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Dog Sport Skills, Book 1: Developing Engagement and Relationship


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What’s It About?

This book is the first in a series of books designed for the dog sport enthusiast. This first book will focus on developing a competition foundation based in “Engagement and relationship”

It doesn’t matter what genetic package or temperament your dog is born with; you can bring out the best in your dog! To train your dog, you must develop a relationship that encourages a willing and happy attitude with natural focus while eliminating undue stress in both training and competition.

If your goal is to create a world-class performance dog, then this book is for you – we can help you refine your engagement and relationship skills to a higher level.

If you are an instructor who is struggling with your novice students or less focused dogs, then this book is for you – you will find advice on how to work with a range of canine temperaments.

If you have a dog who works well at home but you can’t seem to maintain that connection in public, then this book is for you – you will learn the basics of recognizing stress, paying attention to your dog, and alleviating or minimizing problems so that you can focus on work rather than worry.

Finally, if you simply want to take the dog you have, your personal pet, and enjoy your training at a more fulfilling level, then this book is for you – by understanding and applying excellent engagement and relationship building techniques, both you and your canine companion will find more enjoyment in the training process, even if you choose never to step foot inside a competition ring.

The chapters will cover relationship (what it is and how to get it), Stress (recognizing it and techniques for lessening its impact), Developing focus, Explaining and evaluating positive methods for getting behaviors, and the use of trick training to develop a handler’s training skills and a dog’s mental and physical flexibility

More about Denise and Debbie

Denise is a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports.  Her personal passions are Competitive Obedience, Schutzhund, and no force (motivational) dog training.  She teaches private lessons in Northern California and travels throughout North America teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. Deborah Jones, Ph.D. developed the FOCUS program in 2003. This program is designed to help trainers form a good working relationship with their performance dogs. Deb has an academic background in learning theory and social behavior. She is also an innovator in the use of the clicker in dog training.

When was it published-  2013

Who published it- The Dog Athlete


~~It is widely acknowledged that before beginning serious training for any dog sport, you must first master the foundation skills. For most, foundation training consists of  beginning to teach the necessary skills the dog will require in his eventual performance career.

However, Denise Fenzi, a professional dog trainer and successful schutzhund competitor, and Deborah Jones, agility world champion gold medallist and co-author of the ‘In Focus’ series, believe that there is something even more important to focus on first, something which is often largely ignored- relationship and engagement!

Offering detailed and specific advice, this book, the first in a brand new series, will equip you with the skills to develop and build a mutually beneficial relationship, creating a foundation for success in all dog sports.

Chapter one focuses on relationship. Fenzi and Jones explain that as a trainer you have two distinctly different types of relationship with your dog, both a personal and a working one. The authors continue by discussing each of these in more detail, including the components they exist of and how we can build them. They also explain why developing both will aid your success in competition.

Chapter two looks at attitude, which Fenzi and Jones describe as; ‘an internal state that is inferred from external clues.’ They explain how we can gauge a dog’s attitude by paying attention to his expression, posture and overall behaviour. The authors examine in detail the following factors that can have both a positive and negative effect on creating a positive attitude in our dog.

  • Safety
  • Confidence, eagerness and biddability
  • Understanding stress
  • The science behind drive
  • Low attitude dogs
  • Concern about the environment
  • People and Dogs
  • Physical Space
  • Objects
  • Poor trial preparation
  • Trainer expectation

In chapter three Fenzi and Jones discuss specific ideas for dealing with stress-related issues in dogs.  They look at how we can alter our dog’s stress reactions by developing stress tolerance, which is improving his ability to manage them. The authors alert us to potential training and competition stressors, such as learning, reduced reward schedules, equipment and location,  as well as taking us through a series of stress reduction techniques.

Chapter four moves on to training techniques and methods.  Fenzi and Jones acknowledge that different training styles work for different dogs making it virtually impossible to provide just one. They instead use this chapter to explain how dogs learn, examining the power of reinforcement and how to use it. This includes taking us through food rewards, behavioural markers, being operant, feeding in position and jackpot rewards. The authors then discuss some of the more common methods used to positively train strong and reliable behaviours, such as, shaping, luring and targeting. They then look in detail at the stages of learning and training which are divided into three parts; acquisition, generalisation and maintenance. Finally in this chapter they consider keep going signals, the role of classical conditioning and environment management.

Chapter five considers focus, defining what this is and how it differs to attention. The authors then provide and explain the following basic focus exercises which are suitable for both puppies and older dogs:

  • Pay Attention!
  • Offered Focus
  • The Slow Treats (or Toys) Game
  • The Look at Me! Game
  • The Food on the Floor Game

Fenzi and Jones continue by explaining that it is essential for competition dogs to be able to focus on the task in hand without always needing direct handler involvement. However, it is equally important that they are able to switch their attention back to the handler at a moment’s notice. Fenzi and Jones show us how we can use shaping and targeting to teach a dog to perform independently, as well as providing some advice on how to raise challenge levels and deal with dogs who are easily distracted.

Chapter six focuses on trick training. This is defined as any kind of trained behaviour that is mutually enjoyable for both owner and dog. Fenzi and Jones believe the advantages of trick training to be immense, and explain the physical, mental and training benefits. They then move on to teaching tricks, explaining which tricks you should teach and giving us some examples of head tricks, foot tricks and whole body tricks.

Chapter seven looks at how dog training has evolved from pain compliance techniques and force free methods and the effect this has had on dog sports.

Written in a straightforward and easy to understand style, Silvia Trkman describes this book as; ‘The first book on dog training that I have ever finished reading.

Instead of telling you how to make your dog do what you want, Denise and Deborah focus on how to get the dog to want to work.”


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