Let’s get one thing clear right from the start. I hate everyone out there who has a natural tugger. It makes me so angry when I hand a person a tug& say ‘See if your dog will tug with you!’ then the dog tugs& focuses. Seriously, people?! I am, of course, kidding. I don’t hate you but it is frustrating. My Vizsla is finally getting to the point where she thinks tugging is more exciting than all the distractions around her. She did not, however, come by it naturally. She’s a hunting dog ..bred to have a very soft mouth. It took a lot of encouragement& games to convince her that tugging was exciting at all, let alone more exciting than a pile of dirt 5 feet away. So, let’s talk about how I went from my non-tugger to this:
So, at first she wouldn’t tug at all. The second I grabbed the other end of the rope, she dropped it. It was disheartening. I decided to work on a few different ways to convince her tugs were cool. This may end up being a two part post because we genuinely did do a ton of work to get the drive we have now! I’ll start with the puppy games we played.
Before we get into the games, though, I want to mention some super important things- do not try to out-tug your dog. You don’t want to rip the tug out of their mouth ..especially if you have a hesitant tugger to start with. Only tug with the same intensity that the dog is. Most dogs with little/ no tug drive will be very gentle, timid tuggers. You need to match that& tug gently. It can be tough but the dog will learn to tug harder over time. Soft mouthed dogs take a lot longer than a dog with a natural hard grip. Also, if your dog is naturally timid, do not present them the tug directly in front of you. Try tugging on either side or behind your back. This is much less intimidating than having them tug& make eye contact! The last one is make sure the tug ONLY comes out when you can devote your time& attention to actively engaging your dog& that it is the only toy they have access to (especially when you’re trying to build the drive. Once it’s there, it’s okay to be a little more lenient on this one) so they learn the only way to play is with you. When they play alone, they are self-rewarding AND they didn’t have to work for the reward. These were the single most important factors in Penny learning that the tug was the best. thing. ever! So, the games.
1. Chase, grab, drop, reward- I don’t know if this is a real game or not, it just worked very well for Penny. If your dog loves motion, they will love this. You simply show the dog the tug, wiggle it around until they are focusing/ trying to grab it then toss it! Toss it low& close at first so they can ‘catch’ the prey (if your dog won’t return toys, keep the tug on a rope so you can pull it back into you!). Once they return, see if they will tug at all. It’s okay if they don’t, simply ask them to drop it then reward the drop with praise only, no food. Repeat this with praise only rewards until you start to get a little tug from the dog. YAY! Make sure you end the game, if you get one tug& some excitement for it? Stop. Put the tug away. End it while the dog still wants to play. If they decide when it ends, it loses it’s hold on the dog.
2. Tug Races- Once your dog has value placed on the tug by playing the above game, try this one. If your dog has a sit/ stay, use it (also a good way to proof it). If they don’t, use their collar. The game is simple ..throw the tug, release the dog (via release word/ let go of collar) and try to race your pup to the toy. The faster you run, the faster the dog will drive to it. When the dog gets the toy, they are usually amped from anticipation& racing so you can grab the tug& play a little before asking for them to release. Again, end the game when the dog is really driving for the tug.
3. No Tug- this is probably my favorite game to play with Penny. I get her amped up without the tug (we do spins, nose touches, chase& direction changes)& eventually she will start to get nippy. If you ever roughhouse with your dog, you know what I mean. Then, when she is SUPER high& amped& nippy, I get her to chase me to where I have the tug& take it out from it’s spot. Then we tug, tug, tug& put it away. I ask for a calm behavior (sit/stay is my go to move)& she has to do it. Sit stays are boring because at this point being calm is boring. It was WAY more fun playing with mom! After about 10 seconds, I release her. We work on being amped up again& BOOM. The tug comes out again& we tug, tug, tug. Do this a few times a day, randomly& eventually your dog will start to associate the tug with being amped up& playing with you! A tug is way more fun that a sit/ stay& engaging with you is way more fun than when you aren’t actively playing with them.
Okay, so this has turned into a huge post& I’m not even halfway through. There is still what I did with the tug once I built the drive for it& how we made her only sometimes-present tug drive work for us instead of against us.. plus some other things. Considering the length, I figure I will go with my original plan& write this as a two part post! I am heading away to a fun run trial tomorrow morning (wish us luck!) so I will try to get the rest of the tugging post up on Sunday or Monday ..along with grabbing some video of tugging Penny for you guys to see her in action.
So, before I bother writing up part two of this, did you guys find this post helpful at all? Was it easy to read& understand with clear directions? Have any questions, feel free to ask! Let me know what you think.. I am by no means an expert in the field (although I feel like one with how hard I worked for it!) so your mileage may vary but these are three of the games that helped skyrocket Penn’s tug drive!