Practice playing with your dog on your side or pulling your
dog behind you (don't forget to keep moving - you should still seem like a
squirrel who is fleeing). You might also want to try getting down on the ground
and playing at the dog's level. Avoid eye contact until the dog is more
comfortable and do not growl at your dog! Many dogs take this as a threat and
will let go and walk away.
Videotape, videotape, videotape! If you were a
three-year-old child, would you be comfortable playing with an adult expressing
your behaviors, postures and mannerisms? Are you relaxed and smiling, or do you
look like tug is serious business? Work on softening your demeanor and remember
that this is supposed to be fun! It helps to think in terms of the number
system of energy. If your dog is giving a 3, then you want to give a 4. If you
give a 10 instead, you are going to intimidate your dog and cause him to avoid
you. This is a much bigger problem than not playing with the toy at all.
Dog Munches on the
This problem is normally caused by lack of tension on the
toy. A dog cannot munch on a toy that has constant light tension because if he
does, the toy will be pulled out of his mouth. Any time your dog opens his
mouth, he has just given the squirrel a chance to escape. A dog engaged in the
game will not loosen his grip on the toy.
The exception is a dog who is simply trying to readjust a
front-mouth bite to a deeper bite. In this case, the re-bite normally happens
when there is a minor break in the game with a lack of tension, but the dog
will clamp down firmly as soon as you regain tension. If you do not want your
dog to re-bite, then do not allow the toy to stop moving - but be aware that a
front-mouth bite is frustrating for some dogs. If you have an interest in the
protection sports like IPO or ringsport, you must learn to allow and even
encourage the re-bite, although that topic is beyond the scope of this book.
Dog Bites the
We have seen so many dogs held responsible for their
trainers poor tug play technique that we no longer recognize biting hands as a
canine problem. Tug play is a mechanical skill which must be mastered, so while
people may get their fingers bitten for a variety of reasons, they are almost
always TRAINER induced errors.
One common error is presenting a toy vertically in the air
while holding it on only one end. This makes it close to impossible for the dog
to bite the toy, especially if the toy is swinging in the air. Dogs tend to target the most obvious part of
the object. If your arm, hand or fingers are the largest horizontal
possibility, you risk being accidentally bitten as the dog attempts to get a
good hold on the toy. Be very careful to present the toy in a manner that
allows the dog to target properly. Because a dog's muzzle is horizontal to the
ground, the toy must also be presented horizontally. If you are using a drive
building toy, keep it on the ground so your dog can trap it between his muzzle
and the ground. If you are using a training toy, present it horizontally in the
Another common reason handlers get bitten is failure to
maintain constant motion and tension on the toy. When the toy goes dead, the
dog will come forward to try and get more of the toy in his mouth, which
inevitably includes your fingers. Tension on the toy makes your dog concentrate
on holding rather than on shifting his grip.
A final reason trainers get bitten is failure to hold the
toy still after the release. Once the toy is dead and you have asked for it
back, everything must stop. The toy must stop and the dogs mouth must stop.
The dog should look up at you in expectation of either another bite or more
work with you! If the dog continues to move, stand still and simply cover the
total bite surface with your hands and fingers until he orients to you. Denise
has done this hundreds of times and has never been bitten by anyone's dog in
the process. Resist the urge to pull the toy away from the dog once he lets go.
Dogs often perceive this as stealing, which not only complicates the release,
but also makes it more likely that the dog will try to grab it back from you.
The dog should move away from the toy; the toy should not move away from the
If you consistently use the correct training toys, good
target presentation, constant tension and motion while playing, and if you have
trained a clean release, 99 percent of bites to your hands will simply
Dog Shreds the Toy
A dog cannot shred a toy that is in motion, so do not let
the toy stop moving. If the dog starts shredding it after he's won the toy from
you, focus on getting a fast return. You can run away from the dog, lower your
posture so you are more approachable and practice behaviors that raise the
dogs interest in fighting with you over the possession aspect of the prey
sequence. Also, consider toys without stuffing - they aren't nearly as much fun
to eviscerate as toys that are stuffed.
Immediately After Releasing the Toy
Disengagement is normally an avoidance behavior caused by
too much pressure. When you see avoidance, go back to playing simply for the
joy of the interaction. Train with food while you rebuild your personal toy
interactions with your dog. Spend time together with toys, and make a point of
working in relatively dull environments where there is very little to do that
is more interesting.
We also see this behavior in dogs who are stressed by the
environment, and whose trainer is trying to use the toy to overcome the dogs
concerns. The end result is a dog who plays desperately, but as soon as the toy
is gone, the dog goes back to checking out the environment for danger. Attempting
to override a dogs safety concerns is not healthy because it teaches a dog to
work in a frantic state rather than in a driven one. Do not start playing with
your dog until he has given you clear signals that he is ready and able to
engage with focus.
While this chapter cannot possibly cover all of the
challenges a dog and handler team might face, we hope that the combination of
detailed instruction in the earlier chapters with the addition of this problem
solving chapter will help you on your way to the most positive, enjoyable, and
engaging tug play possible!
To read the additional articles in this series, please use the following links:
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