Crazy for Tugging

Don’t fall off your chairs, but I don’t train or compete one of my dogs for a tug toy. I know – Shock, horror! According to most of what I read and hear about agility much of the time, the implication is that a dog who doesn’t tug is (and I better whisper here…) “not a proper agility dog” and “not going to be successful.”

People spend massive amounts of time and energy and money and ingenuity on getting their dogs to tug and often get very upset if their dog doesn’t adore tugging always – sometimes feeling a little bit like they’ve acquired a dud. I have trained people with dogs in their last couple of competitive years who are still anxiously “working on teaching tugging” to dogs who really couldn’t be more disinterested in that particular game.

My dog is what most people would consider successful (7 CCs, on Team GB etc). Without boring you with her accomplishments (zzzz!) my point is this – contrary to the impression you may get in agility, you do not have to have a dog who loves tugging above all else in order to have a great agility dog.

First of all, let’s just think a little objectively about the pluses and minuses to tugging.

Pluses
– Encourages engagement with the handler
– Can be delivered close to or far away from the handler easily
– Can be a visible ‘dead’ reward or a ‘live’ thrown one
– Likely raises adrenalin (useful if this raise improves the dog’s performance)

Minuses
– Not very precise
– Risk of injury can be high (manner-of-play-dependent)
– Likely raises adrenalin (not required or useful sometimes)

There are dogs who will love tugging above all else. Of course it may take a bit of work to create that love, but for many dogs the love – once fostered – will be absolute. I own several dogs like this, and train many in this category.

But to return to the dog I’m telling you about for a moment… you may be surprised to hear that my dog loves tugging. In fact, if you saw her now with a tug toy you would say “she’s mental for tugging!” And she is. She will steal your dog’s tug and run off with it for herself. She will tug with me all day long on anything I ask – my jumper sleeve, a fleecy toy, a hollee roller… you name it, she’ll play tuggy with it.

So why do I hardly ever train or compete her for a tug toy… when I can do so… What the hell is wrong with me?

Oh dear I’ve got carried away with my blogging again. This blog, once again, will be split into two parts. Part two is coming soon…!

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