Tug Drive

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Well Day 3 of Tweener camp yesterday was as awesome as Days 1 & 2.  The highlights are numerous. One of the cool thing was the tug drive that has been created and maintained by students that have struggled with it in the past. I know Lynda has had private lessons with some of them to work on tugging and it really shows. Can you imagine getting a Schnauzer to tug for the first time at the age of 5? Impressive eh? After years of only using food in training, to now be able to create tug drive is inspiring isn’t it? Well how about the fact that this 5 year old Schnauzer has NO TEETH!  Yep that’s right, he has learned to tug holding the toy between his gums and loving it!  We had a Samoyed that had little tug drive less than a month ago that started the weekend tugging, and was still had it at the end of the 3 day! There are alot of things you can try to help build tug drive. One idea I wrote up and you can retrieve from my website with the article entitled \”How to Create A Motivating Toy\” Often times creating the drive isn’t the problem, it is losing it along the way. As we know all behaviours increase due to reinforcement and, in my opinion,  the number one reason dogs stop tugging is because people reinforce it. Yes you do!  Lets say your puppy was tugging madly and loving it,  so while working a recall the puppy races to you and you put down the toy to tug. However the puppy can smell that garlic liver in your pocket so he won’t tug.  You dance the toy around to try to get the puppy to go after it and finally you shove it in his face, still he won’t be persuaded. The puppy won’t tug. Meanwhile, you think you need to reward him for coming when he was called and since he doesn’t want the tug,  you give him the garlic liver in your pocket .  If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times, “dogs are far better at shaping people than people are at shaping dogs.”  Since reinforcement builds behaviour what did you just reinforce? You rewarded the dog for ignoring the toy and NOT tugging when asked. Reinforcement builds behaviour and that is exactly what you get, a dog that chooses not to tug when asked.

DeCaff diving for her tug toy.

DeCaff diving for her tug toy.

Creating tug drive often involved coming up with unique toys for your dog to tug on. It is no secret that , DeCaff, my Jack Russell Mix’s favourite toy is a plastic flyswatter. It is golden, she just loves it. I used the value for the flyswater to create tug drive for more “normal” tug toys. So at camp this weekend we came up with a list of  unique things that often inspire non-tugging dogs to want to tug. I will post this list later but am appealing to all of you to send in your ideas.  What have you used to create tug drive in a dog that previously was hesitant to tug? Let me know!

Today I am grateful for the gorgeous warm weather we have been having lately. Spring is on the way!


  1. I did very little tugging with my Aussie because he was born with a severe undershot jaw and xrays reveal that the bone in the jaw is very thin as well. I was afraid to tug for fear of breaking his jaw somehow. He is now 6yrs old and we have only trained with food or by me throwing a toy for him to chase for a reward.

    He’s gotten slower in speed over the last few years, something I’m very discouraged with, but sure I created somehow. He recently hurt a foot and I decided to leash walk him for mild exercise, I’ve started to incorporate tugging again with a bungy toy so that it ‘gives’ more than a rope type tug. He will sometimes look at me like “yeah uh okay what do you want me to do wtih that?” and sometimes grab it with furvour (?).

    I’m trying to make a big deal out of him grabbing it and playing even if just for a short time and I’ve cut out any other ball throwing type of play. I don’t keep it up for long just short bursts. I have a feeling this is going to take awhile but I’m hoping that if I can get him back on it thinking it is just awesome that I can transfer it to agility and increasing his speed.

    This is what I’m doing to try and create tug drive – if there are any suggestions for other tricks I’d appreciate them! thx!

  2. I used a palm frond, one that was off a golden cane, so about 1.5 to 2 m in length. When we would go outside and my Beardie was excited he would be jumping up on me, we had lots of these laying around so I would grab one and wave it around. It was good because sometimes it snapped and broke off which meant that when he was strong with his mouth he had success (good timing of reinforcement). It was also good because it put a little bit of distance between us and I wasn’t right up in his face begging him to tug. Also the session stayed short because the toy didn’t last that long. So when I was having trouble taing my tugging behaviour with a “normal” tug toy I was a bit frustrated. Then one day I decided to take some palm fronds with me and it was magical, it really helped me build that sort of behaviour with more user friendly toys. My crappy palm frond toy had much better dog training skills than me, but it at least taught me what my dog found reinforcing and because it was always reinformcing helped me bridge to other toys.

