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Improve Your Dog Training By Playing Like A Dog

Posted on 04/10/12 83 Comments

I sent out a newsletter early this morning which covers all sorts of tips on tugging with your dog. As lengthy as that newsletter ended up being, I fear I only scraped the surface of what could be written on the subject. So, here I am sharing more (but again, I still feel I am barely scratching the surface:)).

Why Does My Dog Need To Tug?

You maybe asking yourself why the heck is tugging so darned important anyway? Personally, I believe all dogs should learn how to tug with their owners, but performance dogs in particular. Here are my top ten reasons why I think, without question, teaching your dog to tug is worth the investment of your time.

1. Distractions Become Insignificant While Training

Tugging is the easiest way to get your dog into a state of Peak Performance. Dogs in a lower arousal state tend to notice more “insignificant” things in their environment. It is not a wonder to me that the majority of dogs that I have seen that are “sensitive” or “fearful in certain environments” are also dogs that do not tug. If a dog meets distractions in a lower state of arousal he is more likely to register those distractions (and therefore gives him something to worry about). This is the reason I will introduce potential “scary” situations to my puppies while they are engaged in a game of tug.

2. Basic Level of “Don’t Wanna Don’t Hafta” Easily Worked Through

Tugging gives those of us that want to train without verbal or physical corrections, an easy way to teach our dogs that “you must do as I ask no matter what.” Once a dog rehearses “I don’t want to and I don’t have to” (or what I affectionately refer to as don’t wanna, don’t hafta moments) he learns that he always has choices when you ask him to do something. For example you have a puppy in class and you want him to sit but he is straining at the end of leash because he has decided it would be more fun to play with the dog beside him. If you include corrections in your training, you have the appearance of an “out” as you can physically intimidate the dog and “make him” sit at that time. That is not the kind of relationship I want with my dogs, plus this type of training develops a dog that does as you ask only when you are close enough to “make him.”

I use tug early on in my puppy’s life to get them to make the tough choices, “yes you may want to tug with this toy but I am asking you to tug with this new one” or “yes you may want another cookie but you must tug on this toy.” I purposely set up “don’t wanna don’t hafta moments” outside of any important training so my dogs learn at a very young age saying “don’t wanna” to me is never an option and in the future will make the tough decisions I want in my favour (ie I want to chase the squirrel but I hear my mama call so I won’t). I go into more details on dwdh moments in this blog post from July of 2010.

3. Weight Shift For Sports

Tugging is the first place you can encourage and grow a “weight shift” in your dog. A weight shift is a critically important skill to those of use doing agility as it makes weave entries, tight turns and driving into a stopped contact position much easier for the dog.

4. Distance Rewards

When your dog has great drive for toys you have more reward options while training. You have more flexibility when you are trying to reward behaviours away from you (like distance work, weave pole training etc).

5. Value for Responding While Working Away From You

If you only reward with food your dog will soon learn there is little value to be had when he gets outside of your “cookie throwing area.” If you try to make do by throwing a cookie container, it delays the reinforcement for the dog, thus delaying the learning. In addition if you are just throwing the cookies many dogs learn to sniff the floor as that is where their greatest value traditionally comes from.

6. Encourages Drive

Tugging is the greatest reward for games of drive. It connects all reinforcement back to you. If you are throwing a ball as a reward, the greatest value happens when the dog is leaving you, chasing the ball and when he gets that ball, away from you. If you choose to use a food reward rather than tug to reward drive you run the risk of taking the dog out of drive as food can create a calming effect, again losing that state of peak performance.

7. Transfer the Value

For dogs who are not as keen on food, I can use tugging as a way to transfer value into food, turning the most anorexic dog into a “food obsessed” dog.

8. Simple Approach to Counter Conditioning

Tugging is a great way to condition the dog to the stimulus of touch. Get him aroused and focusing on the tug and then you can start to gently touch his shoulders, flanks, face . . . anywhere! Eventually I like to build this up to smacking the dog (playfully of course, see video below) without him noticing. What purpose does this serve? Well the obvious, for dogs that have issues about being touched it is a great way to counter-condition that anxiety. But agility dogs tolerance to firm touching is an absolute must! Our agility dogs must confidently push through cloth chutes and rub their faces against weave poles. I had a 6 month set back in my weave training with one of my small dogs “DeCaff” before I realized it all stemmed from her not wanting to “touch” the poles with her face.

9. Focus for YOU!

Regardless if I never set foot in to another performance ring again, tug would still be a pivotal part of my dog training for the following reasons. The first day a puppy comes into my household I start him tugging, it builds focus for me.

