2 min 4 sec
Before we begin playing with our dog, there are a few things we will need to take into account: the dog’s breed, drive, size, physical structure, age--and of course, our own goals. Basically, we want to play with our dog in a way that is most appropriate for it as an individual---so, if I’m working with a smaller dog, I’m going to use a toy that is soft and small, but big enough for me to easily handle while the dog is biting it. Also, with a smaller dog, my method of play is going to be a bit more delicate than it would be if I was working with a larger dog.
Another element to consider is how to manipulate the toy to motivate the dog to tug. With a Lab, I might start by throwing the toy a couple feet to try and trigger the instinctual retrieve drive, then begin playing tug as soon as the dog brings back the toy. With a Terrier, I might try to mimic the behavior of a mouse or rat by making fast, jittery movements. With a Mastiff or Bulldog, I might make the toy very active before leaving it available for the dog to take, then move it quickly away at the last second. Each of these dogs may require a few modifications to the technique in order to tap into their natural drives and cultivate them, but by closely observing our dog’s natural play behavior, this information will quickly present itself to you.
1 min 38 sec
It is also necessary to look at us, as handlers, in relation to the dogs we are working. As I mentioned in the video above, if I am dealing with a large dog and a small handler, I’m going to tap into the dog’s thrashing or yanking behavior. From there, I will teach the handler to release the toy upon the thrash or yank. Doing this alone is reinforcing to the dog, and often times they will bring it back for you to replicate the experience. At that point, we repeat. The handler never really ends up playing tug-o-war with the dog; they more or less stabilize the tug in preparation for the thrash, then release. On the other hand, if I’ve got a small dog, most of the work has to be done on the ground. Knowing this, I will likely attach a line to the toy, which will give me the ability to move it over a greater surface area. Giving the toy more movement allows me to tap into the dog’s prey drive.
These are just a few examples of how we might have to modify our technique from the norm in order to adapt to our dog. Again, by close observation--and a little common sense--this element is easy to dial in.
1 min 16 sec
When we are trying to create the most out of our relationship with our dog, we want to try to control as many elements of their environment as possible. To dive into the complexity of environmental control and conditioning is another course in itself, but we will use one element of it here in our play.
That element is using a very special toy, which is exclusive to interaction alone. Often times, we give our dogs a toy or a bone to "go and be with" on its own, without any need for you to be involved in its enjoyment of this particular item. This, however is what we want to try to avoid with our toy(s) we choose for our play interaction. Remember, the stronger the play interaction, the more material we create to work with in our training, so we really want all elements of this item to be special and exclusive to the interaction between dog and handler. Therefore, it is an item we only produce when we are playing---essentially, training---and it is just as important that we take the toy away after our "playing" is over.
There are many toys available that are suitable for interactive play, from a ball on a string to a durable jute tug. The key is finding the right toy for you and your dog. We always want to think about the dog's mouth, its structure, its current condition, and anything else that might fall into this realm. And of course, the fact that the dog will be biting this toy---hopefully as hard as it can! If your dog is young and teething, that is something that needs to be considered---big time. If your dog has had dental work done, or has damaged teeth, those are important factors as well. As you can see, it does go beyond the size of the dog's mouth and the feel of the toy itself, but those two things are still very important.
In addition, you should think about being able to store the toy somewhere on your person---such as your back pocket, hoodie, or training vest---comfortably. Also, think of your end application: if you plan on doing biting sports, and your dog is post-teething, you may want to consider a bite wedge or pillow, as these toys are very useful when it comes to bite/grip development in our working dogs. While they maybe be cumbersome to store, they are also very useful, especially when we want to build a monster in our play---safely, of course!
2 min 38 sec
Another thing to think about is how we are playing with our selected toy, taking into consideration the present condition of the dog's mouth, and their strengths and potential when it comes to play. In other words, go easy on a puppy, and play stronger with a more mature, post-teething dog who is genetically inclined for this type of work. This topic is difficult to generalize, and needs to be fine-tuned in its application to the dog, but with some common sense and a little awareness, it can be dialed in quite easily.
