classic reward shows up!
To do this, you'll repeat Stage 3, but you’ll add one more difference. After you interact for awhile, do one of the following:
become quieter and more still (but continuing to make contact), or
continue to engage with your dog but change your demeanor so that it occurs to your dog that he might want to offer a behavior, or
ask for a behavior that does not require a formal cue - for example, pat your side to get your dog to come into heel position, or look at your toes to get your dog to come to front position.
If your dog doesn't quite get the subtle approach, go ahead and use a verbal cue - but you should be absolutely certain your dog is going to do it by the way he’s looking at you - bright eyes and happy! As soon as you get the behavior, reward with the classic reward.
Here's a video demonstrating Stage 4 from start to finish:
And here's another video. In this video, you can see that Becky finishes a dumbbell retrieve with her dog (not important to this discussion) and then does Stage 4 engagement. She engages playfully with Kea for a short period of time starting at 15 seconds, and then allows her dog to set up in heel position at 29 seconds. The dog then gets her cookie reward. In this case, the actual period of work was quite short - only a set up!
If you cannot get Stage 1 engagement, then either your environment is too interesting (curious), your dog is nervous (fear), or your dog is not interested in your motivator (unmotivated). Change something. If you watch carefully with Brito, you'll see that I have this problem; he is more interested in exploring than in my cookies, even though I am trying very hard to get the cookie in front of his face.
If at any point in Stage 2 or 3 your dog opts to leave you, that's fine. Simply release him back to the (limited) environment, and when he re-engages, start the entire process over. This doesn't mean he gets to explore what he's curious about; it simply means you stop the engagement process. For example, if your dog stopped working because he wants to greet a person who just entered the training area, that's fine. Release your dog from formal work, but prevent your dog from visiting (if he’s off leash, ask the person to ignore your dog - or better yet, to leave). Then try again.
Every time your dog chooses to engage and stays with it long enough to earn a reinforcer, you may decide to release your dog again to the limited area to make a new choice. Remember, stand still and just wait. If your dog engages and is being brilliant and highly focused with no conflicting desires, then you do not need to release the dog back to the environment each time. You can simply start another round of engagement.
If your dog still cannot succeed, you either:
1) chose too difficult of an environment/distraction,
2) never had the dog's brain in the first place (you're begging or rushing the stage),
3) you moved through the above stages too quickly and your dog is unsure about how to win, or
4) your dog is not curious at all - he’s scared or anxious.
Adjust accordingly or end the session altogether. We will address all of these possibilities in this class, but if you think fear is a driving force, take a look at Amy Cook’s Bogeyman class for an in-depth discussion on that topic.
Brito routinely trains in stages two, three, and four, depending on the environment and how enthusiastic he is about working for me. In very stimulating environments like a dog show, I might move him back to stage two temporarily, but normally I just let him acclimate a bit longer and go for stage three. Don't rush!
Don't accept lesser quality work (lowered criteria) just because the environment is more difficult! No begging. No bribing. Just a simple and respectful way to engage with a dog.
When you are comfortably working in the fourth stage, you would slowly increase the number of behaviors you request before your party, or practice going between engagement, one exercise, engagement, and a classic reward, but we won’t focus on that in this class - or at least, not until the end. Instead, we’ll focus on generalizing and proofing your dog’s ability to engage. When class is over, I am very hopeful that you will be able to engage, work, and reward without the dog knowing what you might have as a reward, and without you carrying it on your body.
But Wait! There's More!
Stage 5: Sustained Engagement and Work at Handler’s Request ***for information only***
When you have worked through this entire chain, you may also choose to begin the process of work simply by saying your dog's name or asking if he would like to work - let's call that the fifth stage of engagement. If you have done a good job on engagement training, and if your dog is well prepared and comfortable in your current location, he will say yes because working with you will have become extremely important; the highlight of his day! If a trainer is working in this stage, and if the dog is truly ready to be there, then the trainer should be quite surprised if the dog doesn’t take her up on the offer to engage immediately.
Here is a video showing a dog with good engagement training responding to my request for engagement - stage 5. I am showing you this for information only - we do not need to discuss this or go into detail at this time. This will be discussed again near the end of class.
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE ...
