Tugging is a big part of my dog training, I hope it is also a big part of yours. It is a great reinforcer for most dogs. For those dogs that are not currently big fans of tugging, it is a skill that be cultivated with work on your part . . . yes I know it sometimes seems like a LOT of work. Start by creating a motivating toy.
Lately, I have been observing young dogs tugging in different environments. I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of the activity itself (although I have a lot to say about that:)) but I would like to focus on the results I have observed that tugging is producing. Now these are generalizations I am about to share, but the number of dogs that have presented with the same responses, to me, make the results pretty darn compelling.
First here is what I noticed. A young dog tugging with his owner in a distraction filled environment, lets say it is at an agility trial with lots of commotion and dogs running everywhere. What do you suppose this dog does when the tugging stops? That is what I have been observing and what got me thinking of why? With many dogs, the moment the tug comes out of the dog’s mouth the dog spins around to focus on the “other activity.” The distractions, the motion that immediately catches their eye.
Then I started to think of my own young dog “Swagger” (who is approaching his first birthday later this month). When I take the tug away from Swagger in any environment, he grows in intensity for me, his focus narrows on my movements. This is not unlike any other dog I have trained; so it can’t just be “the dog” (although I do think Swagger is pretty special:)). It has to be something I have done or not done as I have raised my dogs that has created this focus.
Here is what I think it is, and I believe this could make a MASSIVE difference to everyone with young dogs or dogs that are struggling to give you their full focus at work. The difference I see lies in the . . .
Duration of the tug session.
Many people when they tug with their dogs, do it as a duration behaviour. It goes on forever. It is mindless. The tug toy is a “baby sitter” as they chat with their friends. If there is a potential distraction near by, then tug game becomes a game-on-the-run where the dog is attached to the toy which is attached to the owner for the entire time it takes to get passed the distraction. It is a duration activity. It can last seemingly forever (at least 30 sec – 1 minute) but certainly much longer than I tug with my dogs.
With these dogs the history of using tug as a reward is one where the dog is engaged for an extended period of time. By the time this tug game ends the trainer is often exhausted and the dog so over aroused he has difficulty thinking straight. He is all revved up when you are pooped out!
By way of contrast when I reward a dog with a tug, it is a very short session. The reward process itself may take the same length of time as any of the “extended tugging sessions” but with one major difference. My reward process would be filled with multiple sessions of quick tugging spaced out with me asking the dog to something in between each tug session. This would be especially true if I was trying to get through a distracted environment with the dog.
The tugging itself would be anywhere from 3-10 seconds, maybe less. I let it go on for as long as it takes to get sustained, sincere, fun, tugging … no re-gripping, no looking else where. When I get that, I end it. BUT the moment I end the game of tug I immediately engage my dog in the next phase by asking him to do something else, like a hand touch which starts another game of tug. Or a game of PB&J (“Push Back & Jam” where I take off on my dog and when he catches me we start another short lived game of tug). Maybe I will then do a 360 degree spin into another game of tug or just ask for a quick sit, down or stand, move away a couple of feet, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, release my dog, run & tug again.
Short tug session, quick cued response followed by another tug session. This pattern is mixed up just about any time I reward my dog. Sure some times it is a quick tug and back to our regular training and occasionally I may even do the odd “duration tug” but that is rare.
So, from a dog training point of view, why does tugging in each of these two ways result in such a different behaviours in the dog? Why do most of the “duration tug dogs” focus on their environment when the tug game stops and the quick tug session mixed with other responses create focus for the handler?
Let me know your thoughts and I will share mine later. Fascinating stuff I think.
Today I am grateful for all of the dogs who happily reveal what they have learned from us with anyone who is willing to take the time to observe them. Gotta love dogs!
Thank you Susan! I’ve been a Recallers for several years now and absolutely love your methods. I’m starting my third puppy with your program. This new pup wouldn’t stay engaged in our tug game. Changing to these 3-4 second spurts has made a huge difference! Thanks!
