A lot of people have asked for ideas on how to do if you don’t want to ask your dog to work. In all training, my first goal is that the dog asks me to work with him, not the other way around. One part of this is of course to have great rewards. Developing good toy and food rewards is a really important job to do if you want to have a good working relationship with your dog, but it usually doesn’t fix the problem in itself. A lot of high drive dogs that are easy to reward are still relying on the handler to tell them to work and are easily distracted from their work.
I use shaping when I teach my dogs new things. Shaping relies on the dogs own initiative and I don’t use lures or promts to get behavior. This is a huge benefit if you want your dog to beg to work. The dog will learn to beg you to reward him by offering behavior right from the start. In addition, the dog that is used to shaping will learn to come back from not getting rewarded and to keep offering behavior. This will make it easier to work on longer sequences without rewards.
Doing a lot of shaping with your dog is really good, but it is also important to keep this attitude when you combine behaviors to exercises and exercises to sequences. With my puppies, I do a lot of training where my goal is to reward the dog for spontaneously following me and begging to work. I play tug with the dog (or use another good, active reward), snatch the toy from the dog, hide it and walk away. When the dog catches up and gives attention, the play resumes. As the dog gets more experienced, I will wait for longer before I give the reward back to the dog.
In all training, even when preparing for trials (or in a trial!), the dog has to make the first move to get the game to start. Coming to heel position should be automatic for the dog, I don’t even have a cue for it with my two-year-old dog. To start an exercise, the dog has to come to heel and give attention. It is so easy to start nagging the dog when the training starts to look more like obedience trials and less like shaping tricks. The trick is to keep the same division of responsibility all the way. Make sure that you never use cues when the dog doesn’t ask for them. Cues should not be “commands”, they should act like green lights and reinforce good behavior.
Good luck with training and please comment if you have any questions.