Profound Thinking at Skills Camp

We had another great group in for skills camp this weekend. Lots of pivotal break throughs for many campers. We had some extremely experienced students and some brand new ones but all really nice people, so it makes teaching almost effortless. My staff were as always, brilliant.

At one point during a discussion on building tug-drive the question came up about the handler surrendering the toy to the dog during the game of tug-of-war. This is a practice I have never had strong feelings about one way or another and something I have never done with my own dogs.  

Michel & Pfeffer playing at skills camp.

Michel & Pfeffer playing at skills camp.

When tugging with my dogs, the only time I ever drop the toy is when I am playing the Tug-Test Game. I do this to evaluate which has more value to the dog; 1) having the toy or 2)tugging with me. During this game I drop the toy (which is on a leash so I can ultimately control it should the dog decide to run off) and see what the dog/puppy decides to do. My goal is that I have built so much value for tugging with me that my dog will immediately turn around and bring the toy back to me to continue the game he loves.  This desired response shows me where the value really is, in playing tug games with me!

The concept of building confidence in a dog by allowing him to “win” while tugging, although not something I subscribe to, it isn’t anything I have ever thought of as “wrong” or that shouldn’t be done (except of course in the case of a dog that may have tendencies towards aggression). However something happened at camp this weekend to make me think of things differently.

Follow this; when two dogs are playing over a toy and one “wins” and runs off with the toy, the other dog is considered the loser. The dog with the toy has the prize and therefore is the winner whom the other one must chase.

When I play my Tug-Test game, I am interacting, having fun with my dog then I stand up, say nothing, drop the toy and wait for my dog’s response. Projecting the 2 dog scenario here one would think I have let the dog “win” because he has the toy and I do not. But here another way to look at this chain of events, that came up at camp this weekend. What if when I drop the toy, the dog with the toy is not the winner at all? In fact, what if he is the “loser” because the fun game has stopped when he got the toy away from me? The only way he can win again is to bring me the toy, when he does, I go crazy and start to jump around and tug like a wild woman.

The key difference in my game is that I do not chase, the fun for the dog only continues when he chooses to bring the toy to me. It is the dog’s choice but in reality, I have set the dog up to choose correctly to continue to build a strong working relationship with me.

So possibly winning and losing is just our anthropomorphic way of looking at what might be going on. For us “winning” is important. But maybe if you start to think of the dog who gets the toy away from you during the game as the loser your thoughts on how important this is would change?  Just putting it out there.

Today I am grateful for the effort all of the students put into their camp experience this weekend. I know it isn’t always easy working through the struggles we are presented with on our journeys, but all of the hard work does pay off.

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