That makes so much sense. You want the dog to never know when tugging is over. That way you have the dog’s attention. So you have to “serve” it in several portions. A trainer taught me that with treats. Always vary the number of treats when rewarding. I just never thought about it when doing tugs. I will definitely “serve” the toy this way from now! Thanks!!
Where can I get a good lesson on getting a prompt drop? My dog is naturally enthused to tug, but drop is not there. If I drop, he can be satisfied for the next ten minutes to shake, flop away and attack, chew and shake more… so I am not needed in this game. If I do not drop when he “moves up” or doesn’t drop at request, he will tug endlessly, so much that I could lift him with the tug toy. So, where can I find lessons on training a drop in a hyper-focused state? Thanks.
Hi Jenn, Susan has the step by step to training the toy release at this blog post for you:
Whew! It took a lot of scrolling to be able to comment! I wonder if there is a way for new comments to be added at the top ? Anyway, I am grateful for the reminder about duration as I know that the longer the session, the harder it is to obtain an “ out”! Thank-you!
I think, that what you are teaching your dogs is that after the end of each tug they have a chance for a next one if they just pay attention and listen to you. And they are not bored with tugging.
And what the “duration tuggers” teach their dogs is that after the tug it is the end of common exercises.
If I’m training our tugging is short but my dog grew up tugging for fun. First with her mother and now I’ve taken over. She enjoys it and would love to do it 24/7. we’ve been doing it way before any kind of agility or training so I will continue to tug with her almost anytime for as long as I can. When we start agility training it’s a tug toy we only use for agility. Works for us but I’d quit all agility and other training formats if it meant tugging only for 30 sec and only when training. It’s her favorite thing to do.If i can’t tug or my time is up, she looks and then leaves. Of course on occasion she does bring a different toy back with her….lol
Totally worth reading and re-reading. So much content packed in a short read. Thank you!
I love this article. I will begin shorter tug sessions and probably get better response to trainings in between tug rewards. Thank you for this insight.
My 2 year old bc, Wish, lives for her rope toy. She loves to tug and especially wants me to throw so she can jump and catch. We recently began trialing in agility. However, I can’t get her to play, catch or tug when we are at a trial.
What can I do to get her nervousness in check? She will take a treat and will do hand touches, down, high fives and sit pretty, while waiting to run, but I can’t get her interested in her rope toy, which she absolutely loves!!!!
Great article. We use a lot of tug. To your question, I’ve found, we need to think dog by dog on what that dog likes in the game of tug. I find different dogs like different things about the game. Some dogs (ie:GSDs) naturally tend towards possession as the main form of gratification they receive in tug. For these dogs I’ll manipulate the win/duration of posession time, and backchain the retrieve with short duration tugs but other dogs, many malinois, as a for instance, receive far more gratification in the bite and fight than they do from possession time. For these dogs longer duration tugs seem to have a settling effect rather than an over-amping effect. Teaching tug can also involve balancing frustration and gratification but again we have to go back to motivation because a possession driven dog will feel gratified by winning while a fight/bite driven dog my feel cheated by the “win” if they have not built the backchain retrieve/restart yet.
Reading responses, I see this as true for my one dog. I have a bull terrier x pug who enjoys the longer duration, he actually can become frustrated by “winning” and will push the tug back at me (or his brother) to continue the game. I find that it has helped in training too when he needs to channel energy and focus on something because he is reaching over-arousal and I need his attention back.
I agree to a certain extent.. In your opinion, can’t you use both methods of tugging? One for refocusing and ignoring the environment when competing.. The other for burning of steam /longer duration and the need to bite for satisfaction.. And of course I would use more of a flirt pole tug for exercising and a ball on a string or fabric hand tug for the other..
