Saturday, January 17, 2009

19. Tug Based Tasks-Another Foundation Skill

The tugging action is a useful basis for many assistance dogs tasks such as:
*opening cupboard doors by handles

*pulling off socks and gloves and other clothing
*opening oven doors
*tugging laundry basket
*pulling laundry out of dryer
*opening lower drawers
*pulling pans out of the lower cupboards
*bring a wheelchair
*making the bed
*pulling blankets up over you etc.

Despite rumors to the contrary, teaching your dog to tug on cue will not make him aggressive, viscious etc. In fact, it WILL teach him to give you things on cue and to have more self-control.

Tug behaviors behaviors are based on the prey drive of dogs. Most dogs have at least some natural prey drive. The great thing about this drive is that you can harness it to use it to your benefit by playing a tug game with your dog!

Avoid negative exposure to tugging (as you may unintentionally discourage your dog from tugging on cue. If you have done so already, it will take longer for her to learn this task, so take it slow and build her confidence).

Carefully choose the cue you use. The ‘tug' sound is too close to 'ta' cue that some people use to have their dog release an object. So use 'pull', 'thank you', 'out' or another cue instead.

Game of Tug
If your dog cannot yet take, pull and give you an object, start training this skill with a game of tug. If he can, skip to the next blog.

Use a soft toy such an old sock tied with a knot, a stuffed toy, or a 2 to 3 foot cotton tug rope. I use a thinner tug rope made from old flannel sheets. (see video).

If your dog doesn’t know how to play, tease her to putting her mouth on the object with a tug toy by drawing the toy away in unpredictable patterns. Always move the toy away from your dog as prey always moves away. If your dog does not like to play, add some kibble or other treats to the inside of a sock and use that.

Slow down a little to allow her to grab the toy. When she does put her mouth on the toy, click and treat. This not only gets her to take the toy, but also releases it which is an important behavior too. Practice this until she grabs the toy, then consistently releases it when hearing the click or other marker. Add the release cue such as “thank you” or “give” or “drop” just before the click. Practice about 20 times, then try just the cue without the click. If she drops it, treat and try again. If not, click and treat and keep practicing giving the cue first, then the click. Practice this until you have a reliable release cue. Then practice the release suing just the cue itself.

If she is not releasing it, you may be still tugging on it (putting pressure) which actually builds drive for the toy. Instead, push the toy towards her a little to relieve the tension and she should release it in surprise, click and jackpot reward the first few times she does this!

Is this still does not work, make sure that the treat you are rewarding with is a higher value one, one that is worth giving up the toy for. Try her favorite foods: liver bits, chicken, cheese or even a favorite non-tug toy etc.

Next, be a little more exciting in drawing the 'prey' away. Wait for her to grab it, then put pressure (or tug) on the toy. Click and treat after 1 second of tugging and give the release cue. Increase the length of time she can reliably pull to 10 seconds. Putting tension on the toy and moving it a little will usually be enough to get her to hang on until you click. At this point you want to pull on it, but not move it around alot so she isn’t jerking her head around. Make sure that she is moving to the tug toy and you are not sticking it in her face. This will make it easier for her to transfer the behavior to the tasks as she will need to step towards the rope handles to grab them.

Now add the ‘pull' cue when she is tugging on it. Click and treat. Start the toy back a half step from her so she move take a half step towards you to take it. Then a full step, then one and a half steps etc. Practice until she will move to the toy from 3 steps away, and take and pull on it until you give the release cue.

If you started training with a sock or stuffed toy, transition your dog to a more rope-like toy before starting to train with doors. This way, when you start tying the rope to door handles, it will be more familiar and the transition will be quicker.

You will want to avoid training the ‘hold’ cue during the time you are training this skill as you don’t want to confuse her. These two behaviors as very similar. ‘Tug’ is essentially a hold with tension. “Hold’ is keeping her mouth stationary on an object.

See our videos for a visual on how to train pull on cue.