Monday, August 27, 2012

Tug and Touch

Team Awesome

Considering that their owner is a dog trainer, Parker and Skye really don't know an abundance of commands.  I've been expending their vocabulary this summer, but with my busy work schedule and their busy social lives, we don't practice a lot.  In the past week I've been thinking about the two commands that I'm so glad Skye knows.

If only we could do this every day!


Back in the dark days, when Skye was an uncontrollable tornado of insanity, I learned about using a tug toy to help teach her to focus.  You may be thinking, as I did, that tug of war is not a game you play with your dog.  It teaches them to be dominant, or possessive, or pushy.  When done correctly, it does none of these things.

Skye and I began to play the trade-up game with her toys.  We'd tug and tug, having a ball seeing who will let go first.  Then, out of heaven itself, came a yummy treat.  Skye had a choice- keep tugging, or spit out the toy to get the treat?  Other than presenting her with the choice, I did nothing.  I didn't let go of the toy, but I didn't try to pry it out of her little mouth either.  I waited silently.  As time went on, Skye made her decision faster and faster.  When my free hand came out as a closed fist (our hand signal) she spit that toy out before you could say "I win."  Because really, we both won.


These days Skye will "get it" "tug it" and "drop it" when I ask her to, just for the chance to tug it again.  The tug is the reward, but like any fun game there are rules.  Teaching Skye the rules of tug has helped give her an outlet, especially during agility.  When she is too wound up or there is a lot of distraction, a quick game of tug gets her back on track.  I keep a tug toy in the car so that at any time I can get a reward for Skye.  I've started bringing it on our off leash walks because it is more valuable than a treat, so when we see a dog coming our way and Skye has to choose between coming to me or running ahead, I don't have to worry that I'll lose.  In a good game of tug, there are no losers.

I don't need to tug a stupid toy to be a winner.


Skye learned to bump her nose to my hand during our first agility class.  It was supposed to help her with her contacts.  That was a big fail.  But the behavior itself is useful in so many ways in the real world as well. Asking Skye to touch means asking her to willingly turn away from something else in order to perform a simple task.  In the waiting room at the vet, for example, I use it as a game to keep Skye from getting anxious.  I move my hand from side to side, up and down, and have her touch it for a treat.  On leash it's a good way to get Skye to ignore a distraction without having to put any pressure on her leash.  Again, it's all her choice, but it's also a specific task. 

Touch is also a good behavior to use off leash.  Sometimes, Skye has an off day.  I say "here" and she turns into the pokey puppy, dragging her feet.  Sometimes she decides the dog up the path is too tempting because I waited too long to call her.  In these cases I'll call her to touch and it's a whole new ballgame.  Touch is fun; it's a game and a challenge.  When she has a running start I like to put my hand up high and make her jump to touch it.  Is it an essential command every dog should know?  Pssshhhh, no.  But it's one I use often with great results.

Which words in your dog's vocabulary do you use the most?

I'm sexy and I know it.

Skye has surgery on Thursday to remove her busted tooth and I'm maid of honoring a wedding this weekend.  So you may not hear much from us (surprised?), but I'll take all the happy thoughts you can give us! 


  1. Our dogs (miraculously) have always just let us have their toys when we want them, so we've never had to play the trade-up game, but I'll definitely keep that in mind for future tug-happy fosters! But our favorite word to use is "look" to get our dogs to focus on us instead of the distractions around them. It has been a lifesaver more than once!

  2. I like the idea of teaching "touch." Our favorite commands to use with Athena are "heel" and "leave it." We use heel on walks when there are major distractions and we want her attention on us. We use leave it when she wants to pick something up that she's not allowed to, or if she happens to be stalking a person to pet her who looks deathly afraid of her!

  3. Ahaha the picture of Skye and the rock with your caption just KILLED ME!

  4. Leave It wins the award for Most Valuable Command Ever in our family. Followed closely by Look/Watch Me and Go Lay Down. I've just recently started using Touch as a way to help with leash reactivity so that should be working its way up the hierarchy of commands. :)

  5. Boy oh boy do we need your mom to train my Lily. We wouldn't mind doing that every day
    Benny & Lily

  6. Team Awesome is a great name :)

    Stop on by for a visit

  7. I almost overuse Touch. I adore that cue. I'm building it to serve as a tertiary reward for competition obedience. :)

  8. We use both tug and touch a lot here in our household too, and in much the same ways as you-- tug is our reward during agility class and a lot of other training. Like Ximena we also are building touch as a reward during competition obedience, and like you it's our back-up recall command.

    We do lots of cute tricks over here like 'wave bye-bye,' 'two-feet' (like a circus dog), 'quiet woof' and 'beg.' They're how I keep Vertigo focused while he's waiting his turn for an agility run, instead of him barking his head off.


  9. Here is the one we are working the most on. That and look. Look has been a great distraction for Delilah, but I never thought of using touch. I may have to try that.

  10. Leave it and drop it have been really important for us. Sometimes Zoe wants to play with Freddie and Stella... and they are just not into it. So telling her to "leave it" really works. Also, drop it has been useful when Zoe picks up the occasional chicken bone or other disgusting piece of trash during a walk!

  11. Oh, I love touch. Silas thinks touch is the Best.Game.Ever. Other things that involve being next to me, like, say, coming when called or "Watch" or loose leash walking not so much. It's also really useful as the warm-up in obedience class, because he thinks it's fun and because it gets his attention on me. I ignore the trainer telling us to warm up with a few sits and use touch instead. (I'll do a few sits afterwards; I can only be so rebellious.)

  12. I'm so glad Honey has a rock solid "leave it." I started teaching it immediately after she swallowed a whole, dead pigeon on a walk at 3 months old!

    Touch has also helped us with calm greetings. I started out trying to get Honey to sit and stay when someone came to the house. But as an excitable Golden Retriever, that was just too passive for a dog who was so thrilled to have company. Touch allows her to do something active while not jumping on our visitor until she calms down a bit.

    Hope Skye's dental surgery went well. Sending healing wishes.

  13. What a great post! I would never have considered using tug of war for focus, but now that you've mentioned it, I can totally see how it would help. I'm going to work on this with Kol and see if it helps his doggy ADD a bit.

  14. You sound like a great trainer to us! And paws crossed for Skye's dental surgery...


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