That’s very interesting. I have a rescue dog and he is learning Flyball but the only thing I can’t get him to recall directly. He will tub inside at home, but they have been long plays OOPS. He will not do it outside. Either I haven’t found his best treat ‘either food or play’, I’m doing it wrong ‘most likely’ or he is a dud ‘I don’t think so’. Thanks for putting ME clear. We’ll be working on this your way, from now on. Ta Ann
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and love for dogs with the world, your training is awesome I wish every puppy school, dog club would train the way u do. I love the way you play tug with your dogs, my dog loves tug too, unfortunately my border collie Bonnie will not give the tug toy back and holds onto it for ever, like a Pitbull I can not get her to release it. When she retrieves a toy in the water, I ask her to place the toy on the beach come back to me and then I try get it I do not want to use force as I want a good bond and trust relationship with my dog. I can not use food she is not interested when she has the tug toy. I have taught her to sit between my legs and now she uses that to do a crawl and try and get the toy. The only way she will not go for the toy is if I hold on to her lead then she will drop and wait. I do not like holding the lead . She loves the game of dropping the toy and as soon as I try and get it she picks it up again. How do you train a dog to love giving you the tug toy when you ask as much as the dog loves to tug? I use positive training methods but have failed completely when it comes to tug.
Have you tried getting a second toy and swapping out so she understands that she can have a toy. Change the game for awhile, so she does not feel like she is always losing her prize. Instead she is trading. I did this with my SAR dog when she was younger and it worked wonders.
hi – i have a border collie (i say mix, bec he looks an awful lot like a flat-coated retriever but i was assured he was purebred…. then again, i was also told he was a female, soooo….!). i absolutely love him to bits – he’s the best dog in the world.
technically, i rescued him twice: first from the farmer that was going to drown him at 2wks, then from myself bec i hadn’t a freakin’ clue what i was doing. rather like someone thinking bec they know how to drive a honda civic, they should be just fine with a Formula One.
thing is – he doesn’t like toys. the only toys he likes are my old shoes (he’s got the most expensive toys in town: two pairs of skecher shape-ups!) and my youngest daughter’s unwanted stuffies (which are quickly rendered into “empties”).
he doesn’t like tug, either – he’ll give a quick jerk but the moment i apply any resistance, he just drops it and wanders off. we’re talking literally split seconds. last time, i held it out for him, he jumped on the knotted end, then he gave it a shake and growled – i was absolutely delighted thinking “yay! finally!” (forgot to mention he’ll be 5 on hallowe’en) but he looked SO horrified, dropped it, and now he won’t even look at it so i just decided it’s not his thing.
but i’d really like to be able to play a good game of tug with my dog. is that unreasonable, since he’s clearly not into it, or is this something i can work with? it’s not a HUGE priority – just he’s not much into playing at all unless it’s with me and i feel bad seeing him just sitting there doing nothing.
I have a question for Susan: if your dog is tugging, and you deliver a cue such as “down,” will your dog drop the tug and down, or down while continuing to grip?
@Jenny it depends on the dog. The girls will drop the tug and down, Swagger will down with the toy in his mouth.
I have been tug challenged. Thank you so much. Now I get it and will go forward accordingly.
I had a beautiful tug with my pup… he would tug anywhere. I broke it…. how I’m not sure. More I can get a tug at home, with certain toys. sometimes I get a good tug once in a class…. what to do to fix what I broke 🙁
When we do crate games or when I tell my students to include some tugging I always blame it on Susan Garrett! I say, I’m only telling you what Susan Garrett says, and look, she apparently knows! Your ideas are so awesome! I wish you were closer because being in your classroom really made a world of difference for me, I really need to do it again this summer if I can. We are getting ready right now to do a long sailboat moving trip and I have to leave Charlie and Bee behind for perhaps 12 weeks! And I am so afraid Bee is going to backslide because she is being perfect right now, and she arrived with some problems, and I have the option of giving her back to the rescue. I rescued her because I thought she would definitely wind up being euthanized if I didn’t help her, she was very destructive, peed and pooped and chewed and yanked and leaped. But she only leaps, she is now my biggest helper, she is so useful! She is so easy! But it’s because of the structure, the Ruff Love set up. Everybody say prayers that this lady who says she is going to take care of Charlie and Bee for me (in our home on Peaks Island) will take care of them and our home, and that when I come back, they will be mentally and physically healthy.
