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Tugging for Training…

I’m of the opinion that most dogs who have highly arousing jobs (herding dogs, hunting dogs, police dogs, performance dogs) must learn how to work while in drive mode.  Border collies learn that they must have some impulse control around stock, that they cannot bull rush every herd they find and that they still need to respond to the shepherd’s cues.  Uncontrolled drive is dangerous… dogs get trampled by stock, dogs risk getting hurt diving into unsafe waters, dogs launch off of a-frames, dogs blow through barbed wire fences, etc. Or, if you are like me and play disc with your high drive dog who is lost in drive, ignores a cue, and instead of doing a nice back-vault rams into the back of your head at 20 mph, it’s dangerous for the person involved (a dog training accident is a lame excuse for why one has a low-grade concussion–just say’n).

One of my go-to ways to start teaching dogs to respond and have impulse control while in drive is to use tug.  It’s an arousing game and one that often really taps into a very high level of drive with many dogs.  I want my dogs to respond to any number of cues while in drive while tugging.  Tugging sets the foundation to proofing behaviors for very arousing or distracting situations, teaching dogs that even when on a mission, they still need to respond, and also builds an incredible amount of impulse control.

I start my teaching foundational rules of the game of tug.  “Out” when cued, no teeth on my skin, only grab the tug when cued to do so… these foundational rules already start implementing impulse control.  When a pup gets the basic rules, I will start letting the dog get into the game and cue an “out” and then another behavior (sit, down, heel, etc).  Even though they are focused on getting that tug, my expectation is that they respond.  Their response to a cue becomes a predictor of the game starting again.  Shayne can go from pup on a mission to “kill that tug”  to a beautiful heel pattern at the drop of the hat.  Although she is extremely driven to get that toy, she knows the way to get that toy is by responding to my cues not bowling me over, climbing up my arm, or otherwise being a brute (and her natural problem solving solution is to be a brute).

I recently started this work with Alice the bulldog.  She has a lot of prey drive and lives to chase things.  When I started this work, I couldn’t even move the tug toy without her biting, mouthing, or pushing me out of the way to get the dead tug.  She was pretty over the top.  It was a lack of impulse control combined with being a bulldog and thinking being physical gets her what she wants.  Now, after just a few days work she has a pretty reliable out (sometimes she has to think about it for a second or two), can watch the tug move without going for it, and will respond to sit/touch easily.  She has learned that responding to my cue will magically make the game start again.

Just one more reason why I like tug and why I use it so much in my training.

3 Comments
  1. We’re all waiting for the video ’cause we LOVE Alice!!! 🙂

  2. Shiva was much the same as Alice when we first brought her home. Tugging was way too over-stimulating for her. She would go completely berserk, mouthing and biting and growling as soon as I picked a toy up. We started very slowly and only played for very brief spurts, focussing primarily on control. As soon as I felt her teeth on my skin I’d drop the toy and walk away. After one such event I remember her standing in the middle of the floor, wondering what had happened to the fun and why she was now alone. I could almost see the lightbulb turn on in her head. Now she is a tugging machine and has impressive self-control with all sorts of stimulation.

    I never thought before how tugging could help teach the dog how to work while in full drive mode. But it makes perfect sense.

  3. we’re trying to integrate the tug you so generously sent us into break-time in training 🙂 I’ll have to implement an ‘out’, i think, though he’s not all that tug-driven, so it’s fairly easy to get him to let go.

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