Teaching Your Dog to Tug (Gently)

Most dogs have a natural instinct to rip and pull, but teaching a controlled and gentle tug requires a bit of work

Danger opens the fridge to get himself a snack.     Photo: Outside K9

After learning push, tug came easy for my dog Danger. Ever tried to wrench a favorite sock from your dog’s mouth? The instinct is to tug back. Dangle an enticing rag or rope in front of your dog and you’ll get the same response. But tug as a service dog skill is a bit more nuanced. You don’t want your dog to rip or yank as hard as possible, rather you want him to have a bit more tact. How you click and treat to end up with a crisp, gentle tug depends on your dog’s disposition.

1. If your dog is the sort that really loves to play tug and hates to stop, click only for a gentle tug at the outset. If your dog is less forceful to begin with, just click when he grasps the rag in his mouth.

2. Now shape the kind of tug you want. Danger has a soft mouth; in the first step all he would do was hold the rag in his mouth. To get him to tug, I pulled sharply on the rag—just as hard as I wanted him to tug—while he held on. I clicked when he held on. This produced the right level of force. If your dog is more of the tugging type, be careful to avoid clicking for the sort of tug that involves head shaking and growling.

3. Now, if there’s a specific place on the rope or rag that you want him to tug—say, the tip for more leverage—click only for that. Make sure he’s successful 80 percent of the time before you move on to the next step.

4. Once he’s consistently giving you the desired tug you want when presented with something to pull on, add the cue.

5. After a few more training sessions, you’ll be ready to generalize the skill by tying the tug rope onto different objects like doors, drawers, and the fridge. A great exercise to work on is combining push with tug. The dog opens and closes a door, resetting his own training drill and receiving a treat each time.

This article originally appeared on Outside K9, the former dog blog of Outside magazine, on April 23, 2009.

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