Tug Drive + Soft Mouth?

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Postby fenella » June 13th, 2010, 8:01 pm

I have some idea, but since some of you are into protection sports, etc., I thought maybe you'd have some other ideas for me. Nittany has a VERY soft mouth (she is a golden mix). I have never been able to get her to tug. If my hand is on it, she lets it go. This is good when she picks up something she shouldn't, but is an issue in flyball.
Now, she may never see the tug as reinforcing enough to use it as her reward, but she barely holds onto the ball. She just sort of lets it roll out of her mouth when she is running sometimes. She doesn't adjust to hold onto it...just blllaaaah and out it rolls. In general, I can't get her to take things (asking her to hold something in her mouth...she just lets it drop right out), so training her to carry a dumbell, a leash, whatever won't work right now. Some of her flyball dropping issue is that she's new and a bit distracted, but it happens in practice, too. I've tried the tugs from Clean Run that are mesh and let the treats ooze out as they chomp on them, but she just licks them. Then she gets a little frustrated, but she lays down and waits for me to give it to her (which I don't). She does like squeaky toys, so I've tried getting her to hold those, but again, no real grip and if I am touching it in any way, she won't take it at all. We've experimented with textures and materials, too.
As a retriever-mix, I get that the soft mouth is what it is...in fact, Nittany has high prey drive and has gotten a few birds, but just mouths them and tosses them around...not a mark on them (as nature intended). Is there a way to train a bit of a stronger grip?
Now, I still want her to give things to me on command. This http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqs54qMgQA would be AWESOME (plus, it is a funny video), but even a little tighter grip on the ball would be good. (I don't want to train it by holding her mouth closed on it)
She is pretty clicker savvy (though not as much as Murph). Just in case you are wondering, no issues with her teeth, and I have never punished her for taking something...she came to me this way at a year old.
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Postby maberi » June 14th, 2010, 8:29 am

Is your goal to build tug drive or work on a retrieve (or both?)
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Postby fenella » June 14th, 2010, 11:17 am

Both. I know they are separate issues, but it seems her very soft mouth is at play in both. Like I said, maybe I can't train it if a) she doesn't have any tug drive to start with b) she just has a naturally soft mouth.
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Postby maberi » June 14th, 2010, 11:43 am

I'll ask Ron and Apryl at Pawsitive Vybe. When not training for disc, Apryl trains assistance dogs through Paws With A Cause and obviously has to train a lot of retrieves. She was going to put a retrieve on Earl the last time I saw her, but we didn't have the time.

They also mentioned a really good clicker trainer that teaches tug drive with a clicker. I've done a little bit of experimenting with Earl using this method but didn't put a lot of work into it. Earl isn't a tugger at all but has a ton of food drive and after shaping the mouthing of the tug I slowly increased the time in which I clicked which caused him to progressively tug harder.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » June 14th, 2010, 1:34 pm

To learn how to teach tug drive, you can join the Yahoo group ClickerSolutions. One of the moderators, Greta, wrote a "tug manifesto" (she didn't name it!) that a lot of people seem to swear is the bible of teaching tug. It's a free file on the Yahoo group. :)
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Postby furever_pit » June 15th, 2010, 1:22 pm

Have you looked at Ivan Balabanov's methods at all? I used a dowel with a rope on one side to teach Dylan to hold the item while in a heel position. Marked and rewarded for holding the item and to teach a harder grip I would take the rope and give a slight jerk to show the dog that he could lose it at any time. We then worked on bringing the hold to my front.

I'm approaching it differently with Cairo and have tied it in to the end of a retrieve where he comes to my front and I keep the tug alive (but not enough to make the dog want to out and out tug, you just want him to hold on). Sometimes I take the toy, and sometimes I let him keep it. It fools him enough to keep him bringing things back to me. heehee.

Good luck with Nittany.
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Postby fenella » June 17th, 2010, 12:37 pm

Thanks! Looks like I have a lot to read and try!
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Postby katiek0417 » June 20th, 2010, 10:12 pm

Keep in mind that being a golden mix, she probably naturally has a soft mouth...

Now, what you can do is turn the tug into a prey object...also, trying back-tying her to something, and put the tug at the end of a leash, and swing it around, let her miss, finally allow her to get it...then tug with her by pulling back on the leash...this takes you out of the picture a bit...then let her run around with it and enjoy it, then grab the leash and pull back again...so it may remove some conflict of YOU being right there....
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Postby dlynne1123 » June 25th, 2010, 12:09 pm

