Need serious help with engagement - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 09-20-2016, 01:17 PM Thread Starter
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Need serious help with engagement

I have a 4 yr old WL, intact, male GSD. I should have worked on engagement with him more when he was younger, and I'm kicking myself every day for it :/. Anyways, I can't seem to find anything that can get/keep his attention. I've tried using high-value treats (bits of raw duck, bits of leftover meatloaf, etc.) like shown in this video:
, as well as using the same method but with a tug toy instead. A few days ago we tried out the first method (using bits of raw duck) and it seemed to work fairly well. He started to check in with me a little more often, and after a while, would chase me and wait for a treat after I stopped whenever I ran away from him/encouraged him to follow me. The next session, I used bits of leftover meatloaf and did the same thing, except this time I put away the meatloaf and brought out the tug toy about halfway through the session. He would follow me and play tug with me every time I ran away from him/encouraged him to follow me. Today, I tried using just the tug since I didn't feel like getting my hands all gross from the leftover meatloaf. He wanted nothing to do with me. All he cared about was the bugs. I swear, if I could train and leash a fly, I would never have a problem getting his attention! Lol It's just odd because treats don't motivate him all that much, yet it seems like I need to start with them in order to get him interested in the tug toy? Today whenever I tried running away from him and trying to get him to grab the tug toy, he would just follow me, take one snap at the tug toy (most of the time not even getting a hold on it), and then run away from me and chase bugs. Does anyone have any other ideas for trying to engage him with me and getting his attention??

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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 09-20-2016, 02:27 PM
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Hi Tulip. Have you tried engaging him with a ball?
From the start Finn had no interest in toys including tugs and balls.
When he was 4 months old his trainer evaluated him before beginning basic obedience class. During the evaluation he found that Finn lacked ball/play drive and told me to make every effort to increase his drive for playing with a ball.

Apparently ball drive is important in encouraging engagement and helpful throughout the training process.
And I can say without doubt it worked for us.

I ended up buying the Large size Kong balls that squeak. (Buy at Target or Amazon) And he loved playing with them.
I started playing ball with him in a long hallway in my house. Short sessions so he didn't get bored.

Then we played 2 ball fetch. It's a game I heard about on this forum.

He learned to love playing with the Kong balls. He is completely focused while playing.
It was during the game of fetch that I taught him the commands Bring it, Drop it, Leave it, Down, Stay...
I always do Finn's training and playing on a long line, that way I can re-engage him if decides to sniff around in the grass or gets distracted by another dog etc.
As soon as he re-focuses on me, I reward him by throwing him the ball.
Finn is rewarded with praise and a ball. He gets food treats but not during training/playing.
His play time is also his traning time. And he loves it.

It sounds as though your dog lacks ball/play drive.

Another way to engage your dog is to act and talk really goofy when you call him or want him to look at you. As soon as he looks at you reward him with an exaggerated praise or toss him something that he really loves.

These are the things Finn's trainer teaches owners to engage their dogs.
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 09-20-2016, 03:15 PM
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Hi, Since you think that maybe harnessing a fly might work, you might want to consider a flirt pole with a small toy on the end. It might get his attention long enough to be able to begin being more engaged. Just as long as he doesn't have any joint problems, mine gets a little crazy with the flirt pole.

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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 09-20-2016, 04:31 PM
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I have the same issue as you do with my 4 y.o. male. I have been slowly trying to build his ball drive, but any distraction puts that to a halt. I have him successfully fetch the ball and return it for a reward and then I put the ball away while he is still very interested in hopes that next time it comes out he will have something click inside of him to want to play! I started this process daily about 2 weeks ago and have seen a slight improvement. will be following! good luck
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 09-20-2016, 07:04 PM
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Just remember...

Engagement will take time! Yes it will be harder after four years without it, but you can do it. Just recognize that it's going to take more than two sessions, or two weeks, or two months, etc.

First consider the environment. Are you trying this at home or out at a park somewhere? Starting at home is usually easier because the environment is already familiar. As your dog gets better at home, then start taking it on the road. But again try not to increase the environmental challenges too suddenly. Start with a park at a quiet time before trying a busy time.

The leash. I admit I didn't watch the whole video so I don't know if this was discussed, but the leash in that video is too long for just starting out. I'd start with a regular six foot leash to limit how much space the dog has to roam. Limiting the dog's space increases the chances that he'll check in with you, because that six foot radius becomes boring much faster than a 10' or 20' radius.

Two things that also help a lot with engagement: rewarding instead of bribing, and using a verbal release cue to end the engagement. Make sure you're rewarding (mark and then feed/show the toy) instead of bribing (showing the food/toy to entice the dog to you). It's a fine difference to us, huge difference to the dog and bribing is often the first thing that makes engagement fail. Then, when the dog is focused on you, use a verbal release cue (such as "all done", "that'll do", "go sniff", etc) to release the dog back to the environment. Keep the duration of engagement very short at first, to build on the dog's ability to be successful and stay engaged until released. Yes there will be times your dog checks out without the release, but over time that should decrease.

To be honest, I wouldn't worry too much about ball drive. Some trainers get fixated on it (especially in our GSD world) but it's not really necessary. For engagement you have to use what the dog already finds reinforcing, and if the ball isn't reinforcing then you have to work on that separately, and it's up to you if that is worth it or not.

For a free resource, Denise Fenzi has written a lot of blog posts about engagement:

For paid resources, I really like the stuff by Forrest Micke and Michael Ellis, which you can find on Leerburg.
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