The Tugging Game

The word “tug” is used a lot in our house.

Do you think she’ll tug? Why won’t she tug? Hopefully she’ll tug. Maybe she’ll tug if we do this. She had better learn to tug. If she doesn’t start tugging soon are we going to flunk out of agility? They should offer tug classes. I hope no one notices if she doesn’t tug. I just don’t understand why she won’t tug! It is okay to tug this way?

And on and on and on.

For those that don’t know, tug toys are the preferred method of reward in agility. The act of tugging gets the dog more aroused and helps produce a higher drive. Food tends to slow a dog down, which is the last thing you want on a course. Unless you have a Shiva, I should add. A meteorite wouldn’t slow a Shiva down. The earth splitting in two pieces wouldn’t slow a Shiva down. There are other reasons, though, for using a tug toy instead of a food reward even if speed isn’t one of them.

Since we started taking agility classes over a year ago, we have been working very hard on getting Shiva to tug outside the house. So far, no dice. And before you start offering loads of great advice believe me when I say this, we have tried everything. We even have a wonderfully expensive tug toy in which we insert food into a pouch. She eats the food but she could care less about tugging with it in class. Those last two words being key.

This all completely baffles me. I mean, just the other day I took the below video. Does this look like a dog with zero tug drive?

I didn’t think so.

There are a few explanations for this and all of them are most likely my fault:

A.  The first day of classes I probably tried using a toy as a reward for completing a behaviour. Shiva probably looked at the toy like she had never seen such a useless object in all her life. I probably threw her a couple treats instead, thus completely eradicating any value the toy could possibly have.

B. Last summer during our outdoor classes Shiva discovered a whole new world of rewards. The self-reward. Her favourite way to self-reward is to run away and steal food from other people’s bags, cars, houses, and mouths. If I don’t offer her a reward she likes, this is what she will do. Our creative trainer suggested we use a giant bag of our own filled with goodies as Shiva’s thrown reward at the end of a sequence to hopefully curb this behaviour. It curbed it all right and apparently there is no going back.

C. She thinks it is hilarious to torture us this way.

D. All of the above.

Despite what I’ve learned from years of experience with multiple choice exams, I’m sticking with D.

35 thoughts on “The Tugging Game

  1. I think doing what works for Shiva is what’s best! After all, it’s about having fun and bonding with you’re dog. If you’re doing that you’re winning!

    If Stumpy is uncomfortable, the only thing that will distract her from what she percieves as danger, is food.

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  2. Instead of thinking that tugging is a reward for Shiva, think of it as a behavior and put it on cue. Teach her to tug on command and reward her with a treat. The food treat is what Shiva deems as rewarding, so you have to take that as it is until she sees value in the tugging for its own sake. Once you get “tug” on cue, take the tugging trick on the road. Remember dogs don’t generalize, so you can’t expect her tugging to be magnificent when you change locations. Take baby steps until she is doing this new tugging trick whenever you give her the signal to tug. And reward the behavior with that food treat she covets. Eventually, fade the treat and tugging will become its own reward. Have patience. You can’t expect a dog to accept something as a reward until you build its value. That’s my two cents. 🙂

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    • We do have a tug command that works brilliantly in many scenarios. Even outside the house on walks and at the park. But for some reason, as soon as we are in a class setting with an instructor looking on, it’s like she has no idea what to do with said object, even when it is her most favourite stinky toy in the whole world. Baby steps, I guess. It’s not a huge deal as her black bag is working really well but it baffles me because she adores tugging so much in every other instance. Dogs are nothing if not fascinating. 🙂

      Thanks for your two cents. Your input is always appreciated!

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  3. Sorry, I can’t help with the agility question but the video just shows a dog who will tug with all her might and life! Shiva is great! If it isn’t a tug drive, I’d like to know what others call it.

    I love your objective question and the ANSWER too. I’d have done the same thing, LOL.

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  4. Loved the video. don’t do agility by choice – only at random when a dog escapes. An adoptable Beagle, Lady Bug, is a toy and fetch fiend. Her tug of choice is one of two filthy, torn apart, hardly recognizable toys. Her ball of choice is a large tennis ball. Shiva’s tugging is hilarious. Good luck!

