Dean and I are taking - at the "silver" level - a class through the Denise Fenzi Academy called "Bridging the Gap". The point of the class is to learn how to effectively move from needing the direct presence of reinforcers (toys, treats) to working effectively without them in competition performances. Silver level means that I can participate in discussion and ask questions, but not post videos.
I may still take some videos and post them here, though. I haven't yet, but I might.
The class has barely begun and I have already had several "AH HA!" moments.
The first exercise involves getting a baseline of the dog's engagement if you have toys and/or treats on you, you go to a space, but do not ask the dog to work.
In all of my years training, I have never done this before. I have done something sort of similar, but I have always been actively looking for a working focus. I have never taken the step of engaging the dog while acting normal and natural.
Yesterday I tried this with Dean in the yard. At first we were both a bit awkward, but we soon seemed to fall into an understanding. He moved around, looked to me to see what we were doing, carried his toy, and threw himself into heel and bounced!! It was very clear that after a few minutes of that, he was completely engaged and ready to move into structured work!
So, at Agility class a bit later on, I tried it again. As we were moving out to the start line, I just meandered a bit, dropped his toy a few times, and saw what I would see. I usually try to "jolly" him up going into the ring. We tug, I get him focused, and then usually use the tug to get him sitting at the start line. This time, once he was engaged, which hardly took any reinforcement at all, I had him sit without using the toy, and we were good to go! His attitude was excellent!!
I plan to play around with this more, and, of course, I look forward to learning more and more in this class.
When I move into a ring with Tessa, I am not worried about the fact that I don't have treats on me. I know she will be with me 100%, engage 100%, and will put everything she has into what we are doing.
I don't have that with Dean. It has been flying by the seat of our pants! Sometimes he's engaged and sometimes he's not - it's hit or miss. This might be the "missing link" that takes him from where he is now to a place where he goes into a competition ring with enthusiasm, engagement, and joy.
Here's hoping . . . !!!!