  3. Well, I’ve used several things to increase tug drive. Mary Lou Hanlon’s tug-it worked really well to start. My dogs quickly got the concept of tugging and really enjoyed it when they realized that they could get instant food from tugging on the tug-it.

    More recently, I have been working on transferring their interest in tugging to other toys so they have been earning their meals for tugging hard on lots of different kinds of toys. The way I did this is I started by holding a toy lightly in one hand with no pressure and holding a piece of food in the other. I shaped the behavior of getting the toy out of my hand. This is also a rule out game because sniffing the hand with the food does not get them the food. When they got the idea that they had to get the toy out of my hand, I gradually made it more difficult by increasing the tension on the toy. When they get the toy out of my hand, I say “yes” and give them a piece of food. At this point, they are pulling very hard as I slap them around and push them while they tug. I am making it very hard for them to win, but eventually I let them. Sometimes even my little dog wins fair and square. She has figured out that it is easier to get the toy out of my hand if she swings her body around so that my arm twists!

    I also want them to quickly bring the toy back to me when they get the toy from my hand so I incorporated the retrieve game you taught me at a skills camp I attended into this game. Once they have the toy I slap my thigh and they have to quickly bring me the toy and pounce on me. When I say “give” they get to release the toy to me and get a cookie. Sometimes I run away, as I slap my thigh, and it is their job to quickly chase me, pounce on me, and make sure I have their toy. If they drop the toy as they pounce on me, too bad, they have to quickly get it and try again. Sometimes when they pounce on me and put the toy in my hand, I don’t say “give” and just re-start the tug game again. Sometimes I take the toy, send them to their crate or tell them to sit or down or stand and then I throw the toy. Of course they can’t get it until I release them. When I do release them, I tell them to get “the tug” and they must fly to the toy and get and re-start the retrieve/tug game. At this point, I randomly reward either their tugging strength, by rewarding when they get the toy out of my hand, or their speedy retrieve, by giving them the cookie when they bring me the toy by immediately saying “give” when they’ve successfully put the toy in my hand, or I have them repeat the sequence a few times before I reward them with their cookie. Since my dogs are fairly hungry and are getting their meals for playing this game with me, they are very fast and driven.

    I’m having a lot of fun with this game and am constantly coming up with variations on the theme of this game so that I can use it to build drive and speed for working on other tasks.


  4. I found that after trial and error, my dog likes tugging on “smooth” things – nylon, rope, etc rather than fuzzy or fleecy toys – after trying to get him to tug with fleece tugs, he would tug, but not with the intensity of the nylon tugs. His favorite – a 2 yard length of nylon strapping I folded in half and sewed together. Simple, cheap and he loves it!

  5. It is still a work in progress for my Irish Setter, but am starting to see some success “baiting” the tug with feathers and bottled grouse scent so he thinks he is really getting a bird.

  6. Paper!

    Paper towels, old bills, etc. If she gets to shred them up a bit afterwards, she’ll tug even harder. I’ve been playing around with braiding together tissue paper, but amazingly found a big coil of heavy duty paper rafia. It’s perfect! When crushed up it’s heavy duty enough to tug with as is. When un-scrunched, it shreds. She LOVES it.

  7. I’ve used nylon pantyhose that I knot in places to get small dogs & puppies to tug who hadn’t tugged much before. I must be very careful to not let them tear any off and ingest some (knotting helps make the pantyhose a bit more secure) and I must be careful to put the pantyhose out of reach immediately after the tug session because a pup or dog could easily rip them up and ingest pieces, but the springy “give” of the pantyhose has made several non-tugging dogs and pups I know crazy for tugging.