Perhaps you have not yet exhausted the Puppy Peaks materials on tugging. I say this as someone who quit counting how many times I’ve watched the Crate Games DVD when I got to the 70s, and I’m still learning a whole lot from it. When I can go out and exactly copy Susan Garrett to a T – well, then my training sessions seem to always go according to plan 🙂 The devil is in the details however, so set up a video camera and see what you can teach your self about that.
Elizabeth, The references Susan shared with you are exactly where we send our students to get started. Its their homework to getting started with us… while we work through the “details” but the “getting started” is the big step. I too have “taught” tugging to not one but 2 of my 4 dogs now. One I took the tug out of her and one I taught us how to both find the joy in it. The blog has lots different reading topics on tugging details to help you just type in what your looking for in the search box – key words will get you some fun and interesting blog posts on tugging.
You are a Puppy Peaks member – Susan’s video’s show you exactly the details of tugging within our program. The two recent sessions with Lauren Langman shows both Susan and Penny tugging with their dogs – I know the strength of the whole program is “watching” the how “to” in great detail – Susan tugs with Swagger EVERY training session early on in her transitions and balance breaks and talks the Peakers through what he’s learning and how.
There are lots of “helper” “get started” toys. Susan advocates a toy called the TugIt – available online – that you can fill with food and teach the dog the sensation of tugging. A important part of our program.
There are lots of reasons dogs are reluctant – but recognizing what your doing and how your doing it can change that quickly for your dog. Video tape your sessions – see if you can practice some of the early puppy tugging Susan does with Swagger and increase reluctance to a maniac.
As a person that had struggles with my own dog finding the joy in tugging and as an agility instructor with a handful of students working to get their dogs to tug, I have to agree, its not an quick/simple response. For those that have good tug at home but not outside yet. Maybe try adding some distractions at home. Think about when you are out in the real world, the surroundings are similar to a bag full of cookies in the kitchen while you are tugging…. Short sessions are extremely important and use what ever your dog LOVES to get the game going. I gladly sacrificed my winter scarf for a student last night because the dog showed an interest in tugging. 🙂
I think you have it just right – quit while you are ahead, ask for other behaviors, and actively engage the dog instead to just being an attachment for the toy! I’ve worked hard with cultivating toy drive and tugging with my youngest Manchester Terrier in all different environments. It’s a great warm-up and cool-down before and after agility runs! Plus, I can also reward her with a jackpot of food after her muscles have cooled down after the run.
much of the subject of these comments is asking you how to get a dog to tug. could you give us any comments on that?
i guess i’ll reply to my own comment here. i guess that susan’s silence on this matter indicates to me that she does not really have much to say about enticing a dog to tug. i have heard from many wonderful people about their experiences and i have taken them all to heart, but i am wondering why susan is reluctant to discuss this on her blog. she has replied to many of you on the duration of the tug and how that can affect your training, but i have heard nothing from her about “reluctant tuggers”. the subject “got tug?” piqued my interest. i thought there would be valuable information from susan about getting dogs to tug. i’m so glad that susan has a “tugging maniac”, but that doesn’t help the rest of us who have “reluctant tuggers”. susan, are you able to comment on this?
Hey Elizabeth, really no reason I haven’t responded to your question, just time restrains really and the broadness of you request. As you mentioned I do try to respond to people’s concerns but realistically I just can’t do it all! I try answer as many questions as I can on Recallers and Puppy Peaks, then hit as many quick answers as I can here on my blog, make time to plan and write new blog topics, populate my next on-line courses, write e-books, teach my students, train my own dogs and oh yeah, spend a few minutes with John and my family!
