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.
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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Hello m having problems with my 2 dogs, a 2.5yo GSD mix and a 1 yo pitbull, both play pretty wel and have an amazing drop buuuut! they only play when they are on the mood to play. Ive tryed play without the tug and take the tug whe we are in middle game but if they dont want to tug the stop playing and go away. What can i do to get them to play more?
Well it’s been awhile, so I have new questions. My IG above is running in excellent thanks in large part to your blog. I have a new 3 mo IG who is loving the tug games. She happily does what I call goal post work ( the beginnings of your 2×2 or Trkman’s jump work) for a tug reward. How do I stop the tugging without demotivation? She won’t drop it, and if I just simply stop, she runs off with it and hides, and I know I don’t want that. I can pry her mouth open?
Secondly, I’d like to bug you about puppy peaks, I want to be first to sign up! I am lost as to where to safely begin with a young pup, especially since she’s a breed supposedly prone to leg injuries.
Michelle… most of the dogs I have had in my life were tugging fools. The way I get them to give is to stop pulling and jerking the toy while saying “out”. As soon as I say this, the game is over, and I am basically motionless, but holding on to the toy. If the dog tries to pull or jerk it away, I move my hand so that he is moving the toy, but not pulling on it. A lot of dogs will let go right there. Some need to have me reach into their mouth and pull their mouth open a tiny bit. This is done in a very deliberate manner, not jerky and noisy like the tug game, and not harsh like a punishment. Almost every dog I have had immediately stop tugging and let go of the toy. I have not seen you with your dog, but I suspect that “bopping”, turning away, etc. are all being interpreted by the dog as part of the game.
Would love to hear feed back from others.
I got my dog to tug!! this is the dog that I adopted just after Thanksgiving, so she has only been here for a little over three months. She did not want to tug. She is too polite. I have bought a dozen different tug toys; soft ones, fleece ones, rope ones, fire-hose ones, nylon ones, etc…. she thinks they are mildly interesting, might grab at it a little bit, but nothing special. These tugs are just not very exciting.
Today I was outside hanging out in the yard, having coffee with a friend. The weather was just beautiful, and I noticed all of the tree branches that Phoebe has dragged out into the yard to play with. Doh! It hit me. The reason she drags all of these branches out into the lawn is that she likes them. She likes the branches. She likes to carry them around. She likes to run around with a branch in her mouth. She enjoys them, and is self-motivated to play with them. I picked up one of her branches, and got her to play with me instantly! Yea!! Tugging game! She jumps, she growls, she runs, she loves it!! She even drops it with a little reminder.
“listen to the dog, listen to the dog, listen to the dog…”
After tugging a bit with branches, I pulled out a tug toy, and did the same motions and noises we had just being doing with the branch. She said, “Oh THAT’s what you wanted to do? I can do that! Gimme that toy!”
So now I can play tug with her and use the tug as a reward for some of the other things I am teaching.
Poor dog is so handler impaired.
I’ve found I can attach the tug to my wheelchair and save my shoulders.
The hard part is not letting him tug whenever he wants to.
Loved Recallers and Puppy Peaks
I must admit, I rarely play tug with my dogs smply because I don’t enjoy it. Since attention is not a problem with my dogs, I’ve not really seen a reason to do something that I find uncomfortable. Now that I’ve what you’ve written about TAR moments, I believe I may have another go at it. I really like the idea of working through this type of issue using a tug toy. Thanks for the info.
I am a senior citizen and this is my second dog . I am giving my pup much more time to sniff , in an attempt to satisfie her need to use her nose more . Her tugging has improved since I have moved from the hose to a softer surface . Open to any suggestions . Thanks from a great grand mother . Roz
Susan, thanks for your response .I hope i’m wrong about my pet
and i hope its my fault ,then I will be able to do something to make her a house pet. We are doing Ruff Love , and working hard . My dog Roxy is not a bad dog ,she just has an insatiable ,unsatisfiable desire to sniff constantly and search for any and everything , which leads to excavation of or whole home ! I have tried many things and nothing works. I’m presently doing containment training and have been for 7 months . Is this an abnormal problem? I know your busy but any morsel of advice is appreciated ,Roz ,she has many talents tho! Exceptional athlete,and very smart.
I met a young man here in Eads Tenn. ,who has a fly ball team that is in the top 25 in the USA. He said some of his dogs will never be able to be house dogs and i’m afraid i may have one of these pups!