1 min 56 sec
1 min 28 sec
1 min 20 sec
As you can see in the videos above, your environment is going to have a heavy bearing on your rate of success. For me, I prefer to control the environment as much as possible, and only try to initiate play when I feel like the odds of the dog playing are in my favor. What I do not want to happen is for me to try and initiate play, only to have my dog not play because he or she is too distracted by their current environment. I liken it to the gym: I learn how to punch and kick in a controlled environment with people I trust, and that is where I develop my skills. Some people never leave the gym---which is great, because they enjoy working out---while others go on to be world champions. Those that do go on to become champions get there in a very methodical way, moving up the ranks into more prominent environments... I hope you get where I'm going with this.
The point is, I start playing in our training room or field and develop the dog there. During that time, I will still take the dog to strange places to try and neutralize it to different environments, but I don't ask it to play outside of the training room just yet. When the time eventually does come to move to a new or different place to play/train/interact, I chose a calm, distraction-free place and only ask for very little out of the dog. With every visit, I play more and more until the dog is functioning as it would in our normal training place. At that point, I move along to somewhere else and repeat the protocol.
1 min 44 sec
The light line or drag leash is essential when it comes to establishing the rules of play. The idea is for the dog to bring the toy to play, not to go lay down and "hog" the toy all to itself, and the leash can help with this factor in a very powerful way. I can use it to nicely dictate where the dog is allowed to go, and what it is allowed to do. If the dog drops the toy, I can use the leash to nicely pull the dog away from it, which makes the toy available for me to take in order to start again. Or, I can use the leash to nicely reign the dog in to show it that if it comes to me, I will play with it. Once this is understood, it is more powerful than the dog's hoarding drive.
2 min 22 sec
Because we always want to build drive for play in the initial stages, we also always want to cease play when the dog has reached its maximum level of excitement or drive in an effort to cultivate more drive. I believe that whenever we cease playing and put the dog away in a distraction-free environment, whatever mentality about play the dog has at that moment is the mentality the dog will bring to our next session. By systematically controlling the moment when our play ceases, we should see that the dog brings more and more drive with each subsequent session. Obviously, this is extremely useful material in terms of training.
1 min 46 sec
We also want to take into consideration how we interact with the toy throughout our session. We want to make sure it remains special, and even more importantly, that the dog will never experience what it feels like to possess an interactive toy without interacting. If we are careful about setting these tones, they will then become habits, and the end result will be the dog who only wants to interact while in the presence of the interactive toy.
1 min 39 sec
How we end our session can be determined by a couple of factors, such as where we at in terms of our development, that particular session, our goals, ect... Basically, it comes down to two ideas:
a. Do we want to end our session with our dog carrying the interactive toy back home?
b. Do we want to end our session with the dog being hungry for more?
These two factors are determined by two things: where you are in terms of development, and how the dog is playing that particular day. When we are trying to build drive, we pretty much always want to put the dog away hungry for more play until we've maximized our level of drive. After that point, it will mostly depend on how the dog is feeling that day. If they are playing with power and vigor, feel free to allow them to carry the toy home, to the crate, to the car or whatever. If you feel like they are lazy in their play, you can frustrate them with some mis-bites and put them away wanting more play. Again, after you've reached your maximum drive cultivation, it becomes more of a common sense effort than something overwhelmingly technical.
3 min 51 sec
When we end our session with a dog that has reached its peak in terms of drive, we also want to make our behavior does not trigger more drive in the dog after that. Upon reaching the end or our play interaction, we want to calmly position the tug so that we are able to move along without difficulty. Initially, this usually needs to be taught. A vest can help with this process dramatically because we can simply put the toy in one of the many large pockets. If not, and we are working with a long, narrow toy, we can calmly place the toy vertically inside our arm. With the help of a leash, you also can dictate whether or not the dog is able to successfully jump, lunge, or reach for the toy without imposing too much conflict. This is yet another reason why you should always have a leash on your dog during the developmental stages.