10. Learns to Work for What He Wants!

Next I will build the puppy’s tugging up to a point where I withhold the tug until he “offers” something. This helps to build the understanding of contingencies to fun and my attention and how the puppy’s behaviour is what drives all of his reinforcement. Soon I will be asking that puppy to “out” and “get it” as I want. Teaching him there will be rules in my household  no matter how much he wants something he must live within the boundaries of my rules. No need for any kind of intimidating or harsh training, my puppies learn to stop when I say stop and go when I say go with great focus on me,  all learned from that game of tug.

11. Working Through Arousal

I know I said this was my top ten, but I have always been an over achiever so you get 11:). Eventually I will purposely get that puppy into an “over-the-top,” frenzied tugging state and then ask him to sit or down. This game will help him to learn no matter how excited he gets chasing a squirrel or playing with another dog, he must always listen to what I want him to do. That understanding has the ability to save my dog’s life one day.

The Tugging Code of Conduct

Those of us who tug with our dogs in public carry a responsibility to abide by the unwritten laws of “tug etiquette.” Okay, maybe they used to be unwritten, but no more because here I am sharing my thoughts on good tug etiquette when tugging with your dog away from home.

Always keep your eyes on your surrounding environment when tugging. Sure glance back at your dog to occasionally  interact and break off your tug game to initiate a new one, but your focus should be on what is happening around you. Is your dog’s tuggaciousness exciting dogs around him? Your dog is vulnerable while he is tugging as his focus is entirely on you and the toy. You need to be his eyes and watch out for other dogs that may break free from their owners to discipline your dog for having “too much fun” (we all know of dogs who feel the need to be the “fun police” don’t we?).

Mindless tugging is of no value to you or your dog, so be “in the moment” with your dog but also be “in the moment” of your surroundings so you can spring into action to protect your dog in the event of trouble. While you are scanning your surroundings be aware of dogs that may be entering the competition ring. If I was at an obedience trial I wouldn’t want to have my dog tugging with wild abandon outside the ring, that is just disrespectful to your fellow competitors. Likewise at an agility trial if your dog is a vocalizer while he is tugging, take your game away from the ring. Be aware of the dogs nearby or those just about to enter the ring and gauge how your game may be impacting their psyche. Again, err on the side of being respectful to all and showing good sportsmanship.

The Dangers of Tugging

Tugging is an amazing tool, as you can see, I would never raise a puppy without tug games but used incorrectly tugging can not only be detrimental to your dog training (due to the misplacement of great reinforcement) but more importantly dangerous to your dog. The key to tugging is to mimic the dog. Watch one dog tug with another it is more or less a game of hold on and sink your weight back into your haunches. Occasionally there may be a head shake from side to side, but the game is a far more passive between two dogs then most humans make it.

Take a look at the video. Look for the similarities between how my two dogs tug and how I tug with one dog alone. See if you can list the many ways each dog is using his or her body during the game of tug.

Try to mimic a dog when you tug . . . there is no need for you to spin, stir, shake, whip or bounce the dog around on the end of your toy when you are tugging. Doing so just adds an unnecessary risk of injury. For example if you shake a dog up and down on a toy you are hyper-extending that dog’s neck a little with each shake. Our dog’s necks are built to have tremendous power from side to side, but not up and down. When dogs tug with other dogs you will never see one bounce the other up and down! If you are going to move the tug during your tug sessions with your dogs do it gently from side to side rather than “snapping”  or jerking the dog abruptly. Likewise I have seen people “spinning” their dogs by the toy and often I have heard a dog yelp and drop the toy during this kind of interaction. This leaves me to assume assume the dog’s weight was on his front end when his owner decided to spin the dog by the toy and twister or jarred the dog’s shoulder in the process.

That is not playing like a dog!

My primary interaction during tug comes from me chattering when I like what the dog is doing and by me using my free hand to engage with the dog through touch. I play a game I call “Smack da baby.” The game starts with gentle strokes all over the dog’s body gradually growing that into smacking the dog. Another way to make tugging safer is to use toys that are attached to a bungee. Bungee tug toys give and take with every tug, they are friendly to your joints and your dog’s neck.

Tugging is an amazing tool, that everyone should have available when training their dog. If you can remember to “play like a dog” you will always get it right!

Today I am grateful for how well Feature and Swagger still play together, I hope that never changes!