Have any of you had any experience with dogs like these ?
@Roz, I have many good friends run the best flyball teams in the world. I myself ran flyball on a team that held the world record; either Championship or Four Breed or both, for a stretch of 8 years in a row and all of our dogs were family pets first and foremost. And even though that was many years ago, my BC ran 3.8’s at the time (at the age of 9 years old). There is nothing inherently “wrong” with flyball dogs that prevent them from being good pets. My puppy Swagger (who is an amazing family pet) is sired by a Border Collie that is on the Flyball team that currently holds the world record:). There is no excuse, except lack of desire on the owners part, to have a dog that isn’t a well behaved family pet regardless of what your goals are in your chosen sport.
Just read this post 2 months later! Just want you to know my Border Collie is Fly Ball Certified and absolutely loves it! She is also the best house companion (well, besides my hubby!). I can go away shopping and come back to a house untouched and no counter surfing! She waits in her crate (her choice) till I get home, she knows not to bug us when we eat, lays on the kitchen rug when I’m cooking…etc. etc.! Susan is right, just because you have a Flyball dog doesn’t mean they can’t be the best behaved dog in the house! So what ever field you go in with your four legged best friend…at home they should behave! :o}
It absolutely horrifies me to think that people with such influence advocate crating a dog for up to 23 hours a day. If we went to a zoo, and a monkey was in a tiny cage for that many hours per day, we would all be up in arms. It is just plain cruel to do this to an animal. There has to be a better way to create drive and focus than to cause most of the dogs life to be miserable.
TS, In my Schutz club some say and do the same thing about crating the dog a lot but others do not . There are other ways to keep the focus on you all the time and Susan teaches these in her Puppy Peaks classes.
My trainer says for me to hand feed my dog and for me to be the only one to work and play with the dog !
Bre , Thats a good idea how you make your own treats ! Since i wrote my last post ,i have taken my Pup to the vet . He thinks her eating becoming finicky is because she still has a little milk from a heat cycle she had 2 or 3 months ago . He said her hormones could still be playing with her mind . As far as training goes ,i will try to use smaller pieces of chicken so she’s not eating so much !
We throw 2 hoses and use the hose to tug . I need some advice on how to keep her from hitting my hand .She hasn’t bitten it but bumped it and left quite a bruise .
I’m taking a class called “drive and motivation”, first class was last night and tug was the topic – “no more than 5-10 min at a time, then put the dog back in the crate”. This brings up a question that I’ve had a lot, this is part of Greg Derrett’s training, schutzhund training… many people are proponents of crating your dog up to 23 hr/day so their focus is all on you. My dog is my companion, I am not willing to do this. I’ve searched your site, what do you say? How long do you crate? If you crate your dog(s) for hours, does that change the amount of tug time? If, like me, you aren’t willing to crate quite that much, is all hope lost?
@TS I don’t believe crating a dog is a part of Greg Derrett’s training. Many people misinterpret my book “Ruff Love” to mean you should crate a dog 23 hours of the day, but it absolutely is not. Sad for the dog’s when people take that away from the program:(.
I see all these posts of dogs loving their agility obstacles. My BC has his sit and “over” for the jumps but he does not LOVE it like I’m hearing of others. I saw a video where that’s all Swagger wanted to do was jump!! I don’t get how I transfer the love of his tennis ball onto the jump? He also loves to tug but his biggest love is those darn tennis balls!!!
My dog has always played tug but it is only recently that I have attempted to use it as a reinforcer. Things are going fairly well, but what do I do when my dog decides that romping with the tug toy by herself is more fun than bringing it back to me to tug with me. It doesn’t happen every time, but often enough.
I’ve tried game over and taken her back inside. What do you suggest? Thanks for your help!
TS, i am new to this schutz.trainig class and the way they teach heeling is the dog continually eats from your hand in this early phase of heeling training .They dont want him dropping his head or looking around for the treat so i cut chicken in long thin strips and she constantly nibbles . She weighs 43 lbs . Im going to have to ask the other members to show me how they are holding their food and how much they are using . Most of these folks are going for Schutz 3 and i am a beginner. They use hotdogs and my dog cant eat those .
