Building Engagement - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 12:08 AM Thread Starter
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Building Engagement

Hi all! I'm new to the forum and new to GSDs!

I have a nearly six month old female GSD, smart as a whip and quick to pick up on tricks and obedience in general.....except for when she's just not feeling it.

On walks, everything around her, smells, sights, sounds are all far more interesting than me and even the tastiest most exciting treats I can muster which are usually more than enough as she's quite happy to work for food. Generally, I've just allowed her to explore as long as she's not pulling on the leash or otherwise practicing undesirable behavior like digging or eating random things like dead frogs...you know, the like . My question is, knowing her age and that she is still exploring her world, should I really break her away from learning as much as she can about it when she isn't really misbehaving?

For a bit of background, she will walk at my side and basically heel in the house and in our yard on leash and off, though I haven't put it on cue as a heel yet. It's only outside the fence that her focus shifts from me to the world.

And if I should be working on getting that focus back...how can I build that engagement? Food doesn't consistently work, toys don't work at all....what can I, personally, be doing to make this more fun for her?

My intent is not to enter rally or any obedience competitions, but I would eventually like to get her CGC to open up the door for some recreational sports to keep her active and happy and entertained. I'm less worried about doing it all in a hurry than I am about doing it right and making sure she's having fun.

Our walks aren't usually too long around our neighborhood because we run the risk of coming across some pretty ill behaved dogs, so I don't think the duration is the issue, unless it's just that she's not getting enough exposure so it all seems novel?

Pictures of Briar as a reward for slogging through all that!
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post #2 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 12:32 AM
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Welcome to training with distractions! I went to my first group training with a pup who would sit/stay, down/stay, heel, sit/down during heel, had a really good recall, would follow hand signals at a distance for down/sit. He was a food maniac with good toy/prey drive and worked hard for those rewards. Needless to say I was excited and cocky to show off against a bunch of dog owners who couldn't even walk on a loose leash. In short, I had a real rockstar - in my backyard. The second we hit that new field with all these new people, dogs, chickens, cows everything went out the window and I was on the same playing field as the rest of the class. Also at 6 months old. Luckily he caught up at about the 3rd class because he got familiar with the environment and was back to being more interested in food than all the exciting stuff going on around him.

Ok so anecdotal story outta the way let's get to it. I figured out that for my dog to be solid and trustworthy in new situations I need to train him as many new places with as many distractions as possible. I'm a guy, so for me putting on this silly high pitched excitable voice, and being overly exciting telling this dog "good boy!!" As im walking thru a tractor supply training my dog to heel was embarrassing. But it did the trick for him and got his attention back on me and off the popcorn on the ground. Or the old lady sticking her hand out for him to sniff before attempting a pet, etc.

The point I'm attempting to make is if you want your dog to be as obedient in distractions as he is at home - you gotta go out and train in distractions. Also he's only 6 months old. It doesn't happen over night and takes a lot of commitment.
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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 12:43 AM
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post #4 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 01:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cloudpump View Post
Got Focus? Setting Expectations and Winning Your Dog's Attention | The Collared Scholar
Excellent article!
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post #5 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 12:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thegooseman90, thanks for taking the time to reply!

Yeah, distraction training is proving a tough one! Up until she hit five months she was doing wonderfully in her group class. Now she's hit her stride on the teen years early, but I did put your advice to work this morning while on our morning walk and it seemed to work fairly well! She looked at me more often, though she wasn't terribly interested in either treats or toys. I think with time it could definitely work. And like I said before, I'm not in any hurry!

Cloudpump, that is an amazing article and I've favorited it so I don't lose it. It's given me a good starting point for a plan going forward. I think part of my problem is that I just wasn't being exciting enough, so she's looking elsewhere. Who could blame her. Thanks for sharing!
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post #6 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 01:54 PM
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Oh oh oh, me me me me..... just did this.
I have the same dog, well no, but.... my dog has no real desire for a toy. He's trained to fetch for food. He isn't all that keen on food. He's pretty keen, very keen, on chasing me if I run, but I can't run that much. Etc....

Soooooo...I just took a 5 day Play with your food challenge, the Collared Scholar, Meagan Karnes (giving credit where credit is due), and I have notes I can share, just ask.

I've been doing this for about 2 weeks and big changes.

Basic principle, turn food into a toy. All dogs have some food drive, or they would be dead. Under stress, a lot of dogs lose interest in toys before they refuse food. So by turning food into a game you have a powerful reward in more places and more situations.


I can now get his engagement under more circumstances.

Here's another game that might work if your dog has another significant person. Go out with that person, separate in space, call (cheerfully, not obedience) your dog back and forth between you. If no interest in a toy, have food, but do the 'play with your food' thing, make the food fast exciting & fun. String cheese separated into string and presented live & wriggling really turns my dog on, mind the fingers though.

I don't want to dump on your post. The technique I learned has 5 separate steps. Will share if interested, but it has really worked to build engagement with my dog who has extremely high prey drive (for wildlife), and unreliable toy drive, and moderate food drive.

Hope that helps.
PS. pretty normal to have dogs finding the wider world more compelling at times, don't beat yourself up over that.
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post #7 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 02:20 PM
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Exactly where I got my fabulous advice from. She runs online training groups (priced) but also a few times a year runs FREE challenges. I signed up for the 5 day FREE one, and found the wisdom to be priceless. The video's are only available during the challenges, though. I'll let everyone here know when the next FREE challenge runs. Paid classes come up on a continuous basis.