Shine and I had a blast doing this course. I learned a lot about how to read her emotional state and readiness for engagement, as well as specific practical things to do to build capacity for sustained engagement with rewards both on and off the body and how to approach training in new and distracting areas. I learned why a lot of things I've done in the past (notably "make yourself more interesting than the environment") served me badly. I feel that this course has laid the foundations for a good working partnership, and will have a long lasting impact on our whole training career. Denise is a great teacher, giving comprehensive and speedy feedback on individual partnerships and issues arising: I learned so much from gold participation as well as reading her detailed comments on each individual partnership and all the different issues that arose. Carol D.
I was so happy you released the Engagement course. It was wonderful - more than I expected. Not only did you break a complex topic down into manageable pieces, you made it easy for the lay-person and training geek alike. This course is a game-changer for competitive dog training. I feel it. 15 years from now when we look back, we're going to say - "That Fenzi course on engagement? It changed everything." You're a gifted trainer and instructor. Thank you for the gift of sharing your knowledge and experience. Marge R
Wow - the engagement course has changed the way both me and my dog think. I have trained dogs all my life but just could not find a way to hold the attention of my young collie. Everything was more interesting than me and the treats/ toys I had. It felt like I had tried everything, other trainers were telling me to pull harder, be more interesting, frustrate my dog more..... None of it worked. Within the first week of the course I started to see a difference in my dog and her interest and confidence in interacting with me. Denise said something no one else had said " match your dogs energy" it made all the difference. Instead of shutting her down Denise's methods help her to grow in confidence and taught us both how to engage with each other. She is now responsive to me in all situations and our relationship had grown massively. A great course that would suit all types of dogs as it respects the dog for who they are and allows their choices to influence the training. It developed mutual respect between me and my dog and we both enjoy each other so much more now. Sharon P.
Engagement class with Denise Fenzi can only be described as a journey. Each dog in the class had their own path to achieving their goals which made for an extremely diverse, interesting, engaging class where you did not want to miss a single post. Denise's plan for building engagement is simple with clear stages through which to advance and fun games to integrate. The feedback was clear, relevant and helped create plans for moving forward. Denise is excellent at working with the dog in front of her and providing detailed insights as to how to progress with each individual dog. For me, personally, I saw my dog begin to understand what I was asking in a work context. I brought our "games" around down and was able to build a more intense, engaged partner in multiple environments. Across the board, I have found my dog *(and myself) are truly enjoying our interactions more and more whether at home or away in work or in play. A side bonus to this class was magically our toy play increased 100-fold. This class was a true gem. Tracey B.
The participants were a variety of breeds, which was great and the content was thorough. My first class with Denise and was very impressed. Having soft, non-pushy dogs, I was worried that content wouldn't cover this..yeah, even though the class was called Engagement. Nice to see an instructor that knows how to work with a variety of breeds and is up to the challenge of finding what works for your dog. Will be taking future classes and look to work with Denise in person.
This class was fantastic- a real game changer! How could such a simple and important concept have been missing from all my training? The engagement level of both my dogs has really improved- even though I haven't been particularly diligent in training. From this course I really have a sense of being on a continuum to improvement of our teamwork- rather than definitive achieve/not achieve situation. This is a great thing! For me, the particularly helpful things have been learning about matching energies and the reminder not to 'beg'. My understanding of the importance of acclimation has really improved too. Of the numerous bronze courses I have taken this is one where I have felt that the silver students were really active participants, getting their money's worth out of it. Sue T
I found this Engagement Class to be excellent well thought out good videos and excellent lectures. All were easy to follow and learn from. Considering I have had to completely change the way I train my young Retriever who will hopefully become an enthusiastic engaged and willing partner who enjoys what she does as much as I do as well as having lots of fun along the way. Denise makes it clear in her Lectures that there is no quick fix and it takes time and patience to train by this method. I am an avid follower of your Academy and Blogs and will continue to be into the future! Anne M
A course that takes the idea of respective dogs' choices in their interactions with us to the next level. In the process, it teaches the canine half of the relationship to take responsibility for engaging with us and makes interacting with us a sought-after prize - all this without coercing the dog or pressuring him into work. At the same time, the course teaches the human half of the relationship to truly be engaging and responsive to the dog by attending to the dog's needs (e.g. safety first), respecting the dog's current level of energy, and learning how to play and motivate the dog on his terms. After all, it's the dog who decides what's motivating!