  8. The Tug It toy you presented in a January blog has been an inspiration for my girl. While not unique, I think it’s worth mentioning. At your skills camp in Dec. I think my aussie and I did only 1 or 2 of the activities because my whole attention was on getting her interested in tugging. I’d all but given up. Not only did the Tug It set her on fire, but after she ripped the handle off last week she’s now transferred her intensity to another similar velcro, bait bag type toy!

  9. This isn’t terribly original, but for some dogs an old sock can be just the thing to start tugging. That’s what I used to start my youngest tugging. He loved socks and it just came naturally to tug with them.

    On an aside, I have one dog who will tug like there is no tomorrow if one of my other dogs is present, but won’t tug to save her life if it’s just her and me! It’s an interesting dynamic.

    • Awesome ideas guys! Keep them coming!

  10. The most important thing I used in building tug drive was me- Kyp! loved to wrestle and roughouse with me, but didn’t like to tug, so I’d get on the ground and wrestle with her, then introduce the tug in the middle of playing. Pretty soon I was able to get her to tug first, then wrestle, and now she tugs. I got pretty dirty, and had to be willing to look pretty silly, but it worked! I did other things as well, but I that was the the most important, for her.

  11. Kristine – the ONE other thing Gem will tug maniacally is an old wool sock w/ a medium size Cuz jammed into the toe!

  12. Well, my Border Collie will tug with just about anything! … Toys, clothes, ropes, you name it. Our Lab will only tug with softer things, such as socks, softer ropes, etc. Our Collie … he was IMPOSSIBLE … he had always refused to tug (from the time he was a puppy) … We say tugging is just “beneath” him (you have to know Oliver to understand that statement) … THAT IS UNTIL WE FOUND THE RIGHT TOY! His favorite game has always been anything about a stick … he retrieves sticks, throws them in the air and romps with them .. he ALWAYS has a stick when he does laps around the yard. One day while playing with him at about 18 months old, I started tugging with the stick and calling it a “tug – tug” … since then, I have a stick-tugging maniac! One day he fell off the dog-walk and totally FREAKED himself out, the only way we got him back on was with a stick! It’s a joke around our kennel club when you walk in and there is a 3 foot long stick leaning against the wall that Oliver and Joy were training … but HEY, it works! And occasionally, he’ll tug with another toy, but never as well as he does with a stick! I probably look like a fool (especially since I keep sticks on my porch, in my car, and in my husband’s truck), but it WORKS!


  13. Two things I’ve found to work really well:

    1. Read rabbit skin that I bought from the Clean Run online store. I had to sew some denim onto the back of it to reinforce it, otherwise my dog very easily tore it (and ripped pieces off, which she would try to eat!).
    2. Anything that makes a ripping noise. I learned about this idea when tugging one day with a de-stuffed stuffed animal ‘skin’ that had seen better days. We were tugging with it and the seams slowly started to let go, making a ‘rrrrrippppp’ sound, and boy did that suddenly get my dog to tug with more gusto! I have no idea whether it was the noise that she liked or the fact that she felt she was about to pull it out of my hand. But like it she did!

  14. Oops, that should have read “real” rabbit skin. 🙂

  15. Just noticed that you now have 1000 comments on your blog – congrats!!!!

  16. For my shelties its all about the broom, mop or even the snow shovel. Also plastic bags and paper balls work very well.

  17. 1-my sheepskin slippers makes my aussie puppy go nuts!

    It can’t be a pair of new slippers…they have to be worn in slippers 🙂

    He doesn’t destroy them, but if I flip one off my foot he’ll race and retrieve then come back shaking it then we tug.

    2-A tough cotton table napkin with cheeze rolled in the middle the knotted. I used for my beagle who is a retrieve-a- holic rather than a tug-a-holic, she doesn’t like thick, chunky toys. I threw it to retrieve, then when she retrieved it, I untied it, gave some of the cheese, left a large chunk in, then tied it back up and teased her with it. The lightweight cotton flying around drove her crazy, She started grabbing at it and then started to tug! Now she’s into tugging!