  1. jackie d says:
    Friday, April 20, 2012 at 12:56pm

    And… my dog doesn’t play like a dog! To be precise, my unsocialised semi-feral dog tries to get my other dog to play tug by running up to her, waving the toy in her face and trying to poke it forcibly into her mouth. If she’s really ‘lucky’, when she’s holding a toy he will get confused and try to play tug with another part of her anatomy, like her ear or collar or even her front leg. She is very patient with him.


  2. Stephanie says:
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 4:58pm

    How do you get a dog from tugging when he wants to play to tugging when I wanna play?


  3. ann says:
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 9:07am

    Really interesting blog post- I have always believed strongly in the power of a game of tug and its one of the first things I teach with my pups- your article made me realise that with one of our dogs, we werent trying hard enough and had accepted less-the intensity wasnt there- I have revisited this and he is now a tug monster once again so thankyou it really made me think!


  4. Liz says:
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 3:44am

    Hi Susan
    I never fail to get something new from your blog. Every time, I have a light bulb moment, and something new in my training drops into place. Very good and helpful reinforcement for me as I’m the backyard trainer. My dogs are more relaxed, as I learn better ways of handling.
    Hope we’ll be enjoying your newsletters for some time.


  5. Caragh says:
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 12:12am

    Hi Susan,

    I have really enjoyed this series of newsletters and blogs. They have clarified a lot of detail that makes lots of things fall into place. I love your passion for training and communicating with your dogs and that you are willing to share so much of what you know.
    My pooches and I thank you and are enjoying our journey with your help.


  6. Roz Merryman says:
    Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 10:36pm

    I am just starting to try and tug . I am new at this . My 43 lb , 16 month old Pit , always goes for the tug , where my hand is . If I hold the tug in both hands with an opening in between my hands , I have better luck . The dis advantage with this is I’m always standing up & I have to bend over with the tug or she will jump for it and it puts too much
    Stress on my shoulders . Is there a solution for this ? Roz


  7. Pam Coblyn says:
    Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 7:15pm

    Hi Susan,

    My bc is a pretty “hot number” so I use tugging very selectively. I wouldn’t dare do it at a trial because he is pretty aroused and driven any way. I tried it a couple of times as an experiment and he was way too high by the time we got on the course and we had no sense of team work. But I use the tug as a reward, for fun and he loves it.

    I was really writing to let you know that one of your methods for training a start line stay—the bane of my existance—is working. Someone mentioned to me that instead of using the exact same routine, try mixing it up. My dog is sometimes bolting and he began to second guess what was going to happen and seizing his opportunity. This “new” method is keeping him guessing and he’s really beginning to learn and think. I can’t thank you enough because now the sky is the limit for his success!

    All the best,
    Pam Coblyn


  8. bj walker says:
    Monday, April 16, 2012 at 9:04am

    What a ride, indeed! I am loving the training so much, that trialing has become not so important. Maybe if I had dependable contacts. . . hint hint ; )
    I’m thinking of starting a series of lessons with a local trainer and can’t afford both your new session and his. When will the contact lessons begin?


  9. Gudrun says:
    Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 12:51pm

    Another 2X2 question (hope it’s ok). We have progressed to 4 poles close together. Lucy tugs and retrieves with enthusiasm and weaves well, but still has trouble with entries, especially from the “off side”. Should I keep working to perfect the entries before I add 2 more poles? or should I forge ahead? Would it be a good idea to practice entries seperatly with just 2 poles now and then? For example a circle game sort of like in 1Jump where you send the dog over the jump from different positions around a circle, varying both where you and the dog are in the circle?


  10. linda douglas says:
    Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 10:25am

    once again thank you SG and say yes. bad training session…gave up and sat downw.words came into my head. Think, Plan, Do. split, don’t lump. did it and i am now on a new plan of action…sometimes it takes a long time for things to sink in…good training session happened next.


  11. Heather says:
    Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 12:33pm

    I’ve been lurking for a while and LOVE your training philosophy.. understand transfer of value and its importance, and have it down with my DOGS. My problem is an off the track Arabian mare that I’ve been arguing with for almost 3 years. I’ve seen/read all of the “pay me a million dollars and this flicky at’em stick will fix all of your woes” trainers.. but it is all neg reinf/positive punishment based dominance training and I’d rather not have my alpha mares going around with their ears pinned all the time. Clicker is great.. shaping is fun.. How to transfer the value of the “HERD” to ME?? My horses fetch.. but, they don’t play tug… HELP!


