November 25, 2012

Tugging as Part of a Behavior Chain

Once you’ve taught your dog to tug as a learned behavior, you can teach them to pick up a thrown toy and bring it to you to begin your brief tugging ‘trick’.

Using a clicker and treats, shape your dog to bring you the toy for a tug session. Here is a possible progression:

  1. Do a few repetitions of tugging for their reward. Present the toy, tug briefly, click/treat.
  2. Now instead of presenting the toy, drop the toy on the ground and encourage your dog to pick it up. You can alternate clicking for simply picking up the tug, and for varying lengths of tugging.
  3. Hold the dog’s collar and throw the toy a foot or two away and release. You can alternate clicking for initially picking up the toy, for bringing it to you, and for tugging once they get to you.
  4. Build up the distance your dog will run to retrieve and the toy.

Continue to reward tugging with a click/treat. Tugging is now a learned behavior that you need to maintain with reinforcement. It is not a reward by itself. Over time, the constant pairing of food with tugging may help your dog truly enjoy tugging; but do not be quick to reduce the food reward. Food is what your dog is truly working for.

Now you can start throwing your tug toy at the end of agility sequences. Where other dogs who enjoy tugging have a sequence following by reward (a thrown toy), your dog will perform a behavior chain: sequence, performing my tugging trick, reward (food). 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.

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