October 18, 2012

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.

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    • The best answer I can give is “over time” 🙂 This is based on the Premack Principle. “An individual will be more motivated to perform a particular activity if they know that they will be able to partake of a more desirable activity as a consequence. If high-probability behaviors (more desirable behaviors) are made contingent upon lower-probability behaviors (less desirable behaviors), then the lower-probability behaviors are more likely to occur. More desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend more time doing if permitted; less desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend less time doing when free to act.”

      But setting that aside, WHY do it? Because even if they only do this to “trade” for a cookie, it gives you something you can use that is easily thrown. We have a second article discussing how we use this ‘trick’ in sequencing.


      “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.”

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