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I've been reading around to beef up my training knowledge, and as I put some of the stuff into practice (and even in some of what I read), I'm seeing one concept coming up over and over again: it isn't so much about getting your dog to do stuff you want as it is to get her to respond to you when you need her to. For example, how do you get your dog to not overreact or to come back to you, even in the midst of compelling distractions? It isn't so much about command response as it is about getting your dog to refocus attention back on you.

Would you agree with that? What are some things you do to build engagement with your dog? How do you avoid over-engagement, namely, clinginess or the lack of independence that sends your dog into depression or a panic if you're not around?
 

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I think building engagement is crucial, you can teach a dog as many commands as you like but without engagement its useless.

Just recently I have been noticing a huge shift in Aayla's behavior as she matures. She is a lot more engaged with me, which makes its easier to deal with. It means that instead of having call her constantly when she is off leash, she checks in every minute or so with me. Even with our daily walk she checks in with me. We see a person/dog/other animal she checks in to see if she can say hi or not. Its not perfect yet but still everything is easy with her now.

I taught it through rewarding checking in with me. I still do, about 25% of the time she looks to check in she gets a reward. (This is only because I'm not going to reward her every few steps when she is constantly checking in/watching, I wait for higher distractions) Every time she sees something she may want to go up to she was encouraged to look at me and rewarded (either treat or given permission to approach and say hi) I also have her in environments where these distractions/temptations are always around her. So she learned that she does not get to say hi to every person or dog she sees.

I also did a lot of crate training and separation training as a puppy. So while she would rather be next to me, she will be tied/crated/held by someone else without trouble.
 

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When I'm walking dogs outside off-leash, I do it pretty simply by having a bag of treats on me and keeping the "space cadets" on a harness/long line combo until they are more trustworthy. Start by calling their name and rewarding them for coming. Call them at least 15 times per walk, especially away from high distractions. Reward them for checking in with you of their own accord. Call them back every time they leave your sight line and reward them for pausing and waiting before they disappear around the bend of a trail or road. Playing little games with hand targeting outside can also be great fun.
 

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Engagement IS the name of the game. As Frawley and Ellis suggest, if you don't have the dog's engagement, you have nothing. Once you find what trips your dog's trigger and you utilize that tool so YOU become the most important thing in your dog's world, everything else becomes so much easier when it comes to training and daily coexistence. Since dogs are varied in their drives and intensities, one needs to find what works best for their particular dog.

"I'm seeing one concept coming up over and over again: it isn't so much about getting your dog to do stuff you want as it is to get her to respond to you when you need her to." I would suggest if you truly have a dog's engagement, the dog will readily "do stuff you want" and so much more because the dog wants what you have ( and I'm not talking about food ).
 
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