  18. The one that never fails here are dirty socks. The dirtier, the better lol
    Dogs sure have a unique taste for smelly things.

  19. Plastic zip lock bag with food inside. Of course it gets ripped up pretty quickly, but I get some intense tugging with the food motivated dogs (who aren’t interested in either version of the Tug It).

  20. I’ve had 2 dogs in a row come into my life now where tugging is not a given. However, I’ve been able to build that drive over time in 2 different ways. No matter which method anyone chooses, the key is tenacity. For a low tug drive dog, I must incorporate play sessions into my training where the expected outcome is purely just to reinforce the value in the toys and playing with the Momma.

    My first dog, Asha, I shaped to tug. With her, we’ve created a sweet interactive game where she tugs for treats and that’s ok, but it isn’t the true game of tugging or self-rewarding as a true game of tug with a dog who inherently finds tugging fun.

    With Treo, tugging in environments where there’s distractions is our biggest challenge. I’ve got my hierarchy of toys that we work through every training session, starting with lower value and working our way up to higher value. That being said, if at any time I find a toy has slipped in value – that’s a training note to me that I need to remind him of how much fun that toy can be.

    Again, the key is to always incorporate toy play as a separate training session in daily or weekly trainings so value can be built into it and sustained.

  21. My youngest whippet will tug on anything. The thing that I found to really get her going and into the tugging game was to cover her face with my hand while pulling on the object we are tugging. I cover her face and she goes wild shaking the tug, holding tighter and growling all at one time.
    I am still working on tug with my older whippet – but so far have found that a raccoon skin is one of his favorite or sometimes a rabbit fur covered ball.

  22. Cat toys! “Feather boa on a stick” types of cat toys. You can drag it across the floor, getting the dog to chase it in curiosity, then tug it when they finally grab at it. I have build toy drive with many dogs of many breeds with this method. My 8 year old BC did not like toys as a puppy and is now a toy nut, and I owe it all to cat toys. He will now tug anything I present. I have done the same with pugs, a dachshund, a doberman, and a cairn, to name a few. Cat toys rock!

  23. At Puppy Camp with Skipper, I finally resorted to going into the bathroom and removing my undershirt (Jockey tank-top type) so he could tug with that. That was the beginning. Now he’s a very enthusiastic tugger who (as his interest in my undershirt suggested years ago) has a preference for softer tug toys (but who will “pluck” sheepskin ones!).

    Still working on it with the new baby . . . she’d really LIKE to tug on my sleeves . . . what’s up with that?

  24. My youngest is a rescued BC that didn’t seem to know tugs or any games/toys/balls etc. I discovered one day, while making a fool of myself trying to get her excited, that hiding the toy under me while lying on the floor got her interested indeed. After being scratched at trying to get at the toy, I started by letting her “find” the toy and run away with it and slowly started putting a bit of resistance by holding it to the floor with any part of my body. Soon I had a monster tugger…. now, she will even leave her all time favorite treats if I take out the tug.

  25. My eldest BC has always been an avid retriever, she tugs but it wasn’t until I discovered a toy where she could do both that I saw her real inner tugger come out. It’s whats called a Hollee Roller ball, its made of the same material as the “Cuz” toys but its a ball that is hollow and the outside looks like honeycomb shaped, hard to explain. Its tough enough for her to grab ahold of and tug after she retrieves. My newest BC pup is also getting the drive to tug but seems to prefer this toy as well. I have had the same toy since my eldest was a puppy 6 years ago so the toy really lasts!
    Just got a Tug-It to encourage my semi-good tugger and my non-tugger BC’s, time will tell if it lives up to the hype in my household.

  26. My older BC girl has never been much of a tugger – even less since I got the pup. When my new pup arrived I encouraged tug from the start. She has her favorites but will tug with practically everything. Her jolly ball with a rope is the ultimate though and I have started using that at the end of my jump grids. She has a nice informal retrieve on her too. So much easier to train then my older girl who is entirely food motivated.

