Training with a tug as the reward - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 01:53 PM Thread Starter
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Training with a tug as the reward

Dante's new tug arrived from leerburg today, Ed recommended using the small puppy tug for obedience training/drive building. I was wary it wouldn't hold up but it seems pretty sturdy so we'll see.

Dante is food, toy, and praise motivated, but he is very tug motivated and LOVES this tug (he loves working for a ball on a tug rope too). So my question is this - what is the best way to utilize this?

For example - for use during heeling work: he is eyes up watching it like a hawk, and heels beautifully with it. So when I reward - do i just drop it out from under my arm and let him trot out a couple steps (he then comes right back) or do I use it as a "tug" and engage him? He seemed to work well both ways, but very much enjoyed the actual tugging. I let him "win" at the end for some, and practiced his out on others.

I guess to clarify - my question is: toss it, drop it, or tug it?
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 02:50 PM
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I strongly suggest getting a copy of the Michael Ellis DVD -Playing tug with your dog OR the Ivan Balabanov DVD (DVD#2 - the Game & perhaps #3 for training heel). Like everything, there is a right way and there are wrong ways.
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 03:39 PM
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Both videos mentioned demonstrate how to use a tug in training, but while the methods look similar on the surface they can have drastically different results and have different philosophies behind them.

With Balabanov's method, the dog is working for the toy. The toy is his motivator and his goal, and really what he is paying attention to.

With Ellis' method, the toy is a tool to increase engagement with the handler. It is not the end goal. The handler is the focus and the dog is working for the handler. The toy (and food and handlers jumping around like idiots making themselves tons of fun) is merely a part of making the handler the most fun and interesting thing out there.

Personally of the 2 popularized ways of toy training, I find Ellis' philosophy and method much better. Though I do think many take both way too far, working the dog in the wrong drive, wrong state of drive, and basically conditioning him to work for all the wrong reasons using toys. I use some toys, but sparingly as I want the dog to be working for me, not the toy. The toy is just the occasional bonus reward and most of that reward comes from us playing together and interacting together using the toy.

With both methods it is important to recognize the dog's optimum drive level (which with most dogs is quite different from maximum drive level) and make sure not to overload the dog in drive. And with both it is important to mark the desired behavior in some form, with clicker or verbal "yes" or whatever you want, before delivering the toy. Before even starting to reach for the toy. If the behavior is marked properly, when and how the toy is delivered doesn't matter as much. Though to prevent sign tracking I would not reward in the same location or manner every time. Though in heeling ideally more often than not one should deliver the reward in a way that when the dog gets it he is approximating the position for what he was rewarded for in the first place. Not in front or behind of well off to the side because before long the dog will start drifting in that direction even before release in anticipation of where the toy will be.


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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:24 PM
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I am going to have to watch the Balabanov video again. I dont remember him using the toy as a focus at all. In fact I thought he keeps it out of sight until the reward. I know there are other methods where the toy is held under the arm so that the dog is looking up at it but ...well I'm going to be watching Ivan tonight I guess as a refresher! Not saying your wrong, more likely my memory is. But either way, there is more to it then just taking out a tug in the middle of training.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:31 PM
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It's not really that clear from the DVDs if you're not looking for it and don't know what to look for and it's a picture that comes from the overall method, not any one part of it. And that's part of the problem. People doing it don't realize what they are actually teaching their dogs until it is too late. The main difference one can glean from the videos, and then it's still subtle, is if you see Ellis train, he starts with and keeps the focus on people and only brings the toy in much, much later and it is never the sole motivator or reward. Balabanov brings it in early, spends a ton of time building drive and focus solely for they toy, and then uses it almost exclusively from there on out. The focus is never much on the handler beyond the handler being a toy delivery device, and the end result is the dog is working *for the toy* and nothing else. This is invariable what happens if following the overall methods used. But then, Balabanov also doesn't train in real life the way many things are portrayed on the videos either. There is some good stuff there certainly, but I'd recommend using bits and pieces of ideas here and there and not following it to the letter and treating it as a training bible. Especially if your dog isn't a Malinois.


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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:35 PM
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I recently saw Ivan. Perhaps his methods have changed over time. He did not use the toy as a focus item. It was at times a reward, but the reward was often in a game of possession with the dog. This was different than tuggy wuggy here and there with the toy in front. If the dog was the type that liked to run or retrieve better than a game of possession, the toy was tossed. It was used to generally build drive in the dog and then the trainer and dog went back in to "work".