I am also in Shutzhund/SAR classes with my dog. Some feed hotdogs but I don’t use them due to high fat & other JUNK in them. I use my dog’s kibble left in fridge overnight with cut-up chicken, steak, hamburger, potroast anything left over from dinner. I roll it around once in a while and by morning they kibble is now soft. The dog’s play the lottery with the treat’s as they like the “flavored kibble” but MAY get a lovely peice of chicken. Keeps them engaged. I also sometimes just sprinkle low sodium beef or chicken broth on the kibble and let it soak over night. Both make cheap but effective training treats. My 18 month old is active and don’t have to worry about overfeeding right now, but it you are concerned, but cut down meals but the amount of kibble you are feeding. I usually go thru a bait bag per class of 3-4 hours.
But, I really logged on to say thank you. I have read and watched your videos about tugging and have dogs that will sort of tug. Well, I got out a new toy and tried again – this one has a loop and real bunny fur bumper. Based on previous suggestions and things, I talked my SO into playing tug with me (harder to get a human male to play tug that a dog!), then put the new tug toy away… did that a few times, then tugged with the IG for less than 30 seconds and made a huge deal of it… This seems to be working great. I’ve tried all of these things before, I’m either doing it more right, or all of it, or this latest tug toy is it… whatever the combo, I thin I’m on the right track now.
@TS great work, on both counts:)!
Since us plebeians are answering you – wow 6 chicken tenders. Food treats for dogs, all dogs, can and should be microscopic. For example, a typical treat from me might consist of string cheese cut 2x lengthwise (so 1/4 the normal width) then cut to BB sized slices of that. My dogs are smaller than pits, but even if you double that size of a treat, it’s still much less than you are giving. It still works, honest. Another idea is to use his kibble as her treat, don’t feed her. (not suggesting you starve your dog!). Finally, you should be phasing out treats, don’t need constant food shoved in her mouth for heeling.
@ Roz I’m reading a Don’t Wanna Don’t Hafta moment there 🙂
Your last two posts on tugging have helped me realize my dogs lack of focus and drive with agility are not related to his use of tug or food as reinforcers but really about how I handled his DWDH moments outside of the house. In retrospect I can see that I have learned much from you and my training improved greatly but I lack carry over to other environments. I have a break down between my criteria in the house and yard and any where else. I really threw him for a loop and myself when I used a free run through session at a new facility to try all the things I know he can do at home. Needless to say it didn’t go very well at first but I didn’t give into the DWDH I persisted. Now I will use the winter time to persist all over town :)) My question is when trying to change an already patterned behavior do I start where I think we will be successfull or where I think he will fail (then move out till he is successful)knowing that failure provides me information. I have a hard time balancing to easy (slow improvement)with jumping/chunking too much (big failures). Any thoughts.
Kelly ,,I think you have me confused with some one else !
I’m taking my 14 month old small Pit to Schutz training . The problem is in this early training in heeling we use a lot of food ,,, she may eat six chicken tenders ! The problem is now she doesn’t want her kibble any more , she use to love it . I feed Orjin a very taste food . What can I do ???? I need to use these treats !
I really enjoyed the previous post about the duration of tugging… not so much because of the activity (tugging), but because I’ve observed with lament how people become absent minded with their dogs. I have a “contract” with my dogs… when they are at the end of the leash with me, we are both engaged in eachother. Absent minded handler behavior is not part of that contract. When I’m engaged, so is the dog.
I do have a different, and minority point of view when it comes to tugging as a specific behavior. I think there’s a tendency to view tugging as some kind of magic bullet, and I just don’t think it’s necessary. I have dogs that like to tug, and it can be a nice reward. One of my most accomplished dogs is a reluctant tugger. He has multiple MACHS, herding titles, and obedience titles, but those accomplishments are just window dressing. He’s just an outstanding dog. Gentle, loving, always there on game day… and tugging is an activity that we rarely engage in. One of my other dogs- same breed – is more into tugging and we do use this tool occasionally. She’s a great dog in her own right, but tugging propensity doesn’t make her a better performance prospect.
The point that I’m trying to make is that I don’t think tugging is a panacea, and certainly there’s no need to panic if the dog doesn’t like to tug. If someone wants to spend time and energy in developing this “drive”, that’s a choice each is free to make. But people shouldn’t think it is necessary. For some dogs, this is a readily available tool. For others, I’d rather spend time forging other paths to connected teamwork. And I’ve found lots of those paths- puzzle solving games, intricate behavior games, etc… so much more fulfilling than building tugging- which, while quite doable, doesn’t necessariliy equate to a better team/partnership.
