Before we talk about tugging, please note that you do not need tugging to be successful in dog agility. Many of the very best dogs you see each weekend at trials or at big competitions find food much more rewarding than toys or tugging. Having said that, many organizations permit your dog to tug on leash when you enter the ring (make sure you check the rules for your particular organization). This gives tugging a huge advantage over food rewards because many dogs’ motivation and focus problems start as soon as they step into the ring, even before they reach the start line. This is an important time period where no food is allowed, but your dog can tug on their leash. In addition, you can also use tugging exclusively in your training (but not trialing), as many dogs are happy to tug in practice but not in more stressful environments like agility trials.
We recommend that you start with this Facebook Live show that explains why tugging is so great, why people struggle to teach tugging, how to improve your tugging technique, how to integrate tugging into your training sequences, and how to use tugging to reinforce attention and focus—we also spend 35 minutes answering questions from the viewers: Let's Talk Tugging
A common problem people with enthusiastic tuggers have is that the dog won’t let go of the toy. We have two articles (with videos) that will show you how to quickly teach the release without hurting your dog’s enthusiasm for tugging.
- Help! My dog won’t let go of the toy! (Facebook Live)
- How to Teach Your Puppy to Release a Toy in a Motivational Way
Your dog must LOVE tugging before you can use it as an effective reinforcer in agility. Tugging is actually a complex behavior chain that can be divided into 5 parts: the chase, the bite, the fight, the release, and the retrieve. Problems can arise in any one of these areas and prevent you from using it as an effective reinforcer. Learn more about these 5 aspects of tugging in this podcast: How to Integrate Tugging into Your Training
We have also created a fantastic course for teaching your dog to tug called the Complete Guide to Tugging.