Over the years, I’ve written a lot about tugging. It has almost always been from the perspective of helping people and dogs embrace and enjoy the game. Lately though we have seen a shift… we used to seldom see questions about dogs who loved tugging so much they would not let go of the toy, but now they are more and more common. This is good news for dogs and people the world over, as it means that the myths about tugging are being busted.
If your dog loves tugging so much he can’t let go of the toy, I’ve got steps for you to follow so he will eagerly ‘out’ when you give a cue. It’s just dog training, and anyone can do it!
Training the Out Release
The below steps come with the caveat that if you are building the game of tugging with your dog, we don’t encourage you to use a tug release cue till much later when your dog is a serious tugger. The following is only for those of you who have a dog who is AWESOME at tugging and LOVES it so much he has trouble letting go of the toy. The below will help you teach him to release the toy on your cue.
- Set up a training session with 3 very valuable food items. Consider the WOW factor. The reward you use MUST BE OUT OF THIS WORLD amazing for your dog. Is it the finest steak, or the most luxurious cheese, or something else? Consider the size / value / uniqueness of the treat. Know what your dog will love and use it.
- Prepare by having the three valuable treats quickly available to you. Engage your dog in a game of tug, but be sure to keep it VERY short. When in mid-tug you are ready to cue the toy “out” of your dog’s mouth, stop tugging and become quiet and still (this is being ‘passive’), then cue the word “out” and quickly deliver the valuable food item straight to your dog’s nose/mouth.
- The dog will learn in this short session that the word “out” will be followed by the reward.
- Your mechanics and the order of operations on reward delivery are very important so that your dog starts to pair your passivity with the next cue of “out” followed by a great reward. The game will end with an amazing reward.
- This is a “training” session. You must prepare for it in an organized way. You will find by the third repetition when you go passive and say “out” your dog will predict the great reward is on its way. You will find the dog will anticipate that you going passive means the cue is coming. Once you see your dog anticipating it won’t be necessary to be so quick delivering your food reward. You may also choose to deliver the toy back to the dog as they start to recognize the cue.
What we reward will be repeated. You may have to do another session or two of this over the next few days, but remember that when your dog does start to recognize the word and the act of letting go of the toy, you will need to reward the behaviour in order to maintain it.
SUPER IMPORTANT: Remember we talked about the order of operations above? You should not be putting the reward on your dog’s nose forever. If you do the process correctly, the “passivity” becomes the first cue for your dog to begin to let go – the second cue will be your “out”, and then you will have a rewardable moment.
The reward could be permission for your dog to tug again with ‘get it’, or the chance to do agility or anything your dog loves! Remember that there are many, many reinforcers you can use for your dog that are not food related. My ItsYerChoice game is going to help your dog know he can have the tug when you say ‘get it’.
I first wrote about training the out release in Shaping Success …. I used the cookie for only two to three repetitions during Buzz’s life, and he was an enthusiastic tugger! You want to be certain that you don’t fall into the trap of teaching your puppy or dog to wait to see a cookie first, before he will let go of the toy.
With a strong tugger, be mindful of your mechanics. Years ago, I made a video about high drive dogs using tug as a model …. that video stars Buzz of Shaping Success fame. I’ve shared it on my blog before. If you have a dog who will not let a toy go, don’t mimic the ‘bad dog training’ in the video, practice good tugging mechanics.
But if you have a dog you are encouraging to play tug, there might be benefits to being a bad dog trainer, however pay attention to the fact that I’m only mimicking in the video to crank Buzz up!
There are many cues people use for the toy release … “thank you”, “mine”, “out” … select a word that is distinct for your dog. Let me know in the comments what cue you use!
Today I am grateful for the long bike rides I’ve been able to enjoy with friends recently, including covering 65km on one day this past weekend.