Lynda and I have discussed the topic of tugging and I promise it is on our “to do” list to dig into it further. Asking “how to get a dog to tug” is not a quick one sentence answer. If you have a specific question it may be easier to give you input. You might try to check out my website at http://www.clickerdogs.com and download the article on “How to Create a Motivating Toy” as a start.
I am a believer in tugging unfortunately my dogs will only tug at home. They are tugging fiends at home. They will not tug any where else. How do I get them to relax and transfer this behaviour?
Even Papillons love to tug, Gunner is a monster and short tugs help him with his self control. I love your tug blog.
I regret reading the book when I got my first Papillon which said you should not tug with your dog.
I am slowly rebuilding Henry’s love of tugging. Short tugs with food rewards for good tugs. Then I will slowly phased out the food and insert commands.
I believe that it will help him increase his drive.
Many foods for thought when I get back to training my young dog. He is recovering from a broken leg, Thankyou Susan from across the miles from someone in the united Kingdom.
I agree, Christine. I think ‘tugging creates a hard-mouthed retriever’ is right up there with the myths of not teaching your show dog to sit in case they sit in the ring, or not teaching your pointing dog to sit, in case they sit instead of point in the field. Just plain silly.
Tugging makes a hard mouthed dog–NOT! I tug with my dog and she has a beautiful soft mouth. It may depend on the dog, but it seems to me that the dog knows “tug” with a toy is NOT “tug on the bird.”
When I am reading your posts and online courses I find myself discovering that I did the same with my old dogs and it was very successful, while me youngest dog is quite different. I also did not tug too much with him because my middle dog is not allowed to tug much due to growth problems. I think we somehow forgot about it and prevented it because of the fear we would start doing it with both dogs. Now after I started tugging with the young dog he much more focused. In comparison with many of my retriever dog friends who do not tug because many think it creates hard mouth for game (which I have/have had four dogs so far of my own to prove different). I have good recalls and control even in areas with loats of game smell and game and with dogs from working lines. While others struggle with chasing habbits.
I also have the same for the dogs when I sent them out to search people and have often heared that people think once they saw the dogs start that the dog is out of control and they proved them wrong.
It is all in the way we tug and in the duration and learing selfcontrol. Where crate games have proved to be very helpful.
Thank you yet again for another timely post…although I am in R3 and PP, sometimes it’s a simple change in the way you do something that makes such a difference. I started changing the way I tug with my JRT pup when I read your post…we started back into agility classes last night and the difference in her is amazing!! She’s not only tugging better but keeping her focus on me even when there was a barking dog beside us and a new dog in class. Oh and crate games?….should be required reading for every dog owner!
Great topic. I don’t understand exactly how you end your tug games? So if the dog is cued to tug, and then cued to sit, is he supposed to drop the tug to sit? We do lots of retrieving and delivery behaviors, so I have been cuing “drop it,” with a tug, which I trained with food, because I have some guest dogs (bulldog) who I could NEVER pry it out of their mouth, just impossible, but they will drop it on cue. I would love to see some of the ways you end “tug”!
As I posted before I have a GSD that does not want to tug. As I have read Susan’s blogs I can see that I was not understanding the purpose of tugging, even though our training classes encouraged it. Well back to the drawing board, my dog and I are going to work on this again with a different perspective. We will try short tugging sessions interspersed with other training activities. Thanks for the helpful insight.
I have a 3 yr old springer and I have not been successful at getting her to tug. We have tried several strategies . Do you have any suggestions?
I want a tugger like Swagger! My American Pitbull Terrier LOVES tug game and I have followed your advice using tug instead of food for certain training…boy, does he heel nicely! However, during tug, if I do not maintain constant tug pressure e.g. if I let my arm slackend just a tad, my dog readjusts his grip by moving in closer to my hand. Yes, he has gotten me a couple of times. Wow, do I respect the power of his jaw! Is there a remedy/correction for his readjustment. Thank you so much for sharing!
