The most under valued training game: Tug-of-War

The most under valued training game: Tug-of-War by Kate Senisi, schoolforthedogs.com

To tug or not to tug?

Nearly every day, we talk to clients who have read online or been told by other dog trainers to not engage in tug-of-war with their dog. The myth is that it can cause a dog to become aggressive. But…that’s simply not true. We know first-hand that a structured game of tug can benefit dogs immensely both physically and mentally.

5 Reasons To Love Tug-of-War
-You can provide high energy exercise in a small amount of space.
-You can teach your dog an appropriate way to use his teeth.
-The game offers a “legal” opportunity for rough-housing.
-You can encourage your dog to demonstrate self control.
-It’s fun! Offers a great bonding opportunity.

5 Rules for Tug-of-War
-Choose an appropriate toy. Length matters! We suggest a braided rope toy that’s long enough to keep dog teeth far away from your hands. Make sure not to use a squeaky toy — you want a toy that’s only interesting if you are on the other end of it.
-Control the goods. Keep your dog’s designated tug toy away until you’re ready to play. This will help reinforce the idea that you make amazing things happen for your dog.
-Manners matters. Your dog should demonstrate self control before and during this game. Discourage jumping up for the toy at the start of the game and teach your dog they can take the toy only when you give permission. If your dog jumps up for the toy, say “Nope!” and quickly hide it behind your back. When your dog remains sitting or standing still as you offer the toy, go ahead and say “Take it!” and encourage him to grab and pull to start the game.
-Teach and practice drop. Randomly throughout the game, ask your dog to “Drop” the toy (see below for how to teach this.) After he drops it, you can cue play again. Guess what – your dog is learning how to perform useful behaviors to make the game continue.
-No teeth on skin – ever. If your dog’s teeth touch your clothing or skin during this game, say “Nope!” and put the toy away for a minute. Your dog will learn that teeth on skin makes the game temporarily end and therefore it’s in his best interest to control his mouth.

Note: Children should not play tug with your dog unless you are confident they can play by the rules and you are directly supervising!

CATCH Training Tip: Get The Bug For Tug

Teach a “Drop” Cue
Teaching your dog to relinquish an item from their mouth is a must when playing tug of war. It ensures that you can get the tug toy away from the dog reliably and keep the game under control. There are several ways to teach this behavior to your dog, below are our two favorites.

Teach “Drop” Using a Toy
-Encourage your dog to take the toy and tug side to side enthusiastically.
-After a few seconds, freeze the toy, become perfectly still and wait. Sometimes putting the toy between your knees helps to hold it still. Your goal is to completely disengage from the dog until their mouth starts to come off the toy because they’re bored.
-The instant you feel the dog’s mouth begin to come off the toy say, ”Good – take it!” and make the toy move again, reengaging in the game!
-Repeat this freeze several times over the next week or until your dog is starting to consistently release the toy the moment you stop moving it.
-When you are willing to bet $20 that your dog will drop the t
oy when you freeze it, begin to add the word “Drop” just as you freeze the toy and then just prior.

Teach “Drop” Using a Treat
-Hold a tug toy in one hand and have a bowl of several high value treats in a bowl on a nearby table or counter.
-Move the tug toy around and encourage your dog to “Take it!”
-Tug with them for several seconds and then freeze the toy. Reach for a treat in the nearby bowl, close it in your fist and bring it next to their nose.
-Most dogs will drop the toy immediately, but if not, hold perfectly still and wait. The second your dog’s mouth comes off the tug toy to investigate the smell of the treat in your fist, verbally mark “Good!” and feed them the treat. Grab the toy, hide it behind your back and repeat.
-Repeat several times over the next few days.
-When you are willing to bet $20 that your dog will drop the toy when you bring your closed fist next to his nose, begin to add the word “Drop” just as you bring your fist towards his nose.

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