Tug: 2.0

So….. If you’ve read the blog at all, you know I’m a fan of tug.


Particularly, in the Balabanov tradition, with Ellis making a close second. They’ve always said that it develops:

1. Engagement

2. Relationship

3. Language of training (terminal bridge, intermediate bridge, & no reward mark)

4. Impulse control

5. A high value “reward event” that isn’t food based

But….. If those weren’t enough reason to do it, I now have a few more!!!! And, they’re BIG.

1. This one is practical: It begins to “shape” the Conditioned Relaxation exercise Kayce Cover calls the “Toggle”. The way I teach the “out” is by using a “Dead Toy” out. It’s a form of Negative Punishment. Basically….. You make the toy become less fun. They “restart” the game, by letting go. I always knew that it shaped the idea that a sudden shift in body language could stop play. But once I learned the Toggle from Kayce (shifting from “Alert” to “Easy”), I realized that teaching tug first helps them understand the concept of “shifting gears”. Toggling just takes it much further.

(This little guy picked up the “toggle” much faster after teaching tug. A little bit of shaping, and a little bit of stress relief. Bringing me to #2)


2. This one is theoretical: Biologically appropriate activity. That’s huge for a couple of reasons. First, it is a big stress reliever. And I don’t just mean in the way that exercise dissipates stress.  That’s totally true. Any exercise alleviates stress. But biologically appropriate activities are more than just an energy drain. Temple Grandin describes the “Freedom to express normal behaviors” as one of the four freedoms that define a healthy lifestyle. The others being freedom from hunger, pain, and fear! Well, for a dog, ripping and tearing with their mouth is as biologically fulfilling as it gets! Hell, developing COOPERATION over a thing we’re both gripping is natural!. Watch a pig hunt…. dogs hunting a pig…. not a pig hunting, that would just be weird. But, of all the activities you can do with your dog it is probably the MOST biologically fulfilling activity you can engage in with them.

Yeah, those are more “realizations” of what the hidden benefits are, than actual technique discoveries. But still….. Way more reasons to do it, if you don’t already.

Not sure HOW to do this?

Let me show you!


5 thoughts on “Tug: 2.0”

  1. Hey Jay, if you don’t mind, what are the main differences you have found between Ivan and Ellis Re: tug? I was told by a former student of Ellis that Ivan wasn’t so concerned with delivering the reward in a position to reinforce the behavior being rewarded.

    For example when I’d doing focused heeling I make sure to Deliver tug reward (ala Ellis) right above my dog’s head to encourage good position, versus rewarding a little in front for fear this will encourage the dog anticipating the reward to forge a bit.

    1. Balabanov isn’t really that worried about “signal tracking” because of the use of the marker (terminal bridge). But, from what I can tell Ellis does the same thing.
      As for what their differences may be….. They are actually so close that it’s damn near negligible. Ivan simplifies things and says straight presentation, and vary the grips. Ellis has a whole section on the video about his catching techniques. I know that Balabanov will move to a very low level “nagging” style of +P to get an “out” if the “dead toy” (-P) doesn’t work. I haven’t ever heard of Ellis addresing what to do if the -P wasn’t working.
      But realistically if one devotee of each were playing tug next to each other, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
      My opinion.
      For me…. Balabanov. But that’s just because he was my first exposure. He was in a Dianne Jessup book! Brings back fond dog memories from back in the day.

      1. Thanks Jay, big DJ fan over here, and I’ve successfully used the Ellis style of teaching the out on my third dog now, but this last one didn’t do what he was “supposed” to do. I made the tug perfectly dead (holding it between my legs) and he just pushed into it and seemed to find this satisfying (as opposed to pulling back on the tug as my other dogs do/did. He’s not so possessive and seemed to get more out of the wrestling with the guy part of the tug game than winning the thing.

        So, he ended up learning the out on a ball and string (contrary to what Ellis teaches), he never really did the prey shake on the ball like I expected and once he got the “out” concept on the ball it easily transferred to a tug and a bite pillow.

      2. Yeah. Have a dog like that. I normally graduate to string toys after tug. But one dog found me holding the string but not giving any “resistance” way less reinforcing than holding a tug still. Great minds think alike. Because I got the idea from watching Balabanov donut with a tug with a handle on it once. I wasn’t sure what he was doing when I saw it…. But figured it out on my guy trying to figure out his “out”.

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