Day 59 Engagement Games

Welcome to Day 59 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!


Engagement Games

At a glance:

  • engagement games teach the dog to choose you, even when you don’t have treats or toys, and even when there are distractions
  • we start with simple training games and build toward more and more engagement
  • cognitive based enrichment
  • while children might be able to participate with some of these exercises, there will be lots of canine excitement and activity with some of these games so they might not be safe for kids
    Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
  • training exercises can be practiced in individual sessions of 1-2 minutes at a time; have as many sessions as you can!
    Because today challenges will be pretty exciting, make some time, after each session, for some lapping and chewing on stuffables.
    Think Rollercoaster Games!

‘To engage’ is defined as participating, to attract someone’s attention, and the one I particularly like, to establish meaningful contact or connection.

The important things to note here is that the dog chooses to engage, that they are working to attract your attention, and that you’re (both) developing a meaningful connection.

Engagement, for me and the dogs I work with, including my own, is about the dog choosing to engage, wanting to engage, finding me the most rewarding, over all the other things.
And that’s the key; the dog wants to be involved and to participate.

What do you need?

  • food rewards – you can use your dog’s regular food, a training mix, commercial treats, home prepared treats such as cut up meats, cheese, vegetables or homemade treats such as liver or tuna cake
  • favourite toys
  • stuffables and lappable/lickables
  • if you are working in an unsecured area, use a long line for safety and to prevent your dog practicing not recalling and having lots of fun, in the environment, with out you

Enrichment Goals:

  • to teach the dog to choose you (and to teach the human to be fun, exciting and rewarding enough to choose)
  • to teach the dog that choosing their human makes the magic happen
  • to teach the dog that their human won’t nag or coerce
  • to build that bond between dog and human
  • to have a fun and rewarding experience in social situations, between dogs and humans
  • to learn about learning – this is just another puzzle to your dog…”how do I train the human to make rewards available?!“…it’s all human training, for dogs!

While training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category, they can provide so much more.

Working on choice-led engagement exercises helps to boost your relationship with your pet, enhances your ability to communicate with one another and builds trust. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.

When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.

There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).

What goals can you add to this list for your pets?

How can we achieve these goals?

  • although you can use any reward that your dog will work for, using small food rewards that are quick to eat are best for some of these exercises so we can have lots of fast repetitions
  • toys and your engagement, fun and play will work as excellent rewards for some other exercises
  • keep it simple and split behaviour – reward approximations toward the final behaviour, rather than hoping that your dog will offer the goal behaviour quickly
  • take your time and work in many short sessions
  • try for a couple of minutes at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
  • plan each session – what behaviours are you looking for and rewarding?
  • watch the clips and try out the exercise
  • portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for training exercises


  • make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable


  • remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
  • split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl so that you are ready to go; stick bowls of rewards in places where you may need to teach and reward behaviours so that you have rewards ready to go


What adjustments will you make for your pets?

Applications of engagement games:

You can easily see the value of engagement…it gets you great recall, it gets you nice loose leash walking, it gets you working around distractions.
All while providing the dog with choice. The choice to engage.

When engagement happens, the dog is fighting to engage regardless of the presence of distractions and triggers and regardless of whether you have treats or toys.

How ever you define it, engagement is chosen by the dog, rather than cued; engagement is not contingent on you having food rewards or toys.
The key to engagement is that you are not trying to get it, you are worthy of engagement and your dog fights to engage!

You can see that engagement is the foundation to teaching all the other behaviours; it’s what we build our relationship, with our dog, on and with.

Engagement is a two-way street

Making engagement happen starts with the human. If we want our dog to choose us, regardless of what else is going on and regardless of whether you have treats or toys, we have to work to prove that engaging with us is the best!

When the dog is engaged, choosing you regardless, he pushes into the learning and interacting process; he is more than meeting you halfway.

Here’s a clip of Decker and I, in a play-group situation with dogs of mixed age, sex, and neuter status. Decker is an entire male Am Staff (a type of “pit bull”). I have no treats, food or toys – he fights to engage regardless of the distraction level.

Link (Disclaimer: this was not intended to stress out any dog, but more so to demonstrate the ability to develop such owner-focus and engagement without the use of aversives.)

Spot the fighting to engage?!

Reinforce engagement

Reinforcement strengthens behaviour, so your dog’s disengagement is information telling you that you are not making sufficient reinforcement available for engagement. (Or that there is too much value in competing reinforcers.)

