Saturday, April 19, 2008

War of Tug

When we had the behaviouralist out to help us with Toby last summer, she gave us an education in what she called "heavy duty guard breeds." Since we've never owned such a dog before, we were unaware of their special needs and requirements. Establishing dominance and the proper pack order is particularly important with a guard breed, since he will feel its his obligation to protect lower members of the pack. A great idea in principle, but your idea of a threat and your dog's idea of a threat may vary and result in less than ideal practises, like vicious barking at little old ladies and puppies.

The behaviouralist urged us to work with Toby on "take it" and "drop it" commands. We have been especially consistent with the "take it" command. He knows he's not going to get any treat out of our hands unless he waits until told. He's very good at this and is also quite funny in how delicately he'll take something from your hand.

Once during a workshop, Peter realised we were out of milk or bread or some important lunch ingredient. He left the student home alone with Toby while he ran out to the shop. While waiting, the guy was nibbling on a slice of cheese and decided to give Toby some. He told Peter later that as soon as he offered the cheese, he realised he may have been making a horrible mistake. He had a split-second vision of a large gaping dog maw clamping down on his hand. It was with relief and amusement that he report that instead, Toby had delicately grasped the cheese by a corner and then carried it away.

Peter can always get what he wants off of Toby. I have to work a bit harder with certain toys. I have been able to take bones off of Toby, after I let him know in no uncertain terms that growling and hanging onto the bone was not acceptable behaviour. It's just that with sliotars and tennis balls, he can dig his teeth in and get good enough purchase to deflect any of my retrieval attempts.

The other day, Peter decided to buy a Kong Tug-of-War toy. It was well-designed and he thought it would be fun for the whole family. In our dog training travels, we've heard more than once that in general, it's a bad idea to play tug-of-war with your dog. The theory behind the advice is that if the dog wins, then he'll get grand notions that he is the alpha dog and will consequently be more difficult to train and control. Like most things in life, this really depends on the dog.

Peter's relationship with Toby is such that he'll have no problems with tug-of-war. We knew that I'd have to work harder, but thought that the game could become part of my continuing effort to reinforce with Toby that I am, if not THE boss of him, then A boss of him.

When we got home, Peter eagerly opened up the new toy and waved it around in Toby's face. "Take it!" Toby obliged, gingerly easing his teeth over the edge of the handle. The second he realised that Peter wasn't going to release the toy, Toby dropped it.

Peter made several attempts to engage Toby in a game, but Toby was having none of it. He seemed a bit puzzled by the whole thing. I had a go, since if Toby was going to challenge anyone, it would be me. But the result was the same. In Toby's world, "take it" means "take it only if the human is going to relinquish it."

Peter took the toy and Toby outside, thinking that perhaps if he ran around with the toy, that Toby would engage with it. Instead, Toby ran around with a regular Kong toy in his mouth. I like to think that what he was thinking was "Hey, Big Guy, I'm so pleased that you've got your own toy to run with. But for real fun, you should carry it in your mouth so you can bite and run at the same time."


At 19 April 2008 at 12:36, Blogger laurie said...

funny (and well told).

it's interesting how different dogs are in these ways. boscoe will just about take your hand off if you hadn him a treat; you have to lay it flat on your palm so he can lift it off--it you pinch the treat between your fingers, he'll nip you. not on purpose, mind you, but because he's so eager.

riley has a very soft mouth and never, ever, ever nips.

and i'd heard that, too, about it being bad to play tug of war with a dog. i play with riley all the time. he'll let go immediately upon hearing "drop it," but only if i whisper. he's a dog who responds to gentleness, not force.

At 19 April 2008 at 23:29, Blogger Babaloo said...

Honey is very gentle when taking food from our hands. Certain treats (the special ones, like pig's ears) she will only take when we put them in her basket. If you hand it to her, she won't take it. Even though she loves it.
And she doesn't get the concept of tug of war either. Not at all. We've tried, just to get her to play (because she wouldn't do that in the early days or months even) but tugging is just not her thing. Just as well I guess.

At 20 April 2008 at 00:13, Blogger Career Guy said...

Good for Toby that he didn't break training. How nice that Peter has his own toy, now.

At 21 April 2008 at 08:15, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - It is funny how dogs are all different. It certainly keeps things interesting.

Babaloo - I did finally manage to get Toby to play tug of war with a rope bone, but I had to encourage him to take it and had to make these little play growly noises to convince him this was an acceptable game. He seemed to enjoy it and was very good about dropping it and sitting when instructed. Peter got him to play with the rope bone, but there's something about the Kong toy that he doesn't quite understand. And then the next day, Peter couldn't get him to play with the rope bone. Very strange.

Dad - Toby is a good dog. I just hope he doesn't jump up on you when you visit.


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