  12. Jan says:
    Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 9:31am

    As always, great information! I wish everyone could read your “rules of tugging at trials”! I was determined to not teach my dogs to tug because I was and still am so offended by the disrespectful tugging outside of the rings. It seems there are always a handful of individuals with the largest dogs at the entry gate tugging and taking up phenomenal amounts of space such that you can’t even get past them. And of course I had the dog that wanted to “kill” the dogs acting like maniacs!! And of course my dog wasn’t tugging and paying attention to me cause I thought it so rude (she loved tug but I had yet to be exposed to the reasoning). Ah well, live and learn. So we are working on tug and making progress and my dogs will never be the rude ones, just the engaged ones:)


  13. linda douglas says:
    Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 11:49am

    Thank you, thanks you..i just took a plastic bag, the kind you get at grocery store, and got a crazed golden. He took off for it and tugged like crazyl.
    you said watch what they are nuts for and i noticed he reallyliked plastic. what a cheep toy.


    • Marie Black says:
      Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 6:16pm

      That made me smile, Linda. My poodle also loves crinkly plastic grocery bags. I sometimes stuff them in other toys because he loves them. His favorite toy of all time, however, is a broom, which is sometimes awkward to use as a reward until I discovered that he loves whisk brooms as much as the large version. Nothing except peanut butter thrills him as much as bringing out the broom!


      • linda douglas says:
        Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 7:02pm

        I tried it a couple of times and he goes nuts. when he finally gets it he tears it up. he loves peanut butter also but not brooms much.

  14. Gary says:
    Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 12:49am

    I can’t thank you enough for this amazing series of newsletters and posts, Susan! While I have owned dogs all my life, I am working with my first high-drive “performance” dog–i.e., at long-last, engaging in “serious” training.

    At 16 months, my Aussie’s still a handful, but reading your brilliant blog, newsletters, books (especially Shaping Success), and playing crate games has dramatically and positively changed our our team-work! He is still inconsistent (at times, frustratingly so!), but the good days now far outnumber the not-so-good ones. And, I’m thrilled to report, we no longer use food in working on jumps or weaves–the tug is all he needs for motivation!

    Self-control, especially in classes, remains issue #1. We have DaS, rather than DASH! I work with his stays and recalls in parks and during walks, and am getting very consistent response. Show him an agility course, though, and all bets are off!

    Since he’s doing well at crate games, is it time to try incorporating that game into agility class? (I remember your suggesting either here or elsewhere, that putting a crate at the start line might help promote a solid stay.)

    Thanks for everything, Susan! So much to learn, but what a ride!!



  15. jason says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 7:59pm

    WOW! this was an amazing post and very detailed about playing tug and all the benefits. I think this is great information and plan to share this on my blog as well. Its funny because I just heard a top trainer talk about why tug was bad for you and the dog, you guessed it, they were on tv talking about pack mentality. I was blown away because it’s such a valuable tool to use with your dog. Anyway I use tug as a form of currency with all my dogs and it works wonders. I even use it and teach my clients the same because it can build drive so fast in dog.

    Thank you so much for sharing this information on your blog.


  16. linda douglas says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:43pm

    i am really enjoying your blog and newsletter. i am a pp , shaping and recaller and it has taught me a new way to train…i love it. I wish this post on tugging had come out earlier. like


  17. Sydney says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 2:24pm

    Great article! Enjoyed the video. As always, thanks!


  18. Cat says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 1:34pm


    I’m SO EXCITED! I rescued a 1 year old border collie about a month ago, who is very timid in certain situations. When I first tried to tug with him, he looked at me with that adorable wide eyed tilted head and seemed to say “what exactly do you want me to do, and why???! Can i just have a piece of cheese please?”

    I am so grateful to have found out about you! As an aspiring dog trainer, fellow vegan, and firm believer in positive confidence building based training, I want to tell you you’re AWESOME! Goji, my canine pal, is now tugging on an anise seed filled sock with great vigor, and it can only go up from here!

    I also have discovered some interesting things that he gets complete JOY from, like jumping on the couch to get a belly rub, and jumping up at my chest to get pet, so I’ve incorporated these into training as rewards and he’s LOVING it!

    I’m planning on getting your book Ruff Love and your dvd Crate Games in the near future. How wonderful it is that you spend so much time and effort into helping out fellow dog lovers. We really appreciate it.