I am just now beginning my tug training. My four year-old westie is completely food motivated. He is somewhat tug motivated, but I am having and issue with him really latching on. If I get him excited enough, he will hang on. But for the most part he is just mouthing it. He will tug fine with a softee toy, he will really hang on to that, but not a rope with a softee attached??? How do you train them to really grip the tug.
I have beagles that aren’t really natural tuggers, but I found clicking them at the moment they pull the toy out of my hand (for a food reward) worked incredibly quickly to get them tugging with real intensity. They love tugging now and have started to enjoy it for its own sake. Their real jackpot reward, however, is a prolonged chase of a toy on the rope followed by a 5 second mega tug with food treat on release.
Yeh for Beagles! Any tips on leash walking? Lady Margaret (Maggie) is an 8 month old Beagle and we’re on the Recallers Programme (overwhelmed with all the Modules and posts and info – only made it to Game 6!!) As soon as we are out the gate her nose is to the ground. I can redirect with food for a few paces but then off she tugs. Having
the calm 9 year Lab helps but still I can’t to get to the wood where I can let her off. Walking home is just as much of a battle… I keep meaning to spend time on other games before we leave the garden so she is more focussed on me but haven’t found time to try that yet…
what if your dog is not interested in tugging?
Now I know why Fred cries barks and nearly loses his mind at the very sight of agility equipment.
The light came on, that’s why my dog can’t focus on me and barks cries and goes crazy at the very sight of agility equipment.
Just because they are ‘tugging’, doesn’t mean they are ‘thinking’…
That part is up to us the handlers to make part of the game if we are to use it to our advantage.
BTW, Susan, your comment in an email about food rewards not invoking enthusistic movement and drive like the tug does was interesting.
You havent seen my working dogs’ reaction to a Timbit box. 🙂 LOL – plenty of drive thank you very much:) The rewards are definitely what you make it. Tug OR Food.
(equal lover of tug/play and food rewards….)
@Cassandra, I think you may have misunderstood my comments. When dogs are tugging they are often NOT thinking — that is why tugging is a great way to “set the environment” to get what you may get when your dog is excited while working with you! And I stand by my point, a dog will not get as aroused about food when they have had more than their “fill” of food (easy done with a small dog).
True Susan, but I DO understand that by setting the stage for that level of excitement we can teach our dogs how to respond with even more control. More drive/excitement = more ‘opportunity’ for control…which is up to the handler to oversee but sadly, many don’t. I think that tugging as we develop it with our dogs should shift away from the mindless and into more of a bottom layer of ‘second nature’ with control and rules on top?
I do think that perhaps there is sometimes a misuse of tugging when used simply as a ‘babysitter’ and an easy ‘break’ for the handler. I see it out there. That is precisely when the quality of the interaction breaks down. In fact, I equate ‘mindless’ tugging with ‘mindless’ feeding of treats outside of the ring, and we all know how detrimental that can be. My point (and I’m positive we agree on this:) is there should be 100% effort and thought in all that we do with our dogs. I’m not convinced ‘duration’ is the whole answer though when looking at the tugging/attention issue. Rather, ‘the quality of interaction’ and a ‘tugging plan’ each time we reward (whatever the chosen duration which really is based on dog and/or handler experience) is most important?
I certainly value the arousal and level of control I can create with my dogs using tugging, but I also work with food to create ‘insane’ amounts of arousal (and control). I don’t need to ‘run’ with my dogs with food rewards to create it any more (sometimes less) than playing tug. Yes, small dogs fill their tummies with food faster but some breeds tire of play rewards faster than say for example a Border Collie would. NItpicky points I guess, but just MHO 🙂
What is a Timbit box?