  27. My Lowchen is likes to tug on the cardboard inside toilet rolls (unscented of course.

  28. Thanks Wishy for the nylon stocking, at first with piece of cheese in toe, I also put tennis ball or squeaky toy, all of these great but my dog prefers to “grab” the stocking part, rips easily so use 2 or 3 stockings – wild! Thanks to everyone and especially Sandra for sharing the shaping games…

  29. One of my Shelties is extremely reserved and would not tug, she was however very, very food motivated.I tried many things to get her to tug and came up with some quite creative ideas to no avail. Eventually it was a whole steak, quite a chewy one, but she could only get a piece of it if she pulled it reasonably hard. That idea worked a treat, only one session with the steak and next session the steak went in a sock and so on until the food was faded and she was enjoying the game!


  30. My puppy is a strong tugger, but I had to work at it a bit when she was a wee baby as food is her number 1 priority in life (mine too, so we work well together). So, while working on it, I took note of the things that make her wild in case I ever needed to use it.

    I took special note of the things that brought out the “Pavlov” in her…

    My puppy is absolutely wild about watching a dry leaf blow by. So wild, in fact, that little Miss Perfect has finally earned her Snoot Loop because of it – she is a lovely, well-behaved leash walker with great self-control… until a leaf strolls by, then Pavlov takes over and she is at the end of the leash trying to chase it.
    I might someday incorporate the leaf into tugging if I ever need it, but for now I need to get some control over her passion (wouldn’t want it to generalize to car chasing!) I am sure a tree branch with leaves on it would send her to the moon.

    She also loves brooms, mops, spray bottles – anything that involves cleaning. So, if I mop up a spill with a paper towel, or – even better – if I spray some windex then use a paper towel to wipe it around – she goes absolutely nutt-a-licious. Picture her at 7 weeks old watching me clean up a pee pee accident (hers, not mine)……. wild times!

    I plan to bring the broom/spray bottle/paper towels to puppy camp, in case she needs a special boost to her tugging. The rest of the staff will be pleased – not only will they be able to work with a tugging pup, but the building will be spotless by the time we get done! If Lynda tells me to take my windex & go tug in the bathroom, I will know that she is just trying to get a little extra work done :-))

  31. Expanding on what some others have said, i.e. socks.

    One of the first things my terrier, who I had to work very hard to build any play drive in, would tug on was a sock with soiled bedding from my guinea pigs’ cage in it. Then we moved on to racoon tails!

  32. HA HA HA – its actually the front door window that needs the Windex… I forgot to do it…but now that you’ve planted the seed…

    “Sounds” help create great tuggers – Ruby loved the sound of Johns Fishing pole (John did not love the sound of Ruby splashing into the water after it)Hummm I thought – what also makes that sound?

    So I simulated that sound with a riding Whip from TSC store – not a easy toy…but that sound made Ruby’s arousal go up! and she would grab for the end…

    Amazing what you remember when reading these GREAT ideas…

    Lynda (not really a clean freak – but its Spring – and the window’s are ready to sparkle…we had Tulips on the desk this week at SY – it helped with the CHEER factor!)

  33. My older Springer loved balls but would look at me like I was crazy when I tried to get her to tug. However, a ball inside the Holey Roller was the magic trick–she _really_ wanted the ball, so had to hang on to the HR, and we were tugging!

  34. For my retriever it was cardboard rolls and boxes, big acorns, old sticks (that she can completely destroy when she wins), micro-fabric duster, towels and my sleeves.
    She goes absolutely nuts then. 😀

  35. Tracy,
    You can come tug with your puppy at my apartment anythime!


  36. Robin, my oldest Border Terrier, has had little or no interest in toys for her entire life. I honestly cannot think of time in her adult life when she has spontaneously picked up a toy to play with.