  19. sharon empson says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 10:45am

    Love your blog. My two dogs bindi and cody are both very soft dogs. I had adopted them at about one year old. Bindi can even get upset when I bump her in playing. (she will immediately shut down, and I have to do alot of encouraging her to continue by playing and acting silly. How can I get her to accept a little roughness. I have had her for about 3 years and it is just now that she is starting to wrestle a little with me. I think I am going to make play a regular part of her day and try and help her to see it is ok if we bump into each other. With other dogs she plays rough well. It is with me. She is very, very worried about doing anything that I do not like. My cody is the same way.
    They are terriers and I see them digging and running with each other like wild men. Cody will play a little rougher. Both are extremely smart and catch onto training very quickly. It is just playing rough that Bindi lacks some zeal. She can tell if I am displeased with anything she does. If in training I do not reward her she knows she has made a mistake, she will be extremely cautious and slow the next time I ask her to do something, all the while watching me intently. I have learned from you that I can be more upbeat and help her out of this. Is there anything else you would recommend? I am a newbe to this type of training and unfortunately have probably messed up and sent the wrong message to her. I want to go back and correct it now.
    Thanks for all the tips you have given me. I love your blog and am trying to implement what you are teaching me. I have the most wonderful dogs and they deserve the best. I am trying to relearn and reteach them. Thanks so much sharon


  20. shelley says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 7:02am

    Fab! Fab! Fab! Thankyou!


  21. Jock Junior says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:03am

    Hello my name is jock Junior and i am a 5 month old jack russell. my mum, Lorraine has been reading your articles to me while i sit in her lap( which i can now do for a whole 5 minutes) then she puts me in my ex pen so she can have a break and continues to read. she is reading about a dog called buzz as my mother keeps looking at me and shakes her head and calls me a challenge. i think lorraine is a bit of a woos. she cried the 2nd night of puppy pre school. I do like a game of tug, my favourite game is ripping the tissues out of the tissue box!


  22. Valerie says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 3:36am

    I love all your articles and they have helped me so much with my mad Red and white collie, he now loves tugging and it is making such a diference to his obedience performances, thank you.


  23. Mel says:
    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 1:33am

    Thank you Susan for such a great blog. It is so easy now for me to understand.

    You talk about starting to tug with your puppies as soon as they are in your home. I rescued my dog as an adult and so I didn’t have the same opportunity you have. I’ve had her for 2 years now and didn’t know all this about tugging when I adopted her (I wish I did!!!!). I am starting to work on her tug but it’s not easy. I can get a minute or two first thing in the morning or when I get home from work. I’m trying to build on that.

    Do you have any advice for those of us with adult rescues who are starting from scratch?

    Thanks again!


  24. Rachel Shubert says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 4:03pm

    My dogs love the tug and the way you use the tug is the way i was taught. here is my only problem….when my dog sees a BALL the tug is useless basically invisable to him…..how do solve this issue…i even use what i call “ball” tugs with him but when a regular ball comes out…same issue? wish you didnt live all the way in canada or i had the money to come train under you lol!!!! its what i want more than anything…im in texas but i have all ur training dvd’s and LOVE the results on all my dogs!!! HAve a blessed day!!! And thanks for all of your blogs and emails truely a blessing!!!


  25. Ellen says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 2:53pm

    Made all kinds of mistakes with tugging/ toy play including trying to reward tug with food for my 2 shelties. We are happily on the road to tugging. Funny observation pups much more accepting of the tug in the shaping den we created recently. Somehow tugging is translated there better and now we are getting tug at agility classes.
    I do not remember when I have been so goofy in my life as when I train my dogs. It is great feeling!


  26. Cathy says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 2:00pm

    I think the tuggong will help me with my young male who is blowing me off at trials,I had been giving him yreats before we went in. I think that was a mistake now. I have class tonight so will see how he does with the tugging there ,he tugs for me at home



  27. Pat says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:27pm

    My dog will tug with me (or really anyone) and gives the toy back except when she gets in extreme arousal (like when used as a reward for an agility run). Then it becomes really difficult to get it out of her mouth. I’ve tried stopping the game, putting her quietly by my side, holding her collar, doing nothing, putting her in her crate, etc. The only thing that works is putting her away – but the next time she doesn’t give the toy back. When we are just playing tug in the living room or outside, giving up the toy is not a problem. Any ideas?


    • Jan says:
      Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 4:29pm

      @Pat , I have the same issue (actually I have dogs at both extremes, so it must be me!). I was determined to have a tugger with my 2nd dog and I do. But, she gets too aroused and won’t let go. Especially, when using tug with agility, so I have been using food and having the toy off to the side. We run to get it after a session. It works to some degree but I think I have been letting both the agility session and the tugging session go on too long. I have also poisoned my release the toy cue 🙁
      Not sure where to go from here. Thought I would try to go back to short tugging sessions away from the equipment until I get the release.


