The best performing dogs are often considered to be "Active". What does this mean? It means as soon as the dog comes on the field, he
is attempting to engage with his handler. He is not distracted by other things going on on the field, and doesn't require the handler
to produce a toy or food (or deliver a correction) before he will work. This dog acts like he WANTS to work, this is the ideal in IPO, the
dog should be a willing and happy worker.
So how do we teach this? It helps if the dog is excited by food or toys, this is why we test that affinity when selecting a dog for IPO. Ideally
starting with a young puppy, take him to various different places, beginning with quiet places and gradually building up the level of distraction. When you
arrive in a new place and are taking the dog out of the car, if he makes eye contact or attempts to interact, play with him and use treats or toys
to continue this engagement. With a young pup, he only needs to do this for a minute or two, then you can carry on with normal socializing
without the toy. Make sure you are excited too while you are playing and finish playing before the pup gets bored, we always want to leave him wanting more.
You can also use a special toy or food for this exercise only. Some people encourage the dog to bark to engage and begin playing,
this reinforces the level of excitement that we want the dog to bring to the field. To begin with, you can help the dog begin to engage but the help
must be faded quickly because we want the dog to START the activity.
With different dogs, we choose different engagement activities. Dogs with lower drive benefit from teaching the bark to bring
them up in drive. With dogs that tend to be very high energy and find it hard to contain their drives, it might be better to teach calm eye contact
which helps to cap and focus them before playing. With these types of dogs it is essential to be clear between when we want activity and calm focus.