SONIC--Dominican Street Collie aka 100% Unknown Fibers
All of my other dogs were GSD's, sadly missed, moving forward

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post #8 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 02:25 PM
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This is purely for sake of discussion - not to knock on anyone's training- and because I'm trying to think this through, always trying to learn better ways of training.

My question is - do we always want to raise arousal in or dogs with the recall? Food raises arousal, toys raise arousal. Of course we train recall initially in motivational way- I like to use food in young pups, then phase that out and use food or toy very rarely. If at all.

My concern is, I usually call my dogs to get by something that is arousing to them- another dog, a car, a deer, a moose, a snowmobile. (yeah, they are pretty easily stimulated...). I want them to be happy to recall, but at the same time, I don't want to have the dogs come back and then "chase" me, or the food, or a toy every time. For one, it is impractical with toys for multiple dogs outside of a controlled setting. For another, when they see, well, anything unusual, their default is arousal. I want them to return to my side, and get into a calm, clear state of mind instead.

I've noticed in my own training that I often do use the pack-chase to get them off trail to pass stuff- I run off trail, they follow... I'm now thinking this is not really the best way to go about it and am working on a calmer way to do it. In fact, I'm thinking I need to phase this out so that we are all "calm".

Any thoughts?

This is specifically for off leash walks- this does not apply to sports where "training in drive" might make more sense (or not, open to discussion).


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post #9 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 02:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Muskeg View Post
This is purely for sake of discussion - not to knock on anyone's training- and because I'm trying to think this through, always trying to learn better ways of training.

My question is - do we always want to raise arousal in or dogs with the recall? Food raises arousal, toys raise arousal. Of course we train recall initially in motivational way- I like to use food in young pups, then phase that out and use food or toy very rarely. If at all.

My concern is, I usually call my dogs to get by something that is arousing to them- another dog, a car, a deer, a moose, a snowmobile. (yeah, they are pretty easily stimulated...). I want them to be happy to recall, but at the same time, I don't want to have the dogs come back and then "chase" me, or the food, or a toy every time. For one, it is impractical with toys for multiple dogs outside of a controlled setting. For another, when they see, well, anything unusual, their default is arousal. I want them to return to my side, and get into a calm, clear state of mind instead.

I've noticed in my own training that I often do use the pack-chase to get them off trail to pass stuff- I run off trail, they follow... I'm now thinking this is not really the best way to go about it and am working on a calmer way to do it. In fact, I'm thinking I need to phase this out so that we are all "calm".

Any thoughts?

This is specifically for off leash walks- this does not apply to sports where "training in drive" might make more sense (or not, open to discussion).
My thoughts are I think the same thing sometimes. I guess having my dog play, and getting him to play has huge value to me, so I'm pretty pumped about building engagement (mine's an ex-village dog, so play was not a thing he knew) and I'm a dog nerd into casual dog sports.

I do think there is a time for calm, or discipline. Food rewards can be delivered calmly when necessary, I'm not sure they compete well with squirrels.

I find my dog goes into higher arousal if I do nothing, prey chasing, to the point where he's gone, if I don't use an e-collar, and I'm sure I could let it get past the point to where even an e-collar won't stop him. I lower his arousal by leashing him up and doing obedience, or just use a traffic lead. I still rather see him launch himself enthusiastically in my direction, though.

I think the 'building engagement' though is the front end, perhaps the 'calm return' is the back end. The difference between training a behaviour and proofing. The difference between we're doing this together because it's fun, and you are going to do this now because it's necessary. So then you're beyond the 'engagement' and need them to know 'sit stay' or 'heel until release' are the required obedience even when you are boring.

I do both because sometimes I'm boring and I have a right to be boring and have a decently behaved dog. <--reminding myself, I can't get way too dog-oriented in my training, sometimes it's okay for a human to be and not have to constantly up the game.
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Last edited by islanddog; 11-08-2017 at 02:52 PM. Reason: um...
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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 11-08-2017, 09:44 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by islanddog View Post
Oh oh oh, me me me me..... just did this.
I have the same dog, well no, but.... my dog has no real desire for a toy. He's trained to fetch for food. He isn't all that keen on food. He's pretty keen, very keen, on chasing me if I run, but I can't run that much. Etc....

Soooooo...I just took a 5 day Play with your food challenge, the Collared Scholar, Meagan Karnes (giving credit where credit is due), and I have notes I can share, just ask.

I've been doing this for about 2 weeks and big changes.

Basic principle, turn food into a toy. All dogs have some food drive, or they would be dead. Under stress, a lot of dogs lose interest in toys before they refuse food. So by turning food into a game you have a powerful reward in more places and more situations.


I can now get his engagement under more circumstances.

Here's another game that might work if your dog has another significant person. Go out with that person, separate in space, call (cheerfully, not obedience) your dog back and forth between you. If no interest in a toy, have food, but do the 'play with your food' thing, make the food fast exciting &amp; fun. String cheese separated into string and presented live &amp; wriggling really turns my dog on, mind the fingers though.

I don't want to dump on your post. The technique I learned has 5 separate steps. Will share if interested, but it has really worked to build engagement with my dog who has extremely high prey drive (for wildlife), and unreliable toy drive, and moderate food drive.

Hope that helps.
PS. pretty normal to have dogs finding the wider world more compelling at times, don't beat yourself up over that.
Please, dump all over my post! That sounds like something that could really work for her! I'd absolutely love to hear more about what you learned, what you did, your notes, etc. Please, tell me everything!

I am here to learn to be a better trainer for my dog, and I think that making it FUN for her would be a really good way to do that to help her learn her manners in higher distraction areas.

I, too, have done the runny thingy, and she LOVES to chase me. But gosh is she fast and I just can't keep it up for over a few minutes yet lol.
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