Segment 3

The Basics of Tug Play


 Working with Instinctual Prey Drive

3 min 25 sec


 Because dogs are predators by nature, we want to take advantage of this characteristic when we are trying to get the dog to engage in play behaviors.  The idea is to tap into the dog's prey drive and try to mimic the movement of a varmint or some other small animal a dog would be prone to chasing.  Doing this helps dramatically during the initial phases when we are trying to get the dog to grip the toy with intensity and power.  Once the dog does grip the toy, we want to continue with this attitude, lightly jerking and moving the toy as if it were an animal.  This simulates the animal trying to get away, which will assist you in setting the grip on the toy to get a full, solid bite.  It should be fixed and not chewy or typewriterish in any way.  We want this style of grip for not only safety and predictability in terms of our hands and our person, but also because it can potentially have a calming effect on the dog.



Tug Manipulation

2 min 12 sec


As I mentioned earlier, when the dog does finally get a grip on the toy, we want to continue trying to mimic animal behavior.  In this case, think of the animal trying to get out of the dog's grip, and think of tug manipulation in a way that would reflect that element.  Again, remember that we are always playing with respect to the current condition of the dogs mouth, teeth, and development.  That being said, the idea is to not make tug games extremely difficult; nor is it to make them easy.  Many of these principles are only applied in the initial developmental stages.  But, as handlers, learning how to manipulate a tug in relation to the dog your are interacting with is a pretty powerful tool, whether you're training pet dogs or just hanging out with a friend's dog.  Trying to play lightly with a dog you've yet to play with is always an interesting experience when we have certain theories based on interactive play observations, but if you're aware of prey drive and how to manipulate it, you can get pretty much any social, confident dog to play with you.   For that matter, you can play with that dog better than their owner can, which says something profound about your skills as a handler.


5 min 37 sec


Now that we are engaged in tug play, the idea is that we can develop few things simultaneously.  First, we want to reinforce the retrieve and pack drive in the dog.  Because puppies are always competing for food and other things, they generally are not trusting of us when we are first trying to engage them with the toy, so we want to try to develop the trust that we will need.  This starts by NOT taking the toy from the dog.  As I've mentioned several times, what we are trying to do is let the dog win the tug or toy, then bring it back to us for more play.  If we seldom take the toy and opt instead to pet and play with the dog when they bring it close to us, then over time, our space will become a very comfy place for the dog when it is presented with the special, interactive toy.  

As usual, a leash can help with this dramatically.  By simply not allowing the dog to go and be with the toy on its own, lightly guiding it back to us with the leash instead, we are already setting great tones for future play behaviors.  When the dog comes back for more play, we want to try to reinforce certain power moves in order to build not only stronger dog, but also to create the desire in the dog to seek these experiences through us.


4 min 47 sec


I also find it very beneficial to work out certain moves without the dog, the reason for which being that I don't want to trip up myself or the dog---or, heaven forbid, fall on the dog.  Basically, when your dog is now playing well and you are able to present the toy for it to come and take, you want to make sure your actions are dialed in and more or less second nature.  Depending on your skills thus far, you may need to spend a little more time in the "gym" before you are are ready to roll with the dog.  When doing this, think of the dog's size and how you will be making your presentations, and practice, practice, practice.  Once you feel like you can make your moves at any point, out of reflex, you're ready!


7 min 42 sec


 Another variation of working with the tug is to attach a line to it, slowly working your way up to the toy itself and then randomly working up and down the leash.  This method can work very well with small dogs who move quickly along the ground, so by starting this way, you can gradually get to the point where you are able to detach the line  and work normally with the toy from there.

A miss or miss-bite is the act of taking the toy away at the perfect time in order to build drive and frustration in the dog.  Misses can be very useful in terms of drive development and targeting, but they can also easily be performed improperly.  The most important factor is the timing in relation to how close the dog is when it misses.  We really want to make it seem like if they try just a little bit harder, they will catch it--and next time, when they do try harder, you can let them catch the tug in order to satisfy drive you've just built.

There is, however, a fine line between not enough and too many miss-bites.  If we do too many miss-bites, we run a strong risk of the dog becoming discouraged and shutting down.  On the other hand, by doing too few we risk developing a lazy dog that, when faced with a challenge, also shuts down because of lack of interest.



Letting the Dog Teach you How to Play

1 min 43 sec


I don't want to get all zen on you, but realizing how the dog wants to play comes from keeping an open mind, free of all preconceived notions of how you want the dog to play.  By doing this, you will be fully aware and able to recognize the dog's every move and instinct---making those behaviors available for you to manipulate and develop.  Sometimes this can take a little while, but with patience, the information will be expressed for you to interpret.


3 min 40 sec




Reinforcing Power Moves

3 min 27 sec


One of the most---if not the most---important factor to recognize in the play behavior of the dog is its particular style of power move, which I call a move of assertion.  This could be yanking, thrashing, re-biting the toy to get a deeper grip, pushing into the action, etc...  All dogs have some form of assertive behavior in tugging games, and by recognizing that particular trait and rewarding the dog with a win of the toy when it exhibits that trait, you can reinforce the joy the dog feels from the win.  

Remember, this is a joy the dog will seek out by engaging with you, the handler, and the most important fact to take away from this is that the dog needs you to feel this joy and sense of satisfaction.  This develops a power in your relationship that is insurmountable. 



Playing Safely

 1 min 50 sec


Safety is a topic that obviously needs to be addressed---for you as the handler, and also for the dog.

First and foremost, as handlers we do not want to get bit by our dog on purpose or on accident.  If our dog bites us on purpose, with clarity and intent, then there are some other problems in our relationship that need to be worked out.  Unfortunately this course will not help with this.

More commonly, our dog might graze our hand with a tooth while going for the toy, or thinking it is time to go for the toy when we are not prepared.  One way to avoid getting bit in the first situation is to always be prepared with your presentations, making sure to not signal for play when you are not ready in terms of your equipment or yourself.  As far as the latter goes, by calmly putting the toy away when taking a break or ceasing from play, we can avoid accidental grabs by a dog that mistaking our rapid movements for prey stimulus.

If I need to put the dog away hungry by offering a few miss-bites, I will quickly stuff the toy away after the misses, then face the dog while holding out my other hand, which is free of the toy.  I believe the hand helps the dog to understand that the toy is no longer available, and that it must therefore cease the interaction.  I also think the hand offering is a very deliberate move, quite different from all of the other moves in our play interactions.

There are a few other things we want to consider.  One of them is our environment, which can consist of things from the ground, the presence of any holes or protruding objects that could injure us or our dogs, or strange dogs or animals in the area that could interrupt our play and training.  You also want to take into account what you are wearing---most importantly, your shoes.  Playing with your dog effectively is a bit of a workout, and you want to be able to move to the best of your ability.  Comfortable athletic shoes can help with this.  You also want your body to be able to move comfortably and freely, so I suggest wearing clothes that will not hinder this aspect.

Many times, we learn what to avoid through life's mishaps and accidents.  I find that if I consider all of the factors within the play interaction equation, and eliminate those which will hinder my rate of safety and success, the road to my end goals are much faster and much smoother!


3 min 50 sec




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