Interesting thoughts, and I agree to a certain degree when you talk about how the dog will easily be over aroused and the handler exhausted if you let the tug session last for as much as 30-60 seconds or more. But I don’t think it has so much to with the duration as it has to do with the handler’s behaviour when he or her calls off the tug session. If you say “release” and turns your back at the dog and start chatting with the other people, or just walks away, off course the dog will change focus to something more alluring than you. Would you yourself keep your attention to someone if they stop talking to you and turns away? I think not. If you kneel down and pat the dog’s chest and perhaps give it a treat you will keep the dog’s attention. You can’t blame a dog for not being focused on you if you are not focused on the dog. My dog will keep his focus on me as long as I keep my attention to him, and he is pretty fit and can keep tugging for waaaay much longer then I can, and his arousal is reinforcing this focus on me, not on the surroundings.
Thanks for this. Only one of my dogs tugged until I started Recallers 2.0. With inspiration from your articles on the blog I taught Dylan (aged 8) to tug, he just loves it now. I also decided this winter to teach my Irish Setter (aged 10 next month) to tug. She does not like to grip anything strongly in her mouth, or should I say, did not. This winter while Christmas shopping I bought two v. cheap teddies at a card shop, sat on the floor with her, got excited, played “Get that thing” and after a couple of sessions we were not just touching and mouthing, but tugging! I agree, very short sessions are best.
Hi Andrea, my bc tugs very nice at my backyard, not outside with distractions. I guess he still doesn’t love the activity. Nevera tugged when puppy, people say stupid things about aggression. Can you tell me how to increase that love yo tug?
When you play tug and then end the short session, do you keep the tug toy or do you allow the dog to take it away and play with it?
My 5 month old loves to play tug and when I decide to end the session I allow her to take the toy away and play with it. Is this wrong?
She also loves to retrieve things we throw for her and brings it back then when we don’t want to play any more, again, we let her go off and play with it.
She does not give the toy up when she brings it back but will allow us to take it quite easily to throw again.
Wondering whether we should send her off with something else to play with and keep the tug toy for tugging.
This is great detective work and insight into the hows and whys of tugging. It is one of the first tools I learned in J9sK9s dog training classes. It is a great exercise not only for focus, but also to teach a dog to go from excitement to calm when you tug for a few seconds, retrieve the toy and ask for a sit or down, then tug again. Susan’s advice to tug for short duration is something I did because that was how I was taught. To have her emphasize it has given me greater understanding. Thank you so much!
I can certainly see the point where tugging for longer periods of time would encourage the dog to take a look around when the game is over, but I think that is probably more of a symptom of the owner disengaging along with ending the tugging, rather than exclusively a tug duration issue.
I often will do what you are referring to as duration tugging with both of my dogs- not exclusively, but our tugging sessions will last upwards of 30+ seconds regularly. Both of them refocus on the tug immediately, until I direct them elsewhere. I think this is likely because even if the tug session was long, it doesn’t mean the game is over once the tugging is over- the tug may come back, or a different fun game.
Susan, I’ve got an aussie that tugs like crazy, but the quality of the tug is arm breaking. When he’s in really high drive or when I’m trying to distract him and he’s all charged up, he will grab the tug toy and shake it side-to-side with such force that I’m concerned for my shoulder. Do you have any techniques to tone down the tugging?
@Deboarah, yeah, I have had 2 dogs like that. Just another reason why short session tugs last 2-3 seconds help! Also I will drop the toy and allow the dog to bring it back up to me to do another session to prevent long, potential injurious tug sessions.
That works well Susan and Deborah, as my Aussie does the same and I drop the toy and make him bring it back. It makes him think twice because he wants me to be part of the tug and also saying leave it or out and making them stop for a second without trying to jump back up and grab it, also is working well. Thanks for all your info it is absolutely working for me.
