Friday, May 24, 2013

Tug of war for teaching impulse control and bite inhibition

Many of us, especially those who have worked with bully breeds, have heard the advice to never engage in tug of war with a dog, and if you do, never to let the dog win. Usually the argument is that the dog will learn that he's dominant to his people if he ever wins the object of the tug game, or at the very least that the game can get out of control easily and result in teeth making contact with human--something we certainly want to avoid. 


Recently I went to a free workshop with Your Dog's Friend, where I learned not only how to engage in tug of war safely, but also how to use it as a great training aid to exercise dogs, bond with them, and teach them to control their impulses. 

 






 


The basic outline is this:
  • Get your dog engaged in tugging with a sturdy toy
  • With the hand that's tugging with your dog, go limp. The hand remains on the toy but stops providing any resistance. With the other hand, reach out and hold your dog's collar.
  • With the hand and the toy limp, the dog will realize that the game is much less fun. Be patient and she will most likely drop the toy.
  • The second she does, say "Yes!" and take your hand off the collar, and start engaging in tug again. Encourage your dog and make it happy and fun. 
  • Repeat until you are both tired. When its time to stop for good, drop the toy, say All done!, and walk away.
This game is an example of the On-Off Switch game for impulse control. The idea is that many dogs can dial up to a frenzy in no time, but can't easily dial back down. If you can teach them to engage in intense play, then stop and relax, and get rewarded for relaxing by playing again, and so on, you will teach them a very valuable tool in getting along in a world where sustained dog intensity is generally frowned upon. 

You can find a very detailed, more complex outline of how to use tug of war as a training tool here

What's been YOUR experience with tug of war? Do your dogs like it, and can you get them to disengage when it's time to stop?

15 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Casper & Freedom will sometimes play tug with each other, but they don't have a strong impulse towards it. I'm sure this will be a big help to those that do have tuggers.

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  2. This is a great exercise. We love playing tug-of-war but I have always had misgivings that I was not doing my dogs a favor. I just tried this technique and we have a keeper in our play repertoire.

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  3. That is interesting. I usually win tug of war with FInn because I just want it to end, and Finn and Charley tug with each other. But I am going to have to try this!

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  4. Great suggestion. We've done something similar with Honey and periodically interrupt the tug game so she learns to stop on cue. And of course, we reward her with more tug when she listens.

    Honey loves tug and finds it a great stress reliever. I think she enjoys it even more than retrieving a ball. I'd never take it away from her. And it's a great reward when you don't want to bring out food.

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  5. We heard and read exactly the same thing so never encouraged Georgia to play tug. A dog friend of hers who was obsessed with her rope and would slam into other dogs to get them to play, did it a few times too many with Georgia and a fight started. Big bad one. They never made up!

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  6. Most of the pack love to play tug and we always make tug toys by braiding scrap material. I've often stopped the game when playing and then started again. It is interesting to see the dogs start and stop also.

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  7. We don't play tug-of-war very often nymore but we used to when we were little. Hope all is well down your way.

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  8. Very interesting! Bella's favorite activity is tug - we've been doing this to a degree without realizing it. :)

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  9. Stopping by from Pet Blogs United! Looking forward to following you!! P.S. we love tug of war!!!

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  10. I came over from Pet Blogs United after reading your amazing post. I have cats, so no tugging wars here, but I love dogs, too, and it is always fun to find out more about the wonderful creatures. Well done!

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  11. I have come over from PBU and this is a furry interesting post! Thank you!
    Dina Mom

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  12. So nice to meet you! I have also come over from PBU and are now your newest followers!!!
    I have a dog blog as well (Dakota's Den) doesn't show up here because my cat blog is on blogger and my dog's blog isn't. His link is www.dakotasden.wordpress.com

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  13. Hey Kirsten, how are you? I like this idea but neither one of my guys is really big on tug. If I can initiate it with one, the other usually joins in and takes over my spot. ;-) Would it help with a dog who tends to snatch treats from your hand? Do you have any thoughts on that?

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  14. I should persevere with this with Frankie. I haven't tried holding his collar, just relaxing my hand has no effect on him giving up on tugging. He can be very stubborn, lol.

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