  28. Marti Darling says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:11pm

    Thanks so much for SCRATCHIN’! I need all the info and confidence I can get over the tug issue! I used to think all dogs play tug. I have lived with dogs that just don’t wanna for nearly 20 years! I plan to get a Border Collie sometime in the next 2 to 4 years (I really miss the herding breed – I currently have northern breed dogs) My confidence is so low that it occured to me that I could end up with a non-tugger BC. So you are helping me become a tug expert. If I can get my northern dogs into “Tugalatious mania”, then I will be ready for my BC!

    The bottom line is, I know I have made some big mistakes and all the details and (common sense – duh – stuff you interject- is getting through. Man! People are hard to train!


  29. Teresa says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 11:33am

    Newbie here and loving your newsletter, blog, and am working on crate games. My question is about tugging with a 9 month retriever who is also working on hunting skills. He is high drive and LOVES to tug, but I’ve been warned against it for “soft mouth” reasons. Please weigh in on this -I’m so torn. Thank you!


    • denisei says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 8:04pm

      I don’t have a hunting dog but some of my friends do and they compete in agility and retrieving trials. Their dogs tug and have no problems retrieving birds as well. Don’t let people put you off tugging. You can definitely have both!


  30. Teresa says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:59am

    Love tug as a reward for our Doxies. The dogs that were only food driven have become great tuggers. The guidance from taking the Recallers 2 and 3 classes has been a life saver for our dogs new found joy through learning to tug as a reward. I retrained dogs that are seven and four years old and started a puppy using Susan’s advice and methods and now have dogs that are driven, happy and love to tug instead of being only food driven. We are enjoying Puppy Peaks and Shaping A Difference for an all around plan to teach our dogs and family that work = play.


  31. Hillevi Brander says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:58am

    I would love to tug and my dog loves it too. But, there is a problem from my point of view. As soon as she begins to tug her jaws starts to rattle – she gets really excited. Otherwise it would be ok but she is a retriever and going to participate hunt tests – rattling jaws and a bird or dummy in mouth is not a good combination. So, I have a problem and don’t really know how to solve it.


    • K9 says:
      Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 7:04pm

      Hillevi: Your dog can easily be trained to distinguish between bird/bumper and tug toy.

      Teach dog to PUSH bumper or duck into your hand, release on command.

      Teach dog to rock weight back and PULL on tug toy release on command.

      I have two NAHRA Started Retrievers who also have AKC Junior Hunt title.s


  32. Kate says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:43am

    My dog likes to be lifted off the ground and swung around (1/4 to 1/2 turn). If done gently (dog has good grip, lift is smooth) is that OK?


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:58pm

      @Kate, it really depends on the weight of the dog. I used to pick up my little 9 lb Jack Russell Terrier, but I would never do that with one of my Border Collies.


  33. Kate says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:39am

    Great newsletter, great blog post!
    I have been working on tug in R3 and have had good success using IYC/DWDH around food. Does this in part violate newsletter mistake #4, using food to reward tug? Should I be careful to balance how often I tug around food vs. tugging alone as a game? In new environments I sometimes reward tug with food if the dog drives for the toy and continues with committed tugging until I cue Drop. This seems to be working, but I gather I should get away from this quickly?


  34. Melissa Davis says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:30am

    Great blog and newsletter. Working through dwdh with tugging with my 5 year old after your camp made an amazing difference to our working relationship. Really amazing. Such a simple thing and it changed everything. It opened my eyes to all of the little moments in our lives that she was setting the rules. I’d been sitting in the back seat of the bus all along and didn’t even know it. All my puppies start with these under appreciated dwdh lessons. Thanks again!


  35. Linda Summersgill says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:13am

    While all of your tugging information was outstanding, it was most refreshing to hear your comments on over-the-top dogs outside the agility ring or in class. Not to be breed specific, but dogs that are barking nonstop really gives those of us with reactive dogs a challenge. I also was fascinated by your mention of the “fun police” dogs. I never could articulate how much it bothers other dogs aware of great activity underway nearby. I am working on having tug skills part of our skills to manage distractions and build drive. Thank you.