    As a consequence, Robin’s tug drive was pretty much zero until I invented my mouse in a Holee Roller toy combo: I took a holee roller ball, stuffed a rabbit fur mouse rubbed with rat litter inside the ball, added a mouse with a realistic sound chip in it, and put it “on a leash”.

    The combination of ratty smell, movement, and NOISE, as well as the ability to relly bite down and CRUNCH still to this day makes Robin flip her lid! Robin was taught to tug on cue, but the holee rollser combo is the only thing she seems to really ENJOY tugging.

  37. With our 16 year old when she was younger we got her to tug by taking our sleeve and wiggling in on the floor.. she went nuts over it and would only tug when we told her the “black monster” was coming.
    My 8 month BC was a big tugger when she was younger but doesn’t like to tug anymore and likes to jump on me as her reward. Is this a bad thing? I was pretty excited when she was so interested in playing with me but now I’m not sure it’s a good thing as she is getting pretty big and strong. I’m going to use some of these ideas to try and get her tugging again.
    Thanks for your daily tips and blog!

    • Yes Meghan use some of these great ideas and get her tugging! It will make training much easier if you have access to multiple rewards that are not food related!

  38. One thing that has worked with my Odd dog is Odd things! My Curly-coat loves the chuck-it Stick…not the ball like NORMAL retrievers. So we play tug with the hard plastic stick! I can get her to tug on other things….but the “sick” is her fave.

    Edit me if needed….
    This place has the most coolest tug toys ever! I try not to visit the site regularly…but when they vendor shows I can’t resist! They have lots of furry toys and cool hide toys and toys on a line n just cool tugs!!!

  39. well might not be the ideal thing to do for everyone… but i like it…

    i encourage all my pups to chase/tug on my pant legs and socks.. usually when getting home from work, so they are excited to see me as well…

    i have developed a game where i try getting there feet with mine and they then attack my pant legs, or work socks… i have developed this so at anytime i can turn on the game by chasing their feet with mine, great when sitting on the couch and a great way to get your work socks off LOL… they just Love it…

  40. Hi there, I have an Aussie that likes to tug but he does not like it enough to really work for it. The moment we start training he expects food and while he will tug, the motivation is just not there.

    I have built up his tug drive the best I know how, buy taking it out once or twice a day and playing a good hard game and then returning it to it’s drawer not to be seen again until the next session. I always leave him wanting more. We have done this for over a month.

    Any suggestions on how to move from having a dog that enjoys tugging, to having a dog that will work for the tug?

  41. I was told not ‘tug’ with my dog ’cause she’s extremely dominant. She’s food aggressive, & she still has to be reminded to take treats gently. She likes to fetch but has to do it alone. When I play fetch w/ my other dog she sits off to the side. i’m concerned about tug training w/ her but the weaves are still her least fav obstacle.

  42. Susan, I would love to see you make a DVD where you take dogs that don’t want to work for toys and get them to enjoy them.

  43. Susan,

    I have to tell you I was one of those folks that said, “My dog wont tug”! Juliette (a 7 yr old Toy Fox Terrier)is a soft dog by nature, with a strong obedience background. We turned to agility to help build drive for the utility ring. We did go on to earn a UD and a MACH (who would have ever thought) She is now half way to her MACH two in points, QQ’s are no problem for us in less than 4 months.

    When we were at the AKC Agilty Nationals last week,I bought a Tug It. I tried some good smelly things but nothing worked better than liverwurst. Let me tell you she is a tugging fool! In addition to the Tug It, I have a tug toy that she is finding fun to tug. I am delighted to say the least.

    I want to say thanks for all your words of wisdom and knowledge. I have taking our agility to a new level and finding your website and DVD’s has help in many ways.

    Crate Games has turned a hard to motivate dog into a running machine (now with a tug!)
    Nothing is more fun than playing the “Change My Mind Game” especially at an agility trial… It give Juliette the extra edge before we run… and who would have ever thought to whisper instead of being loud… Whisper works like a charm with her….

    Thanks bunches

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