fenella wrote:I have some idea, but since some of you are into protection sports, etc., I thought maybe you'd have some other ideas for me. Nittany has a VERY soft mouth (she is a golden mix). I have never been able to get her to tug. If my hand is on it, she lets it go. This is good when she picks up something she shouldn't, but is an issue in flyball.
Now, she may never see the tug as reinforcing enough to use it as her reward, but she barely holds onto the ball. She just sort of lets it roll out of her mouth when she is running sometimes. She doesn't adjust to hold onto it...just blllaaaah and out it rolls. In general, I can't get her to take things (asking her to hold something in her mouth...she just lets it drop right out), so training her to carry a dumbell, a leash, whatever won't work right now. Some of her flyball dropping issue is that she's new and a bit distracted, but it happens in practice, too. I've tried the tugs from Clean Run that are mesh and let the treats ooze out as they chomp on them, but she just licks them. Then she gets a little frustrated, but she lays down and waits for me to give it to her (which I don't). She does like squeaky toys, so I've tried getting her to hold those, but again, no real grip and if I am touching it in any way, she won't take it at all. We've experimented with textures and materials, too.
As a retriever-mix, I get that the soft mouth is what it is...in fact, Nittany has high prey drive and has gotten a few birds, but just mouths them and tosses them around...not a mark on them (as nature intended). Is there a way to train a bit of a stronger grip?
Now, I still want her to give things to me on command. This http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqs54qMgQA would be AWESOME (plus, it is a funny video), but even a little tighter grip on the ball would be good. (I don't want to train it by holding her mouth closed on it)
She is pretty clicker savvy (though not as much as Murph). Just in case you are wondering, no issues with her teeth, and I have never punished her for taking something...she came to me this way at a year old.



Can I just say that video always cracks me up! :dance: :D
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Postby dlynne1123 » June 25th, 2010, 12:13 pm

furever_pit wrote:Have you looked at Ivan Balabanov's methods at all? I used a dowel with a rope on one side to teach Dylan to hold the item while in a heel position. Marked and rewarded for holding the item and to teach a harder grip I would take the rope and give a slight jerk to show the dog that he could lose it at any time. We then worked on bringing the hold to my front.

I'm approaching it differently with Cairo and have tied it in to the end of a retrieve where he comes to my front and I keep the tug alive (but not enough to make the dog want to out and out tug, you just want him to hold on). Sometimes I take the toy, and sometimes I let him keep it. It fools him enough to keep him bringing things back to me. heehee.

Good luck with Nittany.



I agree, use the prey drive to your advantage and reward when holding, and to keep holding, keep the object moving. i.e. towel or tug at end of long rope. Flirt pole technique. mean while work on drive and release is just important! But begin to click for even longer hold times, then graduate to carrying, with an occasional tug to keep them on their toes, then work on and out or alternative command you haven't used yet. so not to confuse a messed up drop it, or a messed up hold it command.

Good luck!
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Postby LisaM » July 17th, 2010, 8:05 pm

I have an AB that I am training in Schutzhund. Her ball/play/prey drive is only low-moderate at best. Her retrieve drive is practically non existent.

I have tried all the "prey" methods to bring out every bit of drive she does have and for also trying to speed up her retrieve. She knows the exercise but has been very slow to execute it-no enthusiasm. I've done everything imaginable to drag as much drive out of her using positive and prey/play methods but have found that I get the best results when I combine some pressure and compulsion to the prey work...basically making the dumb bell, tug, ball, etc the "safe spot". I also do NOT switch up toy rewards based on what she likes best...I use your typical ball on a string and when I show her that ball, she better get on it...if she doesn't then I will make life a little uncomfortable for her. She does NOT get to pick what she gets to play with and participating is her only option. The same approach was taken with her in the bitework, and it has worked very well. Her drive for protection has increased dramatically.. When she was younger, and helpers tried working her strictly in prey with no price to pay for "not participating", the results were no where near as good because she learned it was ok to be lazy...believe it or not, applying pressure to a dog that has lower drive can actually build drive! I never would have believed that before but have seen the results first hand.

Good luck with your dog!
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Postby amazincc » July 17th, 2010, 8:19 pm

LisaM wrote: I also do NOT switch up toy rewards based on what she likes best...I use your typical ball on a string and when I show her that ball, she better get on it.... if she doesn't then I will make life a little uncomfortable for her


:shock: What does that mean, exactly?
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Postby LisaM » July 17th, 2010, 8:32 pm

Whatever it takes to get her motivated to play...all dogs are different in what they will or won't respond to.

could be some light tugs on the leash, a little pinch or some playful slaps on their side....sometimes I kick the ball a little bit and push her away from it...she actually enjoys (and works best) when she feels a sense of competition or combat with her handler or helper....she actually has a good amount of fight drive! I am not talking about abusing the dog when I say "make things a little uncomfortable" and including pressure should only be a last resort.. All you need to do is annoy them enough so that they will give in and participate...you have to be creative and it can be frustrating but with some dogs that's what you have to do in order to get results. If you have a low drive dog and ALLOW them to be lazy and walk away from the "game", they will almost always chose that option. The key is teaching them from the beginning that it's NOT an option...I wish I would have knew these things when I first got my dog and hopefully my next one will come with more drive so I don't have to work as hard LOL!!
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Postby katiek0417 » July 17th, 2010, 9:07 pm

LisaM wrote:she actually has a good amount of fight drive! !


