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Jumping Up Part II: To jump, or not to jump?

In the last post we were talking about how Halo leaps into the air with joy while being praised for completing an obedience course!

Like I was saying, this is "official," competition-stuff. In obedience and rally rings you're not permitted to bring training treats in or use treats as a reward. But you still WANT to reward the dog, right? I hope so! Those dogs work their little tails off!

One big reward is what's called "handler engagement." It's also called "praise," but praise is such a generic term that I've been using the term "handler engagement" instead.

Handler engagement is more than just "Yeah, good job." Handler engagement is a thorough appreciation of the dog. I mean you *really* let the dog know how happy you are with it. I tell students in beginning obedience class, "If you're going to use praise as reward, you need to praise UNTIL YOU SEE IT IN THEIR BODY." You need to praise until the dog's body wags, they "smile." That's really the only way you know if the praise has any value as a reward. Students are really good at this!

Now, let's go back to the competition ring. In practices, when Halo does something great, I can do a great big play-reward, praisy, happy "party." Again, I want to "see" it in her body. If she leaps into the air with joy, then I know she's sufficiently rewarded. All that happy emotion can eventually be contained in one or two happy bounces, which eventually can be refined to where she doesn't actually make contact with me but just bounces up into the air. It's also more or less on cue -- when I throw my hands up into the air, up she goes! (Okay, I'll admit it. I like a little bit of showmanship and "flair" in the ring!)

Work on this! Play with your dog! See what your dog enjoys. *Your* dog might do a happy little spin! One of the nice dogs in my string cascades down on her side and then rolls over for a belly rub. One of the service dog candidates literally moans with joy in his handler engagement/praise reward. If you really, really, truly believe your dog is only in it for the treats, OR if you just don't know how to really praise and engage with your dog, then you can start by thinking of the treats as part of the "package." YOU are the ultimate reward. You have treats and toys, but it's really all about YOU.

Have fun! Play! And remember: Praise until you see it in your dog's body!

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