This week we talk about tugging and specifically what I did with my dog, Rugby, to build it.

My terrier, Rugby, came straight out of the package with good food drive already installed. All I had to do was harness it. But getting him started with toys was a much harder process. I pretty much had to build his toy play from scratch in order to have anything useful to work with.

It seems like a lot of trouble. Why even bother?

I am a big fan of cultivating many many different types of reinforcement that you can use in your training. I think the larger that reinforcement repertoire is that you have with your dog, the more control, flexibility, and leverage you can have to get the behaviors you want, when and where you want them.

In dog sports, a great deal of value is placed on being able to use a toy or tugging as reinforcement. In fact, many instructors or books, recipes or protocols center around a toy as reinforcement. (It certainly doesn’t mean it’s the only way to train a thing, but it can make it easier to work with a particular instructor.)

To be clear, I am not saying you should force your dog to take “reinforcement” he doesn’t want. Don’t poke, prod, or annoy your dog until he gets mad enough to bite the toy. Not at all. Rather, I suggest we take the seeds of behavior and nurture them until they are strong enough to be used for reinforcement, and that there is value in that process.

In order to use reinforcement for practical training purposes, it must meet some basic rules.

Rules for reinforcement:

  1. Must be high probability (in this context)
  2. You have to be able to control when it starts
  3. You have to be able to control when it ends

This ultimately means we need fluency in the behavior, in this case, play behavior, and we need stimulus control. So like any behavior, to build it up, I had to break it down. Listen for details on what worked and what didn’t.

Heather, this is for you!

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