Tugging as a Trick

What do you do if you have tried and tried to get your dog to enjoy tugging as a reward and they are just not interested? One option is to switch your focus from making tugging a reward, to making tugging a cued behavior that can then earn a reward. The idea is simple; teach your dog to pick up a thrown toy and bring it to you and tug to earn a click and treat. This works great for dogs who are clicker savvy and food motivated, but show little desire to tug.

Using a clicker and treats, shape your dog to tug. Here is a possible progression:

  1. Present tug toy and click/treat for investigating the toy.
  2. Present tug toy and click/treat for putting mouth on toy.
  3. Present tug toy and click/treat for putting mouth on toy, but only after a delay. You want the dog to hold the toy briefly before you click/treat.
  4. Present tug toy, let dog take it in their mouth and you pull on the toy (a very slight version of tugging) for just a second before you click/treat.
  5. Work up to varying amounts of tugging before you click/treat. Remember, the click ends the behavior, so it’s ok if the dog immediately spits out the toy when you click.

You now have a dog that will tug for short periods of time when presented with a tug toy. They are not tugging because the love to tug, they are tugging as a learned behavior. The cue is that you present them with the tug toy, or possibly a verbal “get it”.

Enjoy this video of my clicker-savvy, food-motivated Golden Retriever performing her “tugging trick”. Next step: incorporate this ‘trick’ into sequencing.