Tugging with sensitive dogs – Bad Dog Agility Academy

Tugging with sensitive dogs

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  • Sheri says:

    HELLO! I’m excited to be here with 9 month old borderwhippet Stark. I’ve been enjoying your tug class and taking it all in!
    Just a bit of history on my dog and I: I started working on play as soon as Stark came home at 7 weeks and at first I didn’t get play at all- he loved to sniff! I was distraught and worked with an online instructor to help me out. We built interest in play slowly and it became solid in the house then finally in my yard. Then I moved on to other places. For his first 2 in person puppy classes he would not play inside the building at all although he’d interact in training and take treats. Finally in our last “life skills” class that ended just as COVID started he played with me during play breaks! I almost cried!

    Last week my first on-person “pre-agility” class started – there are only 2 other dogs because classes are kept at half of normal size so we have lots of space between people. He is still very happy to play (in fact once he wanted his toy even though I was offering food) BUT I’m getting some newer excessive thrashing behavior as a party for one.

    This thrashing is worse with longer toys and when it first really came up about 6 weeks ago I kind of ignored it by changing to dog discs. We will play agility and disc so I went to working on my retrieve to hand, toy switching, and outing a toy at a distance on verbal cue with a disc because he has no interest in thrashing those.

    Stark’s favorite part of toy play is the chase. I can reward a nice return toy to hand with another chase. He is not possessive (other than time shaking the toy) and I’ve had to work hard to get him to come all the way into my hand for the return because he prefers to drop early. I, unfortunately, conditioned that a bit by playing the two toy game where an offered drop made me produce a second toy to throw or bite then had to change criteria.

    So for the first minute of the clip I show offering a bite “strike” then trying to get him to have a tighter grip and more weight shift back. I felt he wasn’t loving my 2 hand presentation so I tried to switch to one hand but he slipped to the handle and then we soon had thrashing. The toy has 2 handles and a Smooth buffalo hide middle which is just a bit slippery. I tried to pet him to get weight shift (like Sarah’s demos) and also offer some re-bites. With tugs that I don’t throw with speed for a fast chase I feel the rebite has less value and I’m not sure he considers it rewarding. He seems more into re-biting discs and even balls on a string- he shoves them back at me faster and more readily for more play.

    In the second minute, I offer him some retrieves to chase the toy which pumped him up a bit and I got a bit better tug play. I played with more body touching, tugging from the side of my body, and some additional re-bites. The shaking came in but not as bad.

    At 2 min I switch to ball on a string which we’ve really worked on targeting the ball and not the rope (I’m proud he’s doing that pretty well) but again there is not a lot of weight shift back and some thrashing although less than with the previous tug toy.

    This session was too long – 5 minutes of play and I promise my clips will be shorter in the future but I was trying to show a lot of things we’ve been working on and what we looked like as a team at the moment.

    I’m wanting to soon use play as a reward for “work” but I need to be VERY CAREFUL not to add too much pressure – we’ve worked sooo hard to get this far and I’m a person inclined to ask for too much too soon. I’d like your help and thoughts about the thrashing- it is obviously very self rewarding. I can eliminate some thrashing by the toy I offer but even the string on toys like ball on a string or a 6”tug with a loop handle is all he needs to do that behavior.

    When I can offer more retrieves in wide open spaces he thrashes less because of the reward of the chase, but in agility classes and at trials I know it would be ideal to have fun with a toy w/o throwing it or having only a small space.

    I’m super excited to get your feedback and thank you for the great class.


    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      Great job!! Sounds like you’ve done an incredible job with this dog. You’re doing everything right with your mechanics and the push-pull game, etc. For the thrashing, I’d start with clipping off at least one handle from the first toy and avoiding the ball on a string for now. Dogs tug more weakly when you have both hands on it, so you can be more encouraging (praise) when you have both hands on, and let the dog drag you forward more than you are now (move your feet forward, not just your arms). Feedback video here: https://youtu.be/suQCfqmsx00

      • Sheri says:

        Esteban— thank you very much for the great feedback- I really like the voice over my video way you guys give feedback. I really appreciate you guys!

        I’ve been working through the Sara Baker Puppy stuff on my own- need to get started posting in VIP too! I’m new to agility and really worry about how to do things- glad for BDA.

        I did try to do as you said— I cut off the handles on a sheepskin toy but it wasn’t one he’d played with before. When I tried to record my session — the first few seconds of what I show you is what I got— a dog playing like a cat!! I gave up on that toy after 3-4 minutes of watching him self entertain!

        I know you suggested not the ballon a rope but I didn’t have another “acceptable toy” other than discs ready so I gave it a shot with the ball-rope. He didn’t do the beat himself with the ball so that was good BUT i was really struggling with trying to get him to pull backwards. I was really trying to move my whole body forward more as you’d suggested but I found that hard to do when there really is no tension- so as I moved forward I had a loose string or as soon as he offered tension it led to a head shake. I really don’t mind the head shake BUT what my goal is: have tug behavior I can take into the ring for the new classes that allow it in AKC (I listen to the podcast) and to have food play behavior to be an effective reward sequence for training.

        I don’t think he feels reinforced by me letting go of the toy – so I’m struggling a bit with how to provide him information that tells him I like what he’s doing.

        To shape the behavior “grab the ball not the string” I used some food for the first few reps when he’d reach for the ball id click but then soon went to “I won’t throw the ball for you unless you hand me the ball not the string”, then to “no tugging if you have the string” – which he usually does pretty well with except when he accidentally has the ball and some string in his mouth.

        So steps to shape the lean back tug when I can’t reinforce by letting him win the toy because that’s not as reinforcing as the fight???

        Stark likes to tug on his leash – so that is good; right!

        I’m being wordy here but was having trouble getting my thoughts down. Thanks again!!!


        • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

          Great job! He gives decent weight shifts back, but he’s so used to bracing against you, he stops instead of continuing to pull back–that’s ok, a lot of dogs do this in the beginning. When he weight shifts back or you feel his grip strengthen, go ahead and praise him, I like to use “good good good” or “good girl”.

          Don’t let go of the toy since he self-satisfies, and it’s okay to continue developing tug with both the ball on string and the sheep toy. For the sheep toy, go ahead and introduce re-bites.

          Even sessions that don’t show a great improvement are still valuable since they build drive and relationship when it’s a positive experience.

  • sararuane@gmail.com says:

    So as a fellow poodle owner, I can relate to this.

    So when you say session, do you mean a single tug for 10-30 seconds and release and then you are done with tugging for the moment, tug training is over or do you do several of these short sessions in a single training session?

    And how many times a day might you do a tug session and do you do one every single day?

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      I worked with Emma in spurts. There were some days she got multiple sessions, mostly when she was younger. She got a big 4 week break when she was teething. I reached a point with her where I’d shoot for one session, 3-4 times a week, each session less than 2 minutes, with multiple re-bites and chases during the 2 minutes. When she was very low drive, I’d tug for just 10-15 seconds and let her win pretty quickly and let her keep the toy and run around. If I could do it over, I think I would have kept the toy more often than I did, and let her run around with it only after really great sessions. I recommend training when your dog is keen, and cutting it short when they are flat.

  • gbrenes@wakehealth.edu says:

    How short do you keep these sessions? 30-60 seconds short?

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      With a sensitive dog, the first few sessions might need to be just a few seconds, and then done. Definitely aim for less than a minute. It goes by fast. Set a timer.

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