Having said all of that, I’m really a great fan of your training, and have learned alot from your books and writings. And the seminar we attended in Washington state a few years ago.
Robann; I have to agree with you on this. I do love Susan’s training, and am on a joy-filled journey into Do-Land total immersion, but I also just don’t see that tugging is the only path to overcoming challenges. I will continue to complete my transition to ‘Say yes’ for all my training, but I just can’t grasp the ‘drive’ to force my dogs to ‘love’ tugging.
@Ronna, please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying you can’t not train with food alone I am just saying with more reinforcement tools at your option the training is more efficient and effective. No one here at Do-Land would suggest you “force” you dog to tug, but we will give you the tools to facilitate your dog learning to LOVE to tug!
I’ve found this blog and the previous one so interesting and has made me think differently about how to try cultivating my tug-drive.
I too would be interested in hearing a bit more about how to engage with a fearful dog. My mini poodle is very timid at training/shows with toys and hates if other dogs get into his space, he’ll work for food but I don’t want to depend on food as his response is slower and less enthusiastic. I’m working on tugging at home and out and about which is getting better and he’s gaining confidence but it is very very slow and “one step forwards – two steps back” a lot of the time.
I stopped using the tug as a reward for a long period of time because he just wasn’t interested in the toy and as a result training slowed massively, I started getting him to tug at moments with “no pressure” i.e. a reward when he was already keyed up and giving an already conditioned behaviour such as sit. This has worked but he still loses interest after a few bouts between 5-10 secs. Now I’m wondering if I just gave into a DWDH moments which is why it is taking so long to build any drive at all?
So please if you have any tricks or methods to help encourage his tug drive it would be greatly appreciated.
Best wishes Kate
My dog LOVES to fetch and tug, and I love the game too. Her enthusuasm is exciting to watch. She brings me her toy and nudges my hand and begs us to play. Only thing is, I can’t get her to let go of the toy. I’ve tried training “Out” and drop a treat in her mouth when she lets go. I’ve dropped it on the ground. I’ve tried sticking my finger in her mouth, prying her teeth open, I’ve even bopped her on the jaw a few times (gently). I’ve played turn my back, walk away. Nothing works. How do you train your dogs to release the tug toy so beautifully on your first command?
I love your blog and follow your teaching, I have left other similar trainers – why – because of their dog breed. It’s the same breed you have! Trainers, especially those with agility focuses all become famous with their BC’s and Aussies. I have been working with my Italian Greyhound since before the breeder let me take her home – she tugs! not many IGs do. I used clicker training to teach my Shiba to tug – but tugging isn’t the reward that it is for your breeds. I am constantly struck by the breed characteristics that maybe don’t work for others? Tug is a game I get them to play by winding them up. At agility practice, no way would either tug, they’d rather sit there quietly. I do try, it just isn’t worth it. For the IG, the obstacles are a much higher reward all by themselves – why tug when I can run over something? I know, I’ve seen answers to this over and over – you can teach your dog to be like my BC/Aussie – but isn’t there a (better?) way to teach a different breed using something in their characteristics? If I switched to short tug sessions with my two, they’d stop bothering all together. It takes me 15 seconds of “teasing” them to get them interested in the tug at all. The IG loves when other dogs chase her, so I was thinking of switching to a chase me or something like that, for example. But, that would lose me control of the situation.
@TS First of all I don’t just have Border Collies:) my first love is Jack Russell Terriers and I still have one (they just don’t happen to be my husbands first love or second love or anywhere on the top ten love:). I, also have loads of experience training “other breeds” through my students success. I don’t think it is so much the breed that is or isn’t the challenge but the dog that dictates the frustrations to the owner. I know of some amazing sight hounds that tug with the intensity of my BC’s and I also know of some BC’s that give their owners unbelievable challenge due to their aloofness and seemingly disengagement during work. Be care of leaving trainers simply because of the breed they choose to love!
I think it is great your IG has so much value for agility but if she loves to tug at home I would make sure you have her tug in agility. It is too much for me to get into here, but if you do a search on my blog here you will find me write about “don’t wanna, don’t hafta moments.” For those of us that choose to train without the use of verbal or physical corrections– DWDH moments are our defining moments as trainers. If you cave in and let the dog have things his way you will be limiting your potential training without corrections. The dog must know, yes you can trust me, I will also behave consistently, yes I will always fair to you, no I will never anger or correct you but yes you must always do what I ask when I ask!
