Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does Your Dog "Lip Service" Tug??

(Seeker and Mad - Fall 2007)

Does your dog ever ‘pretend’ his tugging with you? 
He might have the tug in his mouth, but you are doing most of the work?  
Or you’re dragging the tug on the ground, and he gives the illusion of biting it.  
If so, then you are experiencing what I call, “Lip Service Tugging”.  
The dog is not fully engaged in the task of tugging. 
For some dogs, tugging seems to be innate and pure heaven!  
For others, they just don’t see the point.  
If you are lucky, the breeder of your dog nurtured the ‘tugging’ 
while the puppies were developing.  
If not, you might have a little more work cut out for you, 
depending on the age of the puppy. 
Seeker was a born tugger.  
Dena nurtured his tug, so this probably helped.  
He’s always been ‘toy driven’, 
and had to learn that he could work for food as well.  
We had to play games where I had food in my hand, 
stopped tugging, and he ‘had’ to eat the food.  
It took a little time, but he got it!!
Nettle is the opposite.  
She came to me 3 weeks older than Seeker, and her tug wasn’t nurtured.  
Now, in a breeder’s defense, they may not want to nurture tugging, 
depending on the home the puppy goes too.  
Not everyone family is going to want a ‘Seeker’. 
Nettle loves her food!!  
So, tugging with food in my hand took a little more time.  
I’ll be honest; a lot of her tugging when I had
food in my hand was “lip service’ tugging.  
She knew in order to get the food she had to tug, 
but she tried to put in the least amount of effort to earn it.  
We are working on this, and she’s getting better.  
She has come a LONG way, 
since she began just a few months ago.
I’ll share with you want worked for ‘her’, 
this might not work for everyone, but might work for you.  
There were a couple things I had to do first, 
before we could tug with her food present.  
Nettle needed to learn to ignore her food,
or treats when then were on the floor. 
This is really unbelievably easy; 
it’s Susan Garrett’s ‘It Yer Choice’ game. 
While I was working on the, “IYC Game”, 
I began my search for something she’d tug on consistently.  
We used the paper towel roll.  
Admittedly, they are not very durable.  
I used them to build the ‘want to’ to tug, 
then transition over to something more durable. 
I combined the two, very quickly.  
I'd sit on the floor with her bowl of food off next to me, 
and ‘attempt’ to get her to tug with the paper towel roll (PTR). 
I’d ‘bang’ it on the floor, dance it along the floor, 
maybe ‘hit’ her on the side with it a couple times,
and in general act like an idiot.  
Hey, it worked, she’d give me a little tug, 
I’d feed her some food. 
We’d then do our ‘shaping behaviors’ 
for that meal, and then tug again.  
Lesson done!
At first our sessions were longer, 
as it took her awhile to ‘engage’ with the PTR.   
It was much more difficult to get her to engage, 
prior to the meal, than after. 
I would often come out of the bathroom, 
bedroom, or porch, to Bill’s question,
“What the heck were you doing in there?”. 
My response, “Getting Nettle to tug of course”, 
- insert eye roll here, 
like doesn’t everyone do this???
I would love to tell you it only took a couple sessions,
and she was tugging quickly, it didn’t.  
Morning and night we would work our tug, 
before the meal, and after.  
She did learn that if she wanted to ‘get on with the lesson’ 
– and more importantly ‘the food’,
she would need to tug.  
That was a major breakthrough. 
I’m guessing that took a several weeks. 
During that time, 
I switched from using the PTR for a variety of other toys.  
At first I used the toys I knew she liked, 
Tony the tiger, Otto, the possum, 
and then switched to the toys I wanted to use. 
The transition was fairly easy, 
there were a few ‘battles of the wills’ 
where she just wanted the FOOD!  
But I just kept at it.  
Bouncing the toy on the floor, 
and acting a fool. 
She’d give in, 
realizing she wasn’t going to eat until she played. 
I can’t tell you how much this has paid off!!  
She can now tug while I have any kind of food in my hand. 
She’s learning that she needs to ‘tug like she means it’.  
In other words, I’m not accepting ‘Lip Service Tugging’. 
It can be exhausting for me at times, 
but if I give in now, it will be even harder to get it back.  
‘Who’s training Who’??
You might be wondering why I care if she tugs.  
Tug builds passion, food sedates 
(unless you’re a Lab!!! – Just kidding Michele). 
I want to be sure Nettle is ‘working’ and ‘performing’ at her best.  
For me and many others…that means having a great tug!
So, get out there and develop that TUG!! 
Don’t accept ‘Lip Service Tugging’!!


  1. After several non-tugging dogs, I was excited when Phoenix came to me as a natural tugger. One thing I've learned though, is that he can easily go "over threshold" with tug games. This means I get a dog who is so crazed about the tug he can't think straight. Lately we've been working on calm tugging we can BOTH enjoy — not psycho thrashing where killing the tug and breaking my wrists is his goal.

    I learned the hard way that I do NOT want him tugging while waiting in line for an agility run. It makes his brain crazy and when he's over threshold he can't think or respond. We tug to warm up but once we're in line, I use tricks and obedience doodles to get his brain in the right place and keep him focused.

    Who'd have ever thought there could be too much of a good thing!

  2. I'm not trying to judge anyone, but I would like to offer an opposing (and minority) point of view. I believe tugging is much overrated. One of my dogs would be what you have classified as a "lip service" tugger. Personally, I don't care. I've been so fortunate to have dogs that have earned OTCH's, multiple MACHs, advanced retriever hunt test titles, herding titles, etc. My lip service tugger offers me the most incredible teamwork that I've ever experienced with a dog. I'm truly blessed.

    My other dog, whom I also feel incredbily blessed with, is a natural tugger. She'll get over the top with it if I allowed that. But we don't tug that much, because I haven't found a tug drive to be that useful in building our team work. What has been a real challenge is to teach her calm, thinking focus, which she needs for herding. And ironically, her agility improved when I realized that I didn't need to match her high energy with my own. Instead, I needed to provide a balance to that energy.

    So I just thought I'd offer a different point of view on the tug thing. The wonderful thing about dogs is that there is so much variety offered. And there are many paths to great dog training. For me and my team, tugging hasn't been an important tool.

    I had to post this anonymously because it wouldn't accept my LJ id.

  3. This is exactly how I fostered better tugging, though it's still a work in progress. Great post!