Tugging as Part of a Behavior Chain – Bad Dog Agility Academy

Tugging as Part of a Behavior Chain

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  • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

    Hi…It’s been a while since I posted anything. This post is really a testimonial to what the class has done for us. I am posting a clip from an NFC run done yesterday, mostly to work on the contacts. Jake tugs going into the ring and after each small combo we did. There is not a retrieve shown in this clip but he has done retrieves in other NFC runs.

    He now has a high value for the tug! Previously I was rewarding with the lotus ball and was concerned if I could ever teach him to value the tug as much. Mission complete. Thank you for this wonderful course.

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      Sarah and I watched this video together, congratulations on a job well done! You’ll find that as time passes, your dog’s value and enjoyment for tugging will continue to increase. Keep up the great work–we’re glad you found the course helpful.

  • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

    We continue to have really good success at run-throughs with tugging and retrieve on course. Thank you so much for all the advice. Jake is now bonkers over the toy. I would say he has developed a VERY strong emotional response to it.

    Usually I run with the toy tucked under my arm. In the past week he has been jumping up to try and steel it more often. For example, we practice a lot of foundation circle-work at home and he will try to go behind me to grab the toy which is a new thing. He also has more of a death grip on it on the startline and after the retrieve.

    I’m thinking I need to practice more of the release and perhaps hide the toy at run-throughs? What would you suggest?

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      Great work! These are signs that the value of tugging has increased a lot for Jake. Now it’s important to give Jake a way to START THE GAME and that’s where I like to use eye contact/attention.

      It’s important that you do not yell or use anything he finds punishing to keep him away from the toy. Instead, we have to MARK when he is NOT jumping up on you or lunging for the toy. You’ll need to watch and understand this module, and start doing it for EVERY TRAINING SESSION you have (at least for several weeks): https://baddogagilityacademy.com/course/complete-guide-to-tugging/module-10/establishing-a-default-behavior-eye-contact/

      For circle work specifically, if the dog is cutting behind you to take the toy, you can switch hands. Also, if they are cutting behind you, you’re not rewarding often enough (you’ve advanced too quickly). The first session or two I reward for even a single step.

      I hide toys sometimes when I want them to appear magically but otherwise I use it as a distraction. If he is curling toward you and refusing obstacles, the distraction is too high and you should hide it. If he’s only going for it at the end, and when you go in the ring, you can use it but you’ll actually need to reward his “attention/non-jumping” with a tug even before you sit him for the first obstacle.

      This means you walk through the gate, he’s walking alongside you without jumping up, you say “yes!” and “get it!” and tug briefly, out the toy, set him up, and continue.

      • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

        Thank you! He is doing well with the focus on me as we enter the training space. Hiding the toy does the trick and he can complete an exercise more thoughtfully now. We go back to in-person classes in the beginning of July so I can gradually add the toy back in the picture and practice a more focused entry in a charged environment.

        For clarification on the circle-work. We are in an online Circle Work Level 2 class with out regular instructor. I did a lot of rewarding in the foundation class as you said; step – treat, step treat. We still practice this foundation work each week and he does not go for the toy.

        The CW exercise we had this week in level 2 involved a small jump sequence using outside CW and inside CW. This is where he started to to grab at the toy. When I concealed the toy he was able to complete the exercise successfully. Thanks again.

        Mary Ellen

  • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

    Hi..we were able to practice our tugging for NFC practice today at local facility. There were many challenges for Jake at this site. This was the first time he has run obstacles outside. Our winters are so long and cold that all of his experience has been indoors. He is also young and intact so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We have been practicing our tugging with retrieve on our walks but I wasn’t sure how he would do in the runs today. It was also hot and humid. Plus, me with a mask on. I was very happy with his work today.

    In the first clip I rewarded his first retrieve/tug with a cookie. After the 2nd try -no cookie and back to jump tunnel. After the 3rd try he tugged back to the gate and was heavily rewarded. Good boy.

    Second clip – we did a short sequence with a good retrieve/tug and tugged over to the teeter. After that we called it a day and went home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cziAC1byv3Q

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:


      On the first sequence, when he tugged but then let go, you did the right thing by asking for tugging again and then marking that, well done.

      On the last one, where you have to use tugging to transport them away somewhere, you can see that at some point he loses interest–so for long transports you have to build up to that, like you would teach duration on a sit-stay. For now, at NFC and trials, I would tug, have the dog release the toy, then run away from him to where you need to go and present the toy again with his “get it” cue. This way you transport him a long distance but he doesn’t have to tug the whole time, and he gets to chase you, then you can click and treat his moment of tugging while someone else gets on the course. Remember, no treats if he voluntarily stops tugging and refuses to tug again–otherwise you are rewarding him for NOT tugging. If you want to use a treat in a clever way, you can tug, ask for the release, run away out of the ring and mark him as he gets to you but give the treat directly. This way the treat is for the RECALL (a good behavior) which followed the RELEASE (a good behavior) and is completely different from “not tugging” (a bad behavior).

  • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

    We practiced a behavior chain of 2 obstacles tonight in my small yard. Can’t wait until our instructor can open up. We’re in upstate NY so reopening anything will be a gradual process.

    For reps 1 and 3 he was rewarded for tugging with a click-treat. On the 2nd rep we just tugged a short distance to the start line. I think this is going well. I noticed that I do have to revisit the start line set up routine with him.

    We also practiced more on our walks and he did well even in the presence of lawn https://youtu.be/35wPyh7_C60

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      GREAT JOB! Perfect demonstration of the ultimate goal of “tugging as a trick”.

      Remember to say “get it!” instead of “good boy” or whatever your cue to bite is as he finishes the sequence. “good boy” is praise, and “get it” is your cue for the behavior. Excellent job with the “yes!” and treat delivery. Really great!

      With “tugging as a trick” you can get by without a re-bite but even for these dogs I like to teach that and see how they do with it. It’s up to you.

  • zenipenn says:

    So sorry to have to miss Q&A today – I hope I can find where to watch the replay. We haven’t posted any video yet, but we’re good with most preliminaries and he values chase, retrieve, (I had to teach BITE on toy in my hand as a trick), tug, release, repeat. (btw, if left alone with toy he totally obliterates it.) It has been hard for me to nail down where our difficulty lies. But on reading this lesson, soooo much of this paragraph describes where I was when I signed up – “Because cues that are taught in a positive way can function as ‘clicks’, your cue to tug (the thrown toy) will reinforce the sequence. The thrown toy becomes a ‘mini-click’ that signals the sequence was correct and food is coming; it is a bridge in time and space between the behavior (the sequence) and the reward (the food). You can now enjoy the benefits of using toys in agility training, the primary benefit being the ability to reward your dog on their line without always bringing their focus back to you.” *difference being* that to my dog, currently a “thrown toy” is definitely a reward for correct behavior, but not an invitation to tug, rather to retrieve which then leads to a food reward), and often after the sequence he dashes forward to the toy (like after the weaves when you want them to drive ahead) but possibly b/c I also marked with “YES!” – after driving 1 or 2 strides to the toy, he aborts that mission & heads to me for treats. (I am sure this is my fault, conditioning for marker word.) If the immediate jackpot was not that critical, often I say “where’s your Bring? or where’s your Toy?” and after a slight hesitation (crap, she’s making me retrieve that darned thing b4 getting my treat) he turns back to get it & brings to me. Often tests me by dropping it b4 getting all the way to me or sort of slinging it at my feet. NORMALLY ( not following a sequence) a thrown toy is an invitation to chase & retrieve (if I follow the “correct” protocol, he will not only bring it back to me, but hold it long enough to drop it into my outstretched hands). Too many words here, BUT – he & I are so CLOSE! I tug with him BEFORE we start to work, to get him “up”. But once food is introduced, he won’t tug at all. He will retrieve as many times as I throw. One of his favorite toys is a combination throw/squeak (!) and tug, the mini Wubba by Kong. Very reliable with this as thrown, but not for too many reps. I rotate thrown toys/balls and tugs every few sessions, which helps keep his interest. Before starting, I always build excitement for toy (sharp intake of breath, Ooooh – what is this? What do you Tink about this? Can you get this Ting? and we have a great tug session, weight shifts, growling, flanking, shaking his head, beautiful release & we have been working on our re-bite. But I am having trouble integrating the “pre” agility excitement with the “after” which (he has let me know) food is preferred. But I REALLY think I can get this integrated for the tug to have value at competition and after sequences/runs, if you show me how!

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      Replays for all Q and A sessions will be put into the Academy in a section Sarah will add today. Yes, you are very close, and your issue has been caused by your creation of a “gray area” in the dog’s criteria. We need to turn this “gray” into “black and white” so the dog understands exactly what he needs to do in order to get the food, every single time. You CAN NOT change criteria from time to time (where you sometimes ask for a retrieve/tug before feeding and other times you give the food without retrieve/tug).

      In your situation, tugging is a behavior, so think of it as an obstacle. Your dog finishes an 8 obstacle sequence, but you can’t reward until the 9th obstacle is done, which is tugging. If your dog refuses to bring the toy and tug with you, it’s like he refused the 9th obstacle or popped out of the middle of the weave pole, or missed his contact. Would you reward that sequence? Hopefully not.

