Rally Obedience: E​ngagement and trust

Milo and I just earned a score of 96 / 100 at the mock trial that was the final exam in our advanced Rally Obedience class.

I wish Milo the AwesomeDog could read because this post is all about thanking him for being such a wonderful partner.

attentionMilo was super engaged during the trial. This means that he was paying attention to me with laser focus. He was not asking, but demanding, that I give him a job to do and he put his whole self into doing what I wanted. He didn’t just walk, he pranced. He didn’t just jump, he leaped. He was beautiful, and we were a team.

One of my classmates praised him for being so “sharp.” She said, “his eyes are always on you, even when you’re talking to someone else.” I don’t think she realized how grand, and complicated, this compliment was.

It is not just his nature to pay attention like this. He and I worked through some difficult things together, and we developed a solid relationship. We both know that we have each other’s backs and that the world is better and safer when we’re a team.

Also, we practice engagement almost every day. We spend more time training this than anything else. I say “look,” he looks me in the eye, and I give him a treat or a game of tug or a cuddle. We do this before breakfast, on walks, when we go to new places, and when we’re watching TV at night. You can train a dog to pay attention to you. When you have that under your belt, everything else gets easier.

When Milo is engaged it is a big deal–he’s 90 pounds of muscle and smart as a whip. It’s a big deal because he’s trusting me and putting all of his brains and brawn at my service. That trust and willingness to work for me with his whole magnificent self is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you, Milo.


Training outcomes June 25 – July 1

As I predicted, this was a fun week. Milo and I worked hard on engagement. It amuses me to imagine saying the last sentence in a serious voice because the ‘hard work’ was playing with him all over town. He was a Good Boy! in Victoria Park. Yippee! He was a Good Boy! on King Street. Yippee! He was a Good Boy! on the soccer field. Yippee! As you can see, it was extremely difficult work. tug 2

A while ago I went to a few training sessions with an extremely well respected Schutzhund competitor and trainer, and she mentioned at the end of the first workshop that Milo really loved me. I didn’t know what to make of that. I suspected it was sort of like complimenting a job candidate on his suit–you know, when you need to find something nice to say and have to dig deep to find it.

“At least your dog loves you…”

But it wasn’t that at all. A strong bond with your dog makes training easier.

When I was a student, I had some professors who I was very fond of. I looked forward to going to their class, I wanted to learn from them, and I wanted them to think well of me. It is not surprising that those were the classes where I earned some of my best grades.  These days I try to be one of those professors when I teach university students.

And funnily enough, this is what I’m going for when I teach Milo too. I want him to want to learn.

My advice? Go play with your dog!


Training plan June 25 – July 1

My goal this week is to foster engagement in new situations. I want Milo to actively pay attention to me and want to work, even when we’re in novel or distracting places.

I’ll be following Micheal Ellis’ advice in his video “The Power of Playing Tug with your Dog.” The plan is to take Milo to a new environment, wait for him to look at me, and reward him with a spectacular game of tug when he does. We’ll do this twice a day.

I’m focusing on engagement, right now in particular, for three reasons:

  1. We’ll be leaving on our gigantic road trip soon and every place we’ll be for the next couple of months will be a new place. Working on engagement in new situations helps Milo associate this novelty with good things. Hopefully, this will help the trip be less stressful for him.
  2. Every obedience and rally trail will be in a new place. While I’ll always start by letting him sniff around, he has to learn that even in distracting places the best thing to do is to engage with me.
  3. I’ve been a bit frustrated with our training for the last few days, and the trouble is lack of engagement. A dog needs to pay attention to you in order to learn from you. Also, I need to remind myself that this is fun for me too! This kind of engagement work is just skillfully, thoughtfully, and wholeheartedly playing with Milo, and there aren’t many things better than that.

I’m looking forward to a fun week!