Effective Transitions

Monday, February 16, 2009

Being sick sucks. I have been laid up for the last few days but today I think I have turned the corner (just in time, as I have a bunch of teaching coming up). This weekend there was a Chiropractic-Veterinary workshop at our place. That is where vets & chiropractors get tutored on the finer points of working on our dogs (and I guess other animals but I don’t much notice any of that). I think they have to complete (and pass) about 4 or 5 modules which are four days long in order to be qualified to graduate. Anyway, if I am home I come out a do a demo somewhere along the way, on body awareness exercises. Today I was I was getting over this cold so I spoke/demoed/trained for the group for about 20 minutes. I was editing the footage for my chiropractor (Annette) to use when she teaches this module (and I am not around). As I was editing I was, of course, critiquing my dog training. Not too bad but some things I will be working on first thing tomorrow:). One thing I did notice was the amount of, what we refer to around here, as “stress-breaks” I took during the training. I was using food as my reinforcement during the demo and tugging to transition from one exercise to another or to ‘break’ if the training was going on for too long. First of all what do you consider too long? Think about it before you read what I have to say. How long to do sit in one spot or stand training something before you break it off and play with your dog? I think this clip is pretty typical of my training,  the longest Feature worked without a tug session was 92 seconds. That was the only session that went on longer than a minutes. The next longest after that was 42 seconds. Some were less than 15 seconds long. The other thing I noticed was that the entire demo was 20 minutes long. Feature was ‘working’ for approximately 12 minutes off and on during this time yet I had more than 3:00 minutes of tug footage to choose from to put this montage together and I only repeated on small clip (that is obvious) the rest were all original, non duplicated tug sessions. Yes I know this was a demo, but it was a demo of a “typical” training session with my dog.  Another thing you would notice (if you saw the entire 20 minute clip) was that although I am teaching I am always 100% focused on what my dog is doing. She is either tugging while I lecture (if it is a quick transition) or I have her lay down as I prepare the work environment. Transitions are critical to successful training. Aim for  “fast ‘n fun” transition (to quote Lynda Orton-Hill). Effective transitions will allow you to keep your dog’s interest in you and the work. It will also help to keep his arousal at a level that will facilitate peak performance. If you train with food only, this doesn’t mean that you areoff the hook” either. If you have somehow lost your dog’s drive to tug (they all have it at one point), you should still be breaking up your sessions with play but you may need to run back and forth to create the same level of excitement that the rest of us can generate with just tugging. This is more work for the ‘food-only’ trainer, so it sometimes times gets skipped and the dogs that should be having the shortest training sessions (lower drive dogs), often get the longest! I firmly believe this is a major contributing factor to the reason that most dogs that are trained exclusively with food are less driven in competition than dogs that are toy motivated. I know there are anomalies to be seen both ways (tug-driven dogs with less drive in the ring and food-only dogs with lots of drive). My point is, if you where to do a poll of all of the slow moving dogs in the ring and asked the owners if their dog enjoys a game of tug with them, I bet the answer would be “no” and if you ask the owners of the really fast dog the answer would be “yes.” I hope I am not setting someone reading this on a tangent cursing at me through the computer. I assure you we have lots of “food-only” trainers that come through Say Yes, but we help them to see how much easier their training is once they put the tug drive back in their dog.

Notice in this video how I may be finishing my training on the floor or standing or kneeling and the tug is presented immediately without there being any “downtime” for the dog. That is what effective transitions are all about.

Anyway enjoy the video, I hope it makes you laugh the way it does me. It really is a bit weird to make a video of not much more than tugging don’t you think?

Today I am grateful I am getting over this cold!!



  1. I’ve recently started foundation agility training with a food driven Boxer. I too realised that if I wanted to get real keeness to work, I needed to find the key to unlocking her tug drive. She seems to find her lead moderately stimulating (preferably still attached to her collar for some reason, so no good for a thrown reward), and I have just received my ‘Tug-it’ as recently recommended on your site. She certainly enjoyed the pate I put in it today! Hopefully I will eventually be able to move onto other toys.

  2. ….Love to have seen the whole video!

  3. Interesting stuff – loved watching Feature enjoy herself. I just got back in from a club training session with my 10 month old baby BC. Your description sounds very much reminiscent of our session tonight. Whenever we had finished an exercise and the instructor was standing around explaining the next one my girl was either chilling on her mat in a down or I’d play a game with her. I have made a conscious effort with dog 2 to work toy drive into as much of our training as I can. My older girl is almost exclusively food driven now and is hard work whereas my baby just loves her toys so even when I am using food I’ll still finish the session with a game of tuggy :).

    I would love to have seen the whole video as well :).

  4. <<<>>>

    But do you think that the tugging increases speed, or that fast, highly driven dogs are just more prone to enjoy tugging in the first place?

    I have shelties, mine have all started out liking to tug, especially the last two; but the longer we go the less interest they have in tugging and the more they have in running the course itself. They will do a perfunctory tug “if I must” before we run. I think it is a multi-factored problem, they are very high drive and LOVE agility itself; despite being very food driven I also have trouble getting them to take time for food rewards on the course (with my younge dog since we started running longer sequences I try to reward on the contacts and he just lets the food dribble out of his mouth, all he wants to do is GO!). This can be problematic. Also I find that despite having intact, high drive males, they are pretty submissive and want no part of any altercations with other dogs; they tend to be reluctant to tug at trials with other dogs around, at least before we run- coming off the course when they are revved up they are much more willing to tug, often quite vigorously. They like to chase toys and have reliable formal retrieves, but seems like consistently the older they get the more they’d prefer to chase the thrown toy (or another dog retrieving the toy) till it stops moving and then come back without it.

    I suppose both of these things are holes in my training program :-). I do use toys in training but I have only in one instance had that toy that my dog was INSANE for (that was Andy’s squeaky rabbit fur mice, and he only got them for seconds at a time while doing obedience).

  5. I had one dog, a rescue who arrived with a broken-off canine and other broken teeth, that I could never get to tug, and after trying pretty much everything (including a turkey leg in a holey sock) I sort of gave up on her every forgetting that her mouth could hurt. And its taken me years to turn my one dog who was starved before coming to me into any sort of tugger, and he still really really likes food, but now adores his squeaky ball and is willing to tug. But I like it best when my dogs love to tug, retrieve balls and eat! One of my dogs is fanatic about those mailing envelopes with plastic inside (cheap toys!). And my oldest food-motivated dog used to consistently refuse food before her runs — the agility itself was her motivator.

  6. Thank you for sharing this post. I’m hoping you’re feeling better now. Have an excellent day!

  7. I feel like such a dunce when it comes to tugging. I have a puppy who likes to tug and I have doing what I can to keep his tug. I need to understand how to tug as good as a dog. Help!

  8. Your video tugging with Feature gave me a huge jolt to do more of what Boogey loves – TO TUG. Being a Cavalier King Charles he swoons over treats, but to maintain his drive means to increase the transitions with tugs and not so many treats. And to have more time tugging than training. It’s nice to go to sleep tonight thinking about what fun we’ll have tugging tomorrow. Thanks, Susan, for your blog. It’s a living motivator and instructional tool.

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