Tugging With the Dog

There were some great comments on my tugging post yesterday as to why you thought long duration tugs had the potential for more focus for the environment while short bursts of tug games alternating with other responses created great attention for the handler. You pretty much hit all of the points I had prepared for today’s blog.

Reinforcement Rules
When you keep in mind that all behaviour choice comes down to the reinforcement history,it explains what is going on. More often than not long duration tug sessions end up with the dog either being put away or being ignored (picture the end of an agility run — long tug session then talk to instructor. friends, spectators etc). With these dogs the history of reinforcement generally is that all reinforcement from the handler ends when the tug game ends.

By way of contrast if you use short duration tug sessions mixed in with other responses the ending of a tug session triggers focus from the dog for the potential of another game.

I agree that often times when people use a long duration tug they are being absent mind dog trainers. They are not in the moment with the dog. With a short tug session it is harder to be uninvolved mentally because you are always focused on your next training behaviour.  Therefore with a dog raised with this style of reinforcement has a history that the end of reinforcement will prompt the opportunity for more reinforcement.

Transferring Value = Classical Conditioning
What I call “transfer of value,” is really just phrase I coined to explain what happens with Classical conditioning during dog training. Take conditioning a clicker for example. You click then give a highly desired reinforcement. Science has proven that with proper conditioning within 15-25 repetitions you will get an expectant emotional response from the dog when they hear the sound of the clicker. Classical conditioning has given you a transfer of value.

When I reward with multiple tug sessions I am using operant conditioning to reinforce each little response before the tug, however, there is also classical conditioning occurring at the same time as the dog gets conditioned to work with me and to continue to work with me after each tug game. It is a double whammy of value because each “reward process with multiple tug sessions” gets 2-3 times more reward opportunities (because I stop and start each tug session with criteria for another response). So, rewarding this way I am conditioning the dog 2-3 times anytime I play the game!

When you reward a dog a long duration session (as some people reported this session can go on for 5 minutes or longer!) you are presenting less opportunities for this transfer of value to occur (one only). And I have a suspicion that you actually may get less “value transferred.” Of course I have no way of quantifying this hypothesis but I imagine if you are using a tug reward to try and shape a behaviour (as I often do) and you use long duration tugs for your rewards those long sessions of tugging may weaken the dog’s understanding of what actually earned the reinforcement in the first place. Again that is just theory on my part.

Arousal & those T.A.R. Moments
As I pointed out yesterday tug games will put a dog into a more aroused state (more excited). A long duration tug game runs the risk of getting a dog “over aroused.” With the little bursts of responses in between I accomplish two things; first of all I can keep the dog’s arousal level in check by stopping the game before he gets too high. Secondly, it allows me to diagnosis if my dog will be still be thoughtful in drive. Will the dog be able to respond quickly to the cues I give him or will he have what I refer to as a T.A.R moment (too aroused to respond).

I want to work through those TAR moments in play (tugging) so I don’t see them in the agility ring where I can do little about it — you know the dog gets stuck trying to sit at the start line, or thoughtlessly launches long or smashes through jumps or freezes part way down the dogwalk and doesn’t come to the bottom. I am sure you have all seen those TAR moments at some point!

And yes quick responses with short tug sessions leaves the dog wanting more and focusing on the next thing you want from them. Having said all that I do use some long session tugs with my dogs on occasion, I like to keep them guessing, keep it fresh and sometimes I will be a lazy dog trainer and use the tug as a baby sitter as well:). Variety keeps it fresh but your dog will always tell you with his responses where the reinforcement lies and if you need to alter your current process.

Any of you on Puppy Peaks I am sure you have seen both types of tug sessions  from me as you watch me training Swagger — mixing it all up keeping it fresh. For those of you that do not have access to Puppy Peaks, you can check out the program here www.puppypeaks.com

Today I am grateful for how quickly Swagger is picking up on his agility obstacle training, love him!!!

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