How it was used was also based on where the animal was regarding balance in the training session. If the dog needed to be brought down a bit, it won the game of possession less. If it needed to be built up, it was pumped up more in the possession game.

There was marking of correct behavior that was rewarded with a game appropriate to the individual dog. It could relieve stress or build drive as needed.

My take on it anyway.

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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:39 PM
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When I say as a focus item, I don't mean the toy in the armpit to draw the attention upward for heeling or anything like that. Not a focus point, but rather a focus item in the sense that it is the only real paycheck that the dog is working for and over time that becomes the sole real focus of the work, not the handler, and the dog is working exclusively out of prey drive with the goal of satisfying that prey drive. Not for the handler, but for the toy the handler possesses. To me this is a fundamental difference in why the dog is doing obedience in the first place. The higher the natural drive of the dog, the easier and quicker that can happen.


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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TechieDog View Post
I am going to have to watch the Balabanov video again. I dont remember him using the toy as a focus at all. In fact I thought he keeps it out of sight until the reward. I know there are other methods where the toy is held under the arm so that the dog is looking up at it but ...well I'm going to be watching Ivan tonight I guess as a refresher! Not saying your wrong, more likely my memory is. But either way, there is more to it then just taking out a tug in the middle of training.
This was my understanding as well- at least from the perspective of focus. Ivan institutes "the game" where the dog is constantly interested in interacting with the handler via the toy. As Ivan states, the handler "brings the toy to life." Without the handler, the toy is useless and no fun. So in that sense, the dog is not at all focusing on the toy. Ivan makes it clear that the toy is only provided after the release word is given. So while the toy is the motivation to complete the exercise, it is not the focus. The handler is the focus until the exercise is complete- then the toy is the focus.

However, I think Chris's point is that even though the dog is focused on the handler, the focus is directed because of the toy. The dog knows that after the release word is given, the exercise is over and the toy will be provided. In fact, I recall Ivan mentioning that after the release word, the toy will "always" be provided. Without the toy- one cannot "play the game." Therefore, you could view it as toy focus from that perspective.

Perhaps I'm wrong- I don't want to put words in Chris's mouth.

[EDIT]- Posted pretty much the same time. Yeah- I was right! "Toy == Paycheck"
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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:42 PM
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I see, a lot about the toy, yes. It was so in a toy motivated dog, I guess.

My advice, figure out a way to become "the toy" or "the cookie" or whatever to your dog. You will take the field or ring with the dog, not those items. When I figure this out, I will make the DVD.
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 03-24-2011, 04:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wildo View Post
However, I think Chris's point is that even though the dog is focused on the handler, the focus is directed because of the toy. The dog knows that after the release word is given, the exercise is over and the toy will be provided. In fact, I recall Ivan mentioning that after the release word, the toy will "always" be provided. Without the toy- one cannot "play the game." Therefore, you could view it as toy focus from that perspective.

Perhaps I'm wrong- I don't want to put words in Chris's mouth.
Pretty close. I think utilizing many of the methods shown can help enhance the relationship between dog and handler, but themselves shouldn't become the only basis of that relationship. And with too much toy training that is exactly what can happen. Rather than work for the handler because there is a good working relationship with the handler, and a toy was used at times to enhance that, instead the dog is working for that toy.

Hence why there are so many gimmicks out there to try to convince the dog that there is always a toy somewhere on the handler... training vests, ball drop vests, people teasing their dog with the toy right outside the gate to the field and then trying to drop it or hand it off to someone in a manner that the dog doesn't see so the dog is fooled into thinking the handler still has a toy with them on the trial field. In the videos Ivan even goes through a whole process of working with the toy off to the side of the field (and using corrections to keep the dog working with him to earn the release to run over and get the toy) because of this.

If the dog is working FOR the handler, no vests or gimmicks or having to fool the dog into thinking the handler has the toy, or spending weeks on fading out the toy so that it can be set outside the gate and the dog will still work for his release to run off and get the toy, aren't necessary.

Toys can become crutches, just like any other tool. The dog who won't work if the toy isn't present (or he can't be fooled into thinking that it is) is no more trained than the dog who won't walk nicely on lead without having to wear a pinch collar.


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