Fight drive...I hate this term...most people believe that fight isn't really a drive, per se, but actually comes as a channelling between prey and defense...
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Postby LisaM » July 17th, 2010, 9:09 pm

katiek0417 wrote:
LisaM wrote:she actually has a good amount of fight drive! !


Fight drive...I hate this term...most people believe that fight isn't really a drive, per se, but actually comes as a channelling between prey and defense...


Yes, I have heard the debates about it over and over...it all depends on who you talk to...some believe it exists, others don't...
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Postby furever_pit » July 17th, 2010, 10:21 pm

I'm not going to comment on the fight drive thing. I don't care what you call it, but I have seen some of the same stuff with Dylan. His drive and excitement for the tug or ball is built by me being quite physical with him. I smack his sides and chest, have him jump into the air after the object and push him away, and get down on his level and wrestle with him over the object. It gets him revved up and influences our training in a positive way. He too has low to moderate toy/play drives.

I also agree that at some point in the retrieve there is a need for some pressure and correction. It doesn't sound to me like the OP's dog is ready for that at this point tho. I'll be honest and say that when Dylan is ready he will find that he has no choice but to retrieve the object. Every point counts, and trials are not games.
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Postby amazincc » July 17th, 2010, 11:39 pm

Sorry... I don't compete w/my dogs, so I might be way off here... but it sounds to me, in comparison, that you'd be *smacking* your kid around because he/she likes reading more than playing baseball... where's the fun in that??? :neutral:
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Postby furever_pit » July 18th, 2010, 12:17 am

I teach my dogs using positive reinforcement. I use correction to proof what they know.
Correction is relative - different dogs require different things. Can't remember the last time Dylan had his prong on and he's never been on electric but he does receive corrections in training. When the time comes to further proof the retrieve then Dylan will feel more pressure. That does not necessarily mean that he does not enjoy the exercise. And just because you are using corrections does not mean that you are not also using rewards.

IMO it is more like teaching a kid the rules of the game. My dogs WANT to do the work. They especially want to get their tug or ball or even more the decoy (obviously the Mal more than Dylan, but Dylan still gets more excited over training than anything else in his life). So you teach them the rules and show them that by following the rules they get what they want.
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Postby LisaM » July 26th, 2010, 7:54 pm

amazincc wrote:Sorry... I don't compete w/my dogs, so I might be way off here... but it sounds to me, in comparison, that you'd be *smacking* your kid around because he/she likes reading more than playing baseball... where's the fun in that??? :neutral:


Well, I see it like this...my trainer is a 50X SchH 3 competitor and has coached countless other handlers on to the SchH 3 level, including many to regional and national level events; using this philosophy. He has also worked with a variety of breeds and temperaments and has been able to get results across the board. Why not at least give his theory a try? If anything, this approach is much harder on ME than it is on my dog and it will help make me a better handler....it's a lot of work on my part and it would certainly be easier for me to just go to something else as a means of motivation.... Most handlers would have either washed my dog by now or gave up and went to rewarding the dog with something it preferred. In all honesty I am often tempted to give in and let my dog chose what she wants to work for as do I consider washing her in favor of a dog that has drive that is more easily accessible. But, I am not ready to give up yet. She is an otherwise good dog..mentally stable, confident and healthy (probably stronger and can take more pressure than some of the easy to train "prey monsters") so I will continue to prod along for now. Often, the amount of pressure needed isn't even all that much, a decent sport prospect really should be able to handle it...if they can't then well.... Not to mention, if I allow her to chose what to work for in obedience, there is a good chance she may try the same thing in bitework...chosing the type of equipment she will bite...I am stubborn and will keep trying to build drive for the motivator which is best suited for this style of training...we'll see how long I last..lol.

My trainer approached the protection phase with my dog with the same philosophy and here is the result less than a year into the training...does it look like she is being forced to do it? Do you see the dog showing stress? Does it appear that she is NOT HAVING FUN? I wish I was even half the handler my training director/helper is...I would love to pull the amount of ball drive from my dog that he was able to pull out for the bitework....maybe some day...

A year prior to this video, the dog had no interest in biting a sleeve...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTO59MbIDUA
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 26th, 2010, 8:51 pm

Jenn (OP) hasn't been back on to answer, but I'm pretty darn sure she won't use any compulsion for Nittany. She started out in a prong collar class with Murphy, her first dog, and he was ruined when he left. Jenn's a clicker trainer now...;)

I don't personally agree that positive punishment needs to be added for a retrieve. I have six dogs right now...and only one is a natural retriever. The other ones all were taught to retrieve using a clicker and treats, no force/compulsion/etc involved. Only negative punishment was used, if at all (removing my attention if they don't play).

I've got some crazy retrieving dogs now...three are trained as Service Dogs and will willingly and happily pick up many types of objects (plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans, coins off a slick floor, credit cards, books, shoes, keys, pens/pencils and so much more...) all