When dog trainers talk about “mechanics” we are not talking about people who fix cars! “Mechanics” refers to the actual physical things that you do when training or handling a dog. Which direction are you going? Where are your hands and arms? Where is your face looking? Are your movements predictable or unpredictable? What is your facial expression like? All of these things are really important! Often when you see good trainers at work, you do not notice any of this because the complete picture is fluent. They make it look easy! It is only when you get in there and try to repeat the steps that you will discover it can actually be really, really hard. It can also be frustrating that many dogs will not be as eager to work with you if your mechanics are not as good. If you are sloppy and clumsy, or if you are just learning, it may be harder to engage your dog! Most dogs enjoy working with people who have great mechanics, and get bored or tune out with poor mechanics. Here are some general guidelines that will help with your mechanics. Eyes: Should be looking at the dog if you want to maintain focus, engagement and connection. Should be looking away if the dog is nervous or overwhelmed of you. If you are trying to get the dog to go somewhere (ex. into a crate), should be looking where you want the dog to go. Front: Which way your body is facing (facing the dog vs turned away from it) is important. Facing the dog full-frontally can put pressure on the dog; facing away from the dog can take pressure off. Hands: Both hands should be relatively neutral unless you are giving a hand signal. If you have treats in your hand, then it’s usually less distracting to the dog if that treat hand is behind your back or in your pocket. For casual leash walking, your hand should usually be held straight down at your side. Feet: Should be pointed in the direction that you are going to travel next. Changes of speed and direction should be done carefully and with coordination so the dog can tell what’s coming next. In general, feet together while standing is a more formal position and clues the dog in that he should be at attention, while feet apart is informal and the dog is free to relax. Voice: Your voice should be clear when giving commands – the commands should “pop” out at the dog instead of just being another word in a string of verbal chatter. Your tone when interacting with your dog should usually have a sense of warmness about it, though – no barking orders at dogs! Praise should be warm and from the heart. Remember, enthusiastic praise encourages energy from the dog, and calm praise encourages calmness. “Flow”: The “flow” of training refers to how much downtime there is and how often the dog and handler disengage from each other while working together. Ideally you will not disengage at all from each other! Treat use: How you use treats during training is a major part of mechanics. How many treats are you using? Are you handing them to the dog or letting it chase them or have them off the floor? How is your timing with marking and treat delivery? Are you accidentally luring your dogs with treats or showing them upfront?
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