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  5. From that video it does look like she has a ton of energy. I do like your multiple choice quiz, and I started thinking about all the ways I’m probably sabotaging our training. But from that energy, it looks like she’ll be the star of the course!

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  6. Hey thanks for the comment on my blog!

    Lance won’t tug for me out in public, and certainly doesn’t have the intenstity Shiva does at home! But you know what, it’s not the end of the world. He is food crazy so still runs his little heart out for a piece of food. The biggest downside is that when I’m trying to reward on his line, away from me, he doesn’t always see the thrown treat whereas a toy is easy to see. Still it’s really not that big of a deal 🙂

    Have you tried the Tug-it? Lance didn’t care much for most stuffable tug toys, but the tug-it he can actually get food while still tugging. He loved it! The only problem was that he would tug like crazy on it so it started to rip a whole big enough for a large piece to fall out. And it never transferred to other toys like it was supposed to (also didn’t put that much effort into transferring). But I can still keep it in my toolbag if I ever really need to throw a reward and make sure he sees it!

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    • I’ve never heard of the Tug-It before. I’ll have to look it up. If she gets to eat and tug at the same time, that may be the stimulus we need. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  7. Hey thanks for the comment on my blog!

    Lance won’t tug for me out in public, and certainly doesn’t have the intenstity Shiva does at home! But you know what, it’s not the end of the world. He is food crazy so still runs his little heart out for a piece of food. The biggest downside is that when I’m trying to reward on his line, away from me, he doesn’t always see the thrown treat whereas a toy is easy to see. Still it’s really not that big of a deal 🙂

    Have you tried the Tug-it? Lance didn’t care much for most stuffable tug toys, but the tug-it he can actually get food while still tugging. He loved it! The only problem was that he would tug like crazy on it so it started to rip a whole big enough for a large piece to fall out. And it never transferred to other toys like it was supposed to (also didn’t put that much effort into transferring). But I can still keep it in my toolbag if I ever really need to throw a reward and make sure he sees it!

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  8. Oh, that Shiva! She sure likes to keep you on your toes, huh? Mom says she always wonders if I would tug in public but she doubts it (even though I’m a champion tugger at home). We will learn from Shiva’s example. Er…or not, as the case may be.

    Wiggles & Wags,
    Mayzie

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    • Heh. Obviously we are not alone then with this tugging out of the home struggle. Good to know, it’s a little reassuring. 🙂

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  9. LOL! I like option D too. 🙂

    I learned something new today. I didn’t know that tugging increased a dog’s drive in agility either!

    I do hope you figure out what the issue is with doing it outside. Clearly, inside is not the issue!

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  10. Fun video! I think that if Shiva wants a treat instead of tugging, so be it. Just ’cause everyone is doing it doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect fit for her. Oh yes, and I choose “D”

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  11. Yep, they’re not fuzzy little automatons that do whatever we want them to do. And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Loved the video.

    BTW, has Shiva ever tugged with another dog?

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    • Agreed. I like how they each have their own personalities and quirks. It makes dogs more fun and forces us to be more creative when training them. 🙂

      No, no she hasn’t. When she plays with other dogs all she really does is run. I would love to see that one day.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  12. Just stopping by to say hi, from the Pet Blogger Hop. Is your dog a Catahoula mix?? I have owned a few of them….she looks like one. Look forward to reading your blog!

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    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by!

      We’ve wondered that as well. I know Catahoulas are rare, especially in this part of the world. But everything seems to fit, escpecially her temperament. Who knows?

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  13. We’ve only recently got tugging to be going well, both at home and away from home.

    A few things to try outside/away from home (we use the same tricks for teaching dogs who n ever tug to do so)…. put a treat in a napkin/paper towel and encourage tugging-ripping-shredding… then add more paper layers…and hten a harder type of paper… (newspaper to computer paper…) and then thin cloth and then thicker cloth…..

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  14. hihi miss kristine and miss shiva!!

    thankies so much for comin’ by to visit me! it’s super way nice to meet ya’ll, and i’d love to be friendz! 🙂
    now i wish i had somethingie good to woof about tuggin’, but i’m a labradude, so what i love love love to do is fetch! from that video, though, miss shiva is a most expert like tuggin’ lady, so i think she’s gonna get over her stage fright of tuggin’ in class eventually!

    *woof*
    the booker man

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