Getting a dog to see a reward as a reward anywhere is possible, it is just a classical conditioning or a “transfer of value.” All the best with your dog!
Kudoos and more Kudoos Susan..I have two boxers and a Frenchie. My first boxer now 6 was trained what I call “old-school” my three year old….everything I’ve learned right here on your blog and your e-courses WOW I have an amazing incredible boy…and the little adopted Frenchie same Do-Land method one more up and coming amazing boy….my 6 year old Boxer that has always been amazing but lacked a JOY is now offering behaviours independently and it brings me Joy to see him getting excited…..I was taught never to play tug with the breed boxer but OH YES, it works when done in the way you have shared. Ground Rules Though…..Patience, consistency, and what I have found Pivotal is timing of reinforcement….!
Susan Thank You!
It would be nice to see Swagger man added to the rolling photos of your dogs at the top of the page 🙂
Thank you so much for your thoughts on tugging. I will now think in terms of reinforcing with “short Tug Games” rather than with Tugging. Your comment “More often than not long duration tug sessions end up with the dog either being put away or being ignored.” really rang alarm bells with me and has caused me to understand why my dog does not just see the toy and get excited.
Had the same feelings Pat, always nice to have Susan snap me out of bad habits.
My dog will tug some but is a little reluctant
People say she lacks confidence ! Is this what’s
Wrong and how can I help her ?
I would be very interested in a blog post re:tugging for fearful dogs. I’m working very hard on trying to cultivate tug-drive in my fearful dog. She is nervous of other dogs entering her space.
She is tennis-ball-crazed, so I want that same focus from her for the tug. If I work with her with her ball (I’m trying to get away from that) there is nothing else in the room more important to her. We are getting there slowly. I suppose “tugging for the ball-obsessed” is a whole other can of worms. 😉
Maybe you could try putting a ball in a Holley roller and have her tug on that. I also attached a bungee handle to mine to make tugging easier.
I have a question with regard to classical conditioning. What do you do with a nervous/fearful dog?
Some people yesterday were commenting about using tug to get past a distraction. That this was actually conditioning the dog to tug when it sees something distracting. I suppose you could replace tug with food for this example as well.
If you have a nervous or fearful dog and you want to condition it that when it sees the scary thing, good things happen, my assumption would be to jump into a game of tug or feed in the presence of the scary thing. Now, I am second guessing this based on yesterday’s responses that these dogs would then immediately turn back to the distraction after the tug.
What do you do with a dog like this?
@Lori my answers to you are no and no (not very Do-Land of me is it:)). First of all no, I don’t suggest you replace tugging with food and hope to get the same response when working through fear. There are about a zillion reasons why I believe all dogs should have their tug drive cultivated and this is just an example of one of them. Maybe I can expand more on that one in another blog post.
And no to your second question:). Using a tug to over come fear is ideal and something I do regularly. If you do as I suggest and mix in easy to do responses from the dog between the short durations of tug you will avoid the dog spinning back to look at the fearful distraction.
Did Susan write a blog on tugging to over come fears? A
The other Day you said here is how bad trainers tug , and this is what we can learn . Maybe they are just Green ,you know new and dont know how ?
Roz if you take another look the words “Bad dog trainer” are in quotations. I recognize that no-one is a “bad dog trainer” on purpose we are all on a learning curve. When I look at some of my own training clips in Puppy Peaks I sometimes catch what I think is “crappy dog training” and I leave it in there for the Puppy Peakers to see and learn from. There is no such thing as a “bad dog trainer” really — we are all just learning . . . thus the use of the quotations.
I’m so new to all of this (Susan’s methods) that I almost hesitate to comment.
So OK I’m beginning to get it!
I have a 2 1/2 yr old standard poodle. She’s smart cooperative and very athletic. She loves agility, and has taken all obstacles with confidence, enthusiasm and speed ( well maybe not so much weaves) . We have a problem-she has always loved the dog walk, but, now she is refusing to take it. My trainer wants me to leash her and essentially *make* her.
We tug. I instinctively noticed that short duration gave good results, now I see the whole picture. Any suggestions about the now dreaded dog walk.
I don’t think she’s afraid exactly-she won’t take treats-she refuses and she means it. This is a dog who likes people and wants to do …