We tend to pile on the encouragement, excitement, food and toys trying to get our dogs to engage. When their attention wanes, we attempt to get it back by offering access to reinforcers. Ask yourself, what behaviour are you really reinforcing?

Engagement makes good things happens. Engagement means that the dog accesses behaviour they like to do. Reinforce behaviour with behaviour.

What does your dog like to do? Make that happen contingent on engagement.

Enrichment Options

We’ve introduced engagement games already in relation to sniffing, on Day 34. Sniffing isn’t a problem behaviour but distractions, like irresistible smells, are often viewed as the enemy to training and attention. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Sniffing doesn’t need to be a distraction; we won’t make it a distraction because we won’t be stopping the dog from doing it.

We can allow dogs sniff, make sure they get their jollies while not having to nag them…and still have them choose us!

What is this black magic?, I hear you ask. It’s engagement!

Baseline: Can you engage your dog?

Can you engage your dog without treats, toys, cues?

Can you maintain engagement while you move?

For how long?

What do you need to do? Remember, you come to life once the dog has engaged, not before!

What will help engage a dog will depend on that dog and the environment you are working in. Let’s see where we are with choice-led engagement.
Here’s one minute of working for engagement with Decker:


Engagement Game 1 Find my Face!

Is engagement the same as attention and focus?
Well, yes and no. Great engagement will get you attention and focus, that’s for sure.

Attention probably means eye contact or something close to that. While focus may not necessarily require that the dog focus on you, perhaps on something specific in the environment.

We will start with some formal focus exercises; this one is our favourites!

Level 1 Find my Face!

  • start by dropping a food reward right at your toe
  • watch your dog closely as he eats it
  • as soon as you see him moving to raise his head, drop another food reward at your toe


Level 2 Find my Face!

  • once your dog is bringing his head back up to make eye contact with you, start to drop the food reward a little further out to your side


Level 3 Find my Face!

  • when your dog can find your face from your side, begin to drop the food reward behind you


Level 4 Find my Face!

Once your dog gets the game, vary your reward positioning, so the dog needs to move about a bit and come back and find your face:


Engagement Game 2 Find my Face! with distractions

Level 1 Add more movement


This simple exercise can be applied to building lovely engaged loose leash walking too!

Level 2 Take it on the road!

Work in new places, that aren’t too heavy with distractions so that your dog can get the game again.


Level 3 Add more distractions

Layer distractions carefully, little by little.

Here we are working on loose leash walking and some traffic reactivity so we work in areas where the dog has slightly more visual access and proximity to passing traffic, increasing the challenge gradually and in small increments.

If the dog can’t choose their human, the distractions are too much. Move away, give your dog a break and next time, work further away.




Engagement Game 3 Engagement in the Real World

Bring your dog out for a Sniffathon. Let your dog sniff and roam and do doggie things.

Wait for them to engage. Just wait.

As soon as your dog engages, come to life. Reward them with five food rewards in a row, one after another. Have some fun with food.

Tell your dog to Go Sniff! and release them to be a dog again. Show them your empty hands and move away. Allow your dog to sniff and explore again. Repeat.


Time how long it takes for them to engage – over time, we should be seeing a reduction in that time, with lots of practice.

Engagement Walks

Practice building engagement as part of your normal outings and walks with your dog. Learn to ask your dog if they are ready to engage, rather than nagging and harassing them by calling and luring and telling them. Ask, “are you ready?”.

Clip link

Play safe!

If you are working in a non-secure public area, please make sure your dog is safe. Use a long line and follow them, allowing them to explore without pressure.

Create an Engagement Monster

Practicing this in all sorts of environments and amidst all sorts of distractions will help to establish this as a way of life for you and your dog.

To make sure this is fun and pleasant for all, take care with distractions and triggers. Work at such a distance that your dog is able to engage with you; if they are super focused on other dogs, people or goings on, then increase distance. Work in more controllable situations.

Playing Fun with Food games helps to boost the value of rewards and makes sure that there is a fun behaviour reinforcing engagement, not just eating.


Here’s my engagement monster and I play/train right beside wild deer (in the Phoenix Park). I make flirt pole and fun happen near distractions so engaging with me is a really easy choice!


And here we are surprised by a deer, who came running out of cover, apparently curious about our activity (a lot of people feed these deer here).
Rather than chasing a deer tens of metres away, he chooses to engage.
The deer follows us for a bit so I have his lead on, just hanging, just in case. Safety first, always.
But, regardless, he chooses engagement.


Indeed, deer or other weird things appearing have become a cue to engage:

Clip link

Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!