  36. Gerilyn Bielakiewicz says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:09am

    Susan, I have to say you have outdone yourself on both this blog post and today’s newsletter. I have been teaching people to train dogs for 20 yrs and it’s sometimes hard to find new ways of approaching old problems or new ways of explaining things to a new generation of trainers. Please consider it a huge compliment….. “you inspire me” . Following your writing on the blog, the newsletter and puppy peaks I have found your writing and video clips so well done ! It’s concise, it’s real, it’s broken down into enough pieces so that it’s usable and of course it works :). These are great ideas on teaching concepts to any person trying to train a dog but to be able to gain something new out of stuff I’ve been using for years is a Thrill so thank you ! I have gone back to working my Goldens in the field after many years of absence. Some of those years have been because the world of hunting/field training has become so saturated with E collar and corrections and poor training that I just couldn’t stomach it.
    I am in a planning stage for preparing to teach the concepts needed for my dogs to be successful in this endeavor without force and there are not alot of inspiring places to look. These articles gave me a bit of an ah ha moment as I realize that I have forgotten to use the wonderful drive my dogs have for work as a tool for focus and success rather than something simply controlled and channelled. Funny you can do something for a long time and still not see the forest for the trees. Keeps us humble….as it should be. A favorite quote of mine that I like to share with my pet folks who think they just want to stop their dog from doing something and haven’t arrived yet at Do-Land ………

    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”. Michaelangelo

    Thank you !


  37. Jenny Yasi says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:07am

    I’ve been using plastic bottles in old socks! Great article!


  38. Sammie says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:00am

    Thanks for your insight! I have an extreme tugger who will not easily give up the toy to anyone but me. Two problems I would love to trouble shoot. 1)My husband refuses to play tug because his shoulders will hurt from a few minutes session. Within the session, he will do short spurts of tug lasting just a 5 to 10 seconds. However, he has a very hard time in getting our dog to release the toy even for food (and our boy loves food!)In fact, our boy will go airborne to try to get the tug back. This looks down right ferocious to on lookers. 2)Our dog will not tug at this intensity with me. In fact, our dog tones it down so much that at times he practically stands there with the toy in his mouth using minimal tug. The force is just enough to keep the toy taunt between the two of us. Any suggestions? Thanks


    • Sammie says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:17am

      By the way, I should have added the fact that I can easily get our dog to the same state of frenzy tug that he uses with my husband. But, this is the problem. I need advice on how to get his energy level to be in the middle similar to that of Swagger. Thanks.


  39. Kristi says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 8:27am

    Any great sources for bungee tugs? Crash Test Toys isn’t doing retail sales (hoping this is a sign of good things for them!), but I have limited web-surfing time and would appreciate knowing who is selling the “good stuff” now. Thanks!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 8:53am

      @Kristi it depends where you live there is is http://www.saltydogcanvas.com in North America or http://www.tug-e-nuff.co.uk in the UK but I am sure both will ship to you anywhere.


      • Kristi says:
        Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 11:34am

        Thanks for the suggestions! And to those of you below, thanks, too! Just what I needed.

    • Alaska says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 2:10pm

      I also like the Cow-a-Bungee tug from http://www.helpingudders.com


    • Christine says:
      Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 5:28pm

      I second the tug e nuff toys they are our dogs new fav and mine also as they hold up! I am anxiously awaiting my second order to arrive (I’m fortunate to have a co-worker who loves my dog who brings the orders over from the UK) but think they will ship also.


  40. Tina says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 8:25am

    I’ve been working on DWDH moments at home. I can get great tug at home and out and about if he’s familiar with the place, but getting it in new places is more difficult when a distraction presents itself. At home, if the distraction is present already IE: a bowl of food, His sisters playing he is fine. But its when something changes maybe someone walks into the room. maybe I drop a cookie as we are tugging. He will let go. This is what would be more typical at class or a show. We’re tugging and someone opens a door, a dog barks, etc. Those sudden environmental changes cause him to let go. Im only tugging for a few seconds and working in other behaviors but Its usually early on, so I’m sure he’s not aroused enough to ignore those distractions. My question is, I worry that while Im working through this I am going to get more of the letting go because of rehearsal of exactly that. If that makes sense. I can get him back on it after some work on my part, but aren’t I rehearsing ‘letting go’ or even rewarding it to some degree? How to I get him to either a- not let go or B- get him back on with out using either verbally cuing it or running a way or something to get his attention.


  41. Sheila Murphy says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 7:35am

    Super article on “proper” tugging!


  42. Denise says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 6:47am

    Wow Swagger is intense!

    I’m pleased to read this article as both my dogs don’t tug in the manner I see other peoples dogs tug. I see other people bouncing and shaking their dogs around the place while mine just stay very low and rock back onto their haunches. I’ll stop thinking that I want their intense active tuggers and just be happy with the way my guys play :). Thanks.


