This is continued from part 1, which you can read here.
There is a time to work on tug play with your dog; but there is also a time to listen to what your dog is telling you…
Why do I hardly ever train or compete one of my own dogs for a tug toy… when I can do so…?
Well the thing is, although this dog really enjoys tugging it’s not her FAVOURITE thing. No. Her favourite thing in the world is snaffling tasty treats. Finding that out involved listening to her – to who she is as a dog. It meant not expecting her favourite thing to be a tug toy because my other dog’s is, or because I believe tugging should be her favourite.
Using treats to train and compete her also meant ignoring what gets assumed in agility sometimes (your dog MUST run for a tug or it’s not really a true, fast agility dog and is somehow lesser). Me and my dog have crazy, cool, super-competitive fun with her favourite thing.
You see, it’s not about what my favourite thing is. This is her game, her sport. It’s her that I need to run as fast as possible, and she can – achieving course speeds of up to 5-6 meters per second. For treats! Yes, it is possible. She is in no way a less good dog because her preference is for food over tug toys.
Here are two things I’ve discovered about using food to train and compete…
1. Having a playful relationship with your dog can be achieved any way you like. It doesn’t have to involve a tug toy or any man-made toy.
2. It’s sometimes far more useful to reward with treats than with a toy. Food is pretty black and white – the dog either got the food or didn’t. You tend to get accuracy quickly and the dog tends to prioritise accuracy highly. Very useful.
It’s worth mentioning as well that there is a moment of calmness after a dog gets a food reward – a split-second pause for thought. You don’t tend to get this with a dog who is tugging. That split second can allow the dog to process what they’ve just learned, because they have a teeny moment to reflect on it just after the moment itself, when their mind is not immediately focused on something else/ in a state of increasing arousal.
There are people out there who are already open and flexible about what rewards they use for their dogs. But equally there is sometimes a bit of insidious prejudice in agility towards the use of tug toys and against the regular use of other types of rewards.
I don’t have anything against people using tug toys for their dogs at all – where that is truly the right choice of reward in that moment for that individual dog. I train and compete some of my dogs with tug toys some of the time.
I just think it’s always worth questioning assumptions. So I will finish with 2 questions:
1. Why is using a tug toy better than another reward?
2. Is a tug toy your dog’s favourite thing, or yours?