Engagement is not really about asking a dog for eye contact with a command.
In order to become your dog’s top priority, you need to put training your dog as your top priority, too.
If your top priority is to coddle your dog all the time, you will get what you spend most your time and energy in nurturing — which is, a dog who is very spoiled, and likely, reactive, anxious, with no impulse control.
Asking for an eye contact command for 5 seconds or asking the dog to wait 10 seconds before meal time will not change much when you are spending over 23 hours nurturing the opposite.
In order to be successful with rehabilitation, we need to nurture engagement in our dogs (i.e. the dog will always look to us for direction, permission, and protection). But in order to obtain this engagement, we need to be very dedicated in putting this objective as our top priority, too.
Just as it takes two people to tango, it also takes two parties (i.e. both the human and the canine) to achieve real engagement.
A trainer can train the canine to become very engaged, but the trainer cannot force the human to do the same. If the human is not showing the same desire, the canine will eventually lose interest in continuing the dance all on their own.
Historically, all the people I have met who have become really successful with rehabilitation knew that the little things they did with their dogs throughout the day were very important. They paid attention to the little things. And they always tried to perfect the little things.
It is like someone who wants to perfect all the little dance steps so he can shine with his partner in the big competition.
It is not enough that only one partner is perfect. If one person is always stepping on the toes of the other partner, the other partner — no matter how good she may be herself — will not enjoy the dance. There is no harmony between the two. It is very similar to watching a human - canine relationship that is full of conflicts.
On the other hand, when the human is putting in the hours to perfect the dog’s training by really paying attention to the little things throughout the day, the dog will love to dance with the human. When the dog loves to dance with the human, eye contact — and engagement — will happen naturally. That is when the human and the dog will appear as one in perfect harmony.
That is how we can achieve real engagement.
Hope this helps.