  43. Rebecca says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 4:58am

    Thanks for this Susan,just finished reading your blog and the newsletter and it has opened my eyes a lot. My Beagle,Oscar,loves to tug but he would only ever do it at home,never in the fields or at other houses and it took some time to get him to do it at agility too. But know i have come to realize that i play with him wrong,i am one of those owners that spin their dog and pull the tug up and down rather than just kneel on the ground and let the dog do most of the moving. But just got one little problem he wont tug in the fields or in new places,how can i really make him ‘love’ the toy so much that he will play with it whenever i ask?
    Ever since i started reading your blog my relationship with Oscar has really improved and he is much more receptive to learning now!!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 7:43am

      @Rebecca, you don’t always have to kneel down, I actually do most of my tugging standing up, but kneeling down helps many dogs to want to tug as you are not “looming” in their space.


  44. cecilia says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 4:44am

    I really liked the last newsletter! But I have a question:
    You wrote that the key is to recover from failures rather than just being successful. But couldn´t lots of successes in an easy environment also be something good?
    When I struggled to get my puppy to love to tug with me, I played with him every day at home, because I thought about the quote: ”Difficult tasks can be made easy by the rehearsal of the simple ones”.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 7:46am

      @cecilia I agree, you can’t set a dog up for failure until he has had successes. That is why we try to get the tugging at home before we take the show on the road so to speak. Your quote is a good one
      Difficult tasks can be made easy by the rehearsal of simple ones” Yes, that is why a simple attempt at failure may be to just touch, stroke or smack the dog while training (playfully of course) or grab is muzzle moving on eventually to challenges like having him tug over is dinner dish filled with food. Small steps lead to big accomplishments!


  45. Bronwyn says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 4:03am

    Thank you so much Susan. The series has given me ideas to start getting back to training with my 9 year old poodle


  46. Billie says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 3:50am

    Thank you Susan, I’m loving the newsletters. When I got my two Shelties I knew nothing about proper foundation skills. My Shelties are hugely food motivated (surprise!) and not overly interested in tug. I fell into the trap of the ‘easy’ food treat option (ie my dogs were shaping me). They are now both 5. My boy took to it quickly but my girl dog has only just started to properly tug with me outside of home. She is a ‘soft’ dog concerned about her surroundings, but by tugging I’ve seen her confidence grow and I’m thrilled that she is clearly more comfortable in her world. I know a lot of people give up on tug because it can be hard in a soft dog, but I would encourage people to persevere as it is a wonderful thing to see a dog grow in confidence. Thank you for all your tugging tips and training advice. It has been invaluable to me and my dogs


  47. Isabelle says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 3:50am

    thank you Susan for posting this! I have been struggling with my dog to regain/fix out tug. I seem to have a problem since tug is not seen as a reward with my dog. If I try to use the tug as a reward in class I lose her desire to work with me 🙁 I can get an awesome tug aft home and anywhere else but can’t use it a reward. In this post and your newsletter you say to build,the valuWee of the toy first before using as reward, so how do I reward work until this time?? Help, I think I broke my awesome tug as a reward!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 7:48am

      @Isabelle, I would say you can be using the tug as a reward within a week, if you do as I suggest in my newsletter at set up some failures at home. Until you get where you can use the tug as a rewards I would let your training sessions be creating tug in new environments rather than worrying about “teaching something” Allow yourself to fall back a little on your training until you get this great tool in place!


  48. Joanie says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:49am

    I’d like your thougts on how to approach training to drop/let go of the tug toy.
    We have a Sheltie with a high level of “Tugnasciousness”!!! If we offer food in order to get the dog to drop the toy, will that discourage tugging in the future?


  49. Marie Black says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:40am

    I am amazed every day how much tugging has added to the training of my 10 1/2 month old puppy, Luke, and I can’t thank you enough for what I have learned through Recallers, Puppy Peaks and now Shaping a Difference! My understanding and awe grows with each piece that I learn. Tugging is so powerful. Luke wants to tug so badly, that he tries very hard to earn the fun! I love how much more teachable he is once revved up a little with a tug session. My non food motivated puppy now readily takes cookies from me, thanks to pairing them with tugging. Also, we have found that the bungee toys add tremendous excitement to the game and those toys are now his favorites!


  50. Dot says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:16am

    Yes, I tugged with her when she was young. My dog( 5+) gets aroused by seeing others ahead of her doing agility, and since I am 83 I rather have a calmer dog. She runs nicely ahead as she has been trained to do,and knows when she has been clear. Then I watch others tuggging madly swinging the dog in circles or being actually disinterested in what they are doing. But I love your articles and blogs and appreciate your training methods.


    • linda douglas says:
      Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:41pm

      good for you i am a little older to and still try to tug but dog is big and wow. you are 83, so i have a few years to go. thanks for the incouragement. i am only a youngster . 73/ keep it going.


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