Another tip that Susan gave previously on this topic was to hold the tug close to your body (with two hands, close to your diaphragm). In a lot of videos you see her doing this (by habit?). It helps to bring the pivot point away from your shoulder.
@Shannon, great observation on your part — it is just my habit now, protecting my shoulders when I tug.
I also like bungee tug toys for that reason (tug toy with elastic/flexible handle). It dampens the forces on my arms and neck and I imagine it does the same to my dog’s.
I received Brew my 8 month old Border Collie as my most treasured christmas Present. Brew is My First Border Collie as my husband and I usually have German Sheperd Cross our recent pet was prebreed German Sheperd. Brew is very high energy , loves his toys as well,and a good game of Tug. He could do this 24/7
Thanks for the tune up. I will definitely change my tug sessions. One question: is it okay for my 8-month-old puppy to play tug with my adult dog? They do have fun and I keep the sessions short. Many thanks
@Jan, I am ok with my puppy tugging with my other dogs providing 1) Neither are a breed that may take the game too far (ex. I never allowed my JRTs to tug with each other) and 2)Most importantly that both dogs will tug with me any time I ask.
My Border Collie Puppy is just over a year old.I also have a Shelty rescur almost the same age.They Tug together. But the Border Collie prefers to tug with me. The Shelty barks none stop when Im playing with my BC should I be putting the Shelty in a diffrent room when I am working with my BC?
Awesome info Susan. One day I hope to stop getting smacked up side the head by you and all the obvious 🙂 I think this will really help us start to overcome some of our struggles. Thank you.
If we are still building our tug should the sessions also be short? It usually takes a while before the tug becomes truly interactive with my dog. How would you end a session if you weren’t really where you wanted to be?
Do you have a video or written notes on how to teach the ‘out’ command? I can start tugging, but I do not have the power to stop it!
I just adopted a young BC who’s very toy-oriented, and we’re working on tug.
It has been easy to teach the “out” or “give” command. The trainer I’m using for foundational work has extensive background in protection sports. I tug with both hands on the tug. I wear leather gloves to protect my hands until my dog learns to aim at the tug a bit better. When I want her to out, I brace my hands against my knees, which makes the tug go dead. The dog eventually figures out that it’s not fun to tug. Once she releases the tug, I mark the release and then re-present the tug all over again.
Once the behavior is taught, then it’s a case of adding the command you wish to use.
The biggest issue with my young dog is that she wants to tug on her rules, not mine. I have to be vigilant. She must give me the tug, not try to snatch it back. Her reward is always another tug session. I reward her with more except when I’m ending the tug session. Then I mark the end by saying “that’s all” and take the tug after the final out. I will give her a food treat at this point.
I love this question ! I always make sure im using a tug toy that does not self reinforce when i stop (like flappies do) and i make sure i go really still, start tugging a little bit and then go still and claim some of the toy hand over hand then soften as if you were going to let go, often that becomes the cue to give it up. If not do this in the bathroom first. Feed a yummy meat treat as soon as they do let go OR just let go yourself in the bathroom as you say out etc and then immediately toss your treat. Pretty soon they anticipate the word out, but also make sure you never put pressure on the toy yourself when you want it to stop, go limp and wait, if they keep trying to tug use the stopping and tossing technique 🙂 hope this helps im just a novice trainer
I love the way you know what you are doing and how it gets the desired results, I too tug for short periods to keep my dogs attention, interest and arousal and you explain it all so simply! I do wish I had your intrinsic skills, knowledge and understanding so that when I was getting thigs right I fully understood why 🙂
Thank you for your insight!
Thanks once again for such value information and the opportunity to hear from the community at large, too!
I had not much experience with tugging as a tool til I came to DO-LAND. Slowly but surely it is becoming one of our working tool/games. SLowly working its use out to the world of distractions! 😉
Anytime Kastor sees the tug now..he’s ready! (He also is willing to let go with SG lingo—“I need it. Thank you!” 😉 I love it!