      Handlers often feel pressure to reward “effort” or in your case, a difficult obstacle like the weaves, but this is not the right way to approach this issue. First, the tugging chain (tugging as an additional behavior) must be taught on the side with a single easily performed obstacle, like the tunnel (and then a jump). You should NOT start with a full sequence or an obstacle like the weaves. On the side, you should tug before (as you already are), cue the tunnel, throw the toy and then get the retrieve and tugging, and when there’s a strong moment of tugging or weight shift, mark it with a “yes!” and whip out the food. Note that we are saving our “yes!” for this moment, so at the end of the tunnel do not say “yes!” but say “get it!” or whatever your cue is to take the tug and bring it to you.

      Even before we add the tunnel, your dog should be able to retrieve and tug with you for food, as shown in the video (the retrieve is not shown, just the tugging is shown). The Dinner Bowl Protocol can help you here as well. The key is you may NEVER reward with food unless your dog tugs with you, and you can “selectively reward” the best efforts.

      Now you can go back and add the tunnel. If the dog refuses to pick up the toy or drops it at your feet (remember, he shouldn’t because you have already taught him to bring it to you), you refuse to treat him because he has NOT MET CRITERIA. This is your dinner bowl moment, and when the light comes on, he will pick up the toy and tug with you and then you can treat. Then in the next few reps, you will RAISE the criteria so he has to pick up the toy and tug with you immediately, or you will send him back through the whole process, which at this time is the tunnel plus tugging. All the other times you encouraged him to go find his toy before you will reward him has taught him this is acceptable –> do a sequence, run to mom for food and if she doesn’t give it, then go bring the toy to her. We need to change that to –> do a sequence, grab toy, and tug with mom because that’s the ONLY way I ever get food.

      So you have to work very hard on your retrieve in isolation, and once you have a good one (even if you require two toys), you can add in a single obstacle and polish the routine before slowly adding more obstacles. Never reward for non-tugging, no matter how good the agility sequence is–with the tugging behavior, the sequence is incomplete.

      • zenipenn says:

        Aha moment! I love everything you said & am reading it over & over. This is great! To treat the tug as the last obstacle & hold its criteria like the ones for obstacles. And “aha” that I need to do this on simple elements, so not to miss rewarding something particularly difficult or get caught up in the success of the moment & reward too early, causing the gray area. He is sooo foxy smart and knows exactly what to do to get a treat, so hopefully he will figure this out quickly. Thank you!

  • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

    Over time, using retrieve as part of a sequence method, would you hope to delay the food reward more and more over time? Perhaps getting 2 or more sequences before the food reward up to a couple of minutes? I’m thinking FEO runs.

    • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

      Yes, for an FEO run, if you break up the course into 3 or 4 mini sequences, you will not have food available until you finish, so the tugging itself must be rewarding enough to sustain the dog. What will happen over time is that tugging will become valuable to the dog, in the same way that some dogs find certain obstacles (or agility in general) very reinforcing and don’t always want to leave the course for food OR toys.

      Key #1, we want to introduce multiple sequences with tugging but no food reward in training before we show up at a trial for FEO.

      Key #2, if the dog refuses to tug well in the ring during FEO, you can not reward with the food, not even a small piece. If they tug weakly or ignore the toy outside of the ring, looking for their food, I’d try to get the dog tugging strongly outside of the ring for even a moment, and then mark and give food. If they never tug, no food. They have failed the behavior chain and you can not reward this or they will offer this unwanted behavior again and again. This is a critical failure point for the majority of handlers who believe they are being unfair to their dog who has done a lot of obstacles and deserves to be rewarded–this thinking is deeply flawed.

      • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

        Thank you! I understand it will take a while to get the desired end product. I am in no rush.

        Here is a little session with tug as a trick. He went off camera a couple times since it was a spur-of-the-moment session after we practiced weave poles. I think he gets this although I was a bit sloppy saying “good” when I meant “yes” during one rep. The next time I will have his collar on since it is hard to hold back an excited terrier. I will dabble with the duration of tug required before the yes. What do you think?

        • Esteban Fernandezlopez says:

          Beautiful work–great job of marking the weight shifts! Feedback here: https://youtu.be/iKvM0K-F_3c

          • joseph.sheedy@verizon.net says:

            Thanks once again for your great review. I am so glad I signed up for this class. I think so many handlers can give up on tug training because not many instructors have a class for the subject. I like that you address different kinds of dogs in the lessons. There is something for every kind of dog.

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