I still regularly hear from clients that they have been told they shouldn’t play tug with their dog. It causes aggression; it creates a hard mouthed dog who will damage game (if you’re into that sort of thing); you’ll never get a decent hold if you teach tug. I still hear the only way to play tug safely is to make sure the human always win the game. Would you really want to play with someone who always wins?
Let’s get things straight.
- It is possible to play tug and allow your dog to regularly win the toy without ending up with an aggression problem. There is no link between the two!
- Tug improves retrieve, improves owner/dog relationships and makes play more interactive for all. Dog can’t tug by themselves, so enjoying a game with you should result in them bringing the toy back (bingo! a retrieve) in order to continue the game.
- Tug does NOT cause your dog to have a hard mouth, rip apart game or be more inclined to destroy toys. Bad training causes all of these things, not playing tug with your dog. My Jack Russell Terrier Jellybean can swing about on the end of a tug toy, even be lifted off the ground during tug. Yet, if i ask him to retrieve an object, or indeed a dead bird or rodent my cats have killed, he will retrieve, hold and release without ANY damage to the article or animal.
We LOVE Tug! Sharing toys and playing together starts from day 1.
Jellybean is about 8 weeks in this video. Already learning that playing with me if more fun than playing by himself.
In this video, you can see the desire to continue the tug, encourages the dog to retrieve.
To make tug safe and fun for all, you need some ground rules.
Above is a German Shepherd foster puppy I had over xmas a few years ago learning some rules of engagement for safe and fun tuggy. If you click on the link to vimeo you’ll see a step by step of whay I’m doing and why. Can you spot what I’m saying which will eventually become his signal to spit out the toy?
Informal Retreive! Bring the object to me.
The video below shows the ‘two toy game’. You’ll need identical toys to start with so your dog isn’t inclined to hang on to his favourite one. The two toy game helps the dog trust that moving towards you with his toy doesn’t mean he loses. It simply means the game continues. Building trust about sharing is also the foundation for avoidance of resource guarding in the future because your dog can’t retrieve and resource guard at the same time. One cancels the other out. I am not using my formal ‘fetch’ signal as this puppy doesn’t know the rules yet and I only label perfect behaviours once the dog has the idea.
Hold! The magic marker word (or click) tells the dog he has made the correct choice.
This is what a solid ‘hold’ looks like and is the foundation for a retrieve (delivery) to hand. My dogs are taught to hold something in their mouth until they hear the magic marker word ‘ok’ which tells them they have made the correct choice.
How do we start training this? Step by step, clicking all the way!
Hand target first! This is for your delivery to hand. I’m using a clicker in this video, you can of course use a marker word instead. If you’d like to see a video showing all the reasons why a hand target comes in super handy, open the video in Vimeo for a link.
Retrieve to hand!
Jellybean demonstrating the steps involved in reverse chaining retrieve to hand.
And just to prove how much fun you can have with a solid retrieve and hold, and how gentle my terrier’s mouth is, despite tugging hard when I tell him he can, here is Jellybean searching for and finding a buried £10 note on the beach and bringing it back undamaged.