Tuesday, 3 November 2009

teaching a dog to play tug

Penny loves playing with tug toys, but not as much as she loves chasing balls. When we run in a flyball event, she comes back to me, but she's not motivated by the game of tug. Other dogs race fast to their owners with the ball so they can have a rewarding game of tug. Let's just say Penny doesn't over-exert herself once she's got the ball from the box...

So when I noticed an advertisement for tug toys pop up when I clicked on my free map (the one that tells me which countries the readers of this blog come from), I decided to buy some, and to try to get her more 'psyched up' about playing tug-of-war with me. The company is called Dman Tugs and they're based in Australia.

The new toys came in the post today. Penny loved the one with rabbit fur woven into it. In fact, she loved it so much she started chewing on it, which she's never done with her toys before. The tug came with instructions to make sure the dog only plays with you, never unsupervised, and to keep sessions short, so I put the toy away after a couple of minutes. The other point that was new to me, but which makes a lot of sense, is to only play tug so the dog shakes her head from side to side. Never up and down, as that motion can hurt the dog's neck. (I was impressed that the tugs came with the same warning attached.)

There was also a link from Dman Tugs to a Karen Prior lesson on how to calm your dog by playing tug. How much is there to know about playing tug, I wondered. Well, there's plenty to know.

First of all, the principle behind the tug lesson is back-chaining, in which you teach the last movement first. In this case, the lesson is to give the tug toy back and calm down.

So we tried it today. As instructed, I played whilst sitting on a chair, to keep the excitement level low.

With the clicker and a treat in one hand, and the tug in the other, I rewarded Penny for giving up the tug when I said, "Mine!"

It's going well so far.

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