Companion Dog vs Working DogBy Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT, March 23, 2020
Many training facilities will tell you that you must teach engagement with your puppy. Engagement training is when the puppy learns to keep focus on its handler for an extended period of time. The more focused the puppy can be on the handler, the longer the puppy is able to remain engaged and focused. However, many training facilities are also not aware of the vast differences in the training needs of a large breed working puppy as opposed to a large breed companion dog, such as the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog.
Working puppies have active minds and can flutter from an exciting leaf chase to stalking a butterfly to picking up a stick and proudly prancing around the park. This type of puppy has an active mind that is easily distracted and constantly thinking of activities that lead it away from the task at hand, namely learning basic obedience and heel work in the presence of distractions. When teaching this type of puppy to focus, one must specifically practice engagement training to redirect the puppy back to the handler for the duration of the training session; never allowing the puppy's mind to wander to other things and working to keep puppy engaged. Focusing on the handler for a longer and longer time-frame is the goal until the puppy can maintain consistent engagement for the duration of the lesson. It is for this reason that the handler must learn to remain engaging to the puppy. A good trainer will utilize interesting play (tug, ball, Frisbee), praise, and high-value food rewards to actively redirect the puppy time and again until sustained engagement is the result. If engagement is not specifically taught, the working puppy may learn that it is okay to be distracted by the buzzing bumble bee or the family passing by with the skipping child and the stroller. Distractions are a hindrance to progress in puppy training. Working to teach puppy to remain engaged with the handler even when distractions are present will greatly aid the ability of your puppy as you both progress with further training.
The above is how most puppies learn to stay focused on the handler and the training work at hand. But, we have found that our large breed companion puppies is not of the same mind. Having specifically bred out all or most working dog behaviors in our dogs over the last thirty years, the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppy is not typically easily distracted by the passing leaf or the bumbling bee. American Alsatian puppies naturally seek engagement with their owners and remain engaged with them for long periods of time, even with distractions. In fact, American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppies would rather interact with their owners than following the unknown child skipping down the lane. Instead, they may sleep on your shoes, lean on your leg, look up at your for direction and support, happily flop over on their bellies for a timeout belly rub, or look adoringly in your eyes while you shift your fingers through their soft, fluffy coat.
When training an American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppy, one does not have to work so hard to keep puppy engaged. Instead, a trainer does have to work harder at getting puppy to perform tasks. You see, working puppies tend to give behaviors in quick succession flipping through all of the possible behaviors they have learned in a trial and error fashion until they hit upon the one behavior that gets the mark and reward. But, our calmer, less motivated and energetic puppies take time to think through what you are asking of them. They are not quick and snappy and they aren't distractable, but they will, given respect for thinking time, come to the right behavior with less repetition.
That being said, American Alsatian DireWolf Dogs also learn by watching. An American Alsatian DireWolf Dog learns a great deal by watching the movements of the squirrel climb up the tree that chatters at them from the branches above. So, if your goal is socialization training, large breed companion dogs such as American Alsatian puppies, require time to learn by watching the world around them. Build in some time for your puppy to be able to people or dog watch. You can rest assured that even though they are physically looking at the life all around them, they also remain attuned to your every move and will immediately re-engage with you if you move. So, sit with them in silent solitude, breath, and take in the wonders of life all around. It is an opportunity to quietly engage with your beautiful American Alsatian dog as you experience the same moment together.
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Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.