I am not a natural player with my dogs and in the past I have managed to kill the play instinct of my first few dogs before I learned more....so I am always very interested in learning all I can about playing with my dogs because I really value my dogs play drive and can not believe how much fun it is to train with play. Who knew that someone could do a full 5 1/2 video or a whole seminar day on playing and tugging, but ya know, like so many things I guess there is whole lot more to the subject then you would think.
The last seminar I attended with Marla Friedler-Cooper http://southcoastdogtraining.com/SCDT/Home.html was about creating desire and passion for play. It was a great seminar. I know Marla had worked with Michael Ellis recently so I was interested in checking out some of his info.
I was able to watch his DVD The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog, from his Building Focus and Drive series http://leerburg.com/221.htm. I do have some mixed feelings because another DVD in his series is about how to effectively use electric collars for training- I am very against that type of adversives.., but I also do feel like sometimes you need to look at things and take the parts that are useful to you and learn from those even if there are some parts that are definitely not in my belief system. The interesting thing is that Michael Ellis's system does use a lot of familiar things, ...markers...making sure to mark what you want, the premack principle, short sessions and making sure to find things the dog wants and highly reward with that. Michael and Marla both talked about making sure that you make any rewards food/toys that you give your dogs an event. You don't just hand your dog a toy or a piece of food you make it exciting and they both showed us how to do that.
One of the interesting things Michael talked about in this DVD was his view of socializing dogs. Instead of wanting people to take their puppies or dogs to lots of places and encouraging dogs to check out things, going to visit lots of people he feels that how socializing should be handled is that you take your dog/puppy to lots of places...when you get to a new place you take your dog and ask for some attention and you play around the new environment. You have a great play session, or use food in an exciting way and you just have a lot of fun with your dog. Keep it short and leave when you are done. He says that by just interacting with your own dog and just having the new things around, you can make sure your dog does not have bad experiences because if you just encourage your dog to go up to everyone and everything you can not control what other people are going to be doing. He feels that by playing with your dog around new people and places the dog relaxes and has a positive experience and feels safe because they are playing with you.
Your dog also gets used to just going to a new place and it becomes automatic that they expect they will be interacting with you and it will be fun so when you go to distracting places they will automatically look to you to find out what sort of fun will be coming up next. I also was interested because when something scary did happen-like say a loud noise, he would just start a game with the dog, so the dog would associate the loud noise with something fun and not scary. I remember Susan Garrett talking about her dog being jumped on at a start line by a loose dog and so she just called her dog and started a wonderful game of tug.
Another thing that I found interesting was that Michael does not put many rules on play or puppies until they get pretty excited about what he has to offer (play) and until they are into the game. He wants a puppy to be a little wild and pushy. I like hearing that because it does seem like sometimes there can be so many controls put on playing before the puppy is really into the game and ya gotta think that has to have something to do with the puppy not thinking play is as fun as it could be.
As far as tug, Michael goes into the mechanics, which who knew playing might be something I should practice and sharpen up my mechanical skills? By mechanics he shows how you can keep the tug so it is easy for the dog to target to the tug. I know you do not shove the toy at the dog but I did not realize that say when I would move the toy to my side for Cricket to get I was bringing the toy behind me at my side so my hand was right in front of her and the tug was actually positioned so that the place I would like her to bite on the tug was hard to get to. By learning body mechanics and learning how to step away from the tug an rotate my arms so the tug always stays right in front of the dog, the biting surface is oriented right at the dog. The dog can become way more confident in grabbing it and learns to target to the toy better, not your hands. Poor Cricket when Marla was having us try moving the tug to our side I saw that when Cricket goes to grab the tug she would stop and check to make sure I had not move the tug out of her way and my hands into the way- she had to reorient to where things were before she could leap at the toy and bite. I would not have believed I was doing that until I was shown how to do it properly ;-). Michael and Marla both spend a lot of time helping with body mechanics so that you could have your toy be more predictable to your dog which makes it more fun for the dog and safer for you when you play tug.
Once the dog really was into the game and really loved tug, then Michael says you can teach the "out". To teach the out he would just be playing and tugging and stop, he showed how to keep the toy totally still and when the dog should let go, you would mark the behavior and immediately start tugging again. Soon the "out" is a happy thing that just starts the game again. As the dog really understands the "out" you can slowly add in duration.
To teach the retrieve once your dog understands tug you just let go of the tug and back up as your dog is playing, encourage your dog to return the tug to your hand as you back up. Soon you can throw your tug and your dog just wants to get the toy back to you so the game can start again.
I do not think this DVD was necessarily aimed at starting your dog to tug, although he did talk about not having rules on the game for puppies and using different types of soft, floppy toys for babies, and being soft and not expecting a lot of tug drive until puppies are beyond the teething stage. Most of the DVD seemed focused on dogs that were playing,how to keep it safe and fun for all players-the people and the dog, and how to use that play to build your relationship with your dog. I was just surprised there were actual mechanical skills that I did not have-who knew????
Marla presented material based on the training she has done with Michael but of course with her twist on it, she had a few different points, and it was really great to be able to practice some of the mechanics and have someone watch and critique. If you are in the So CA area and get a chance to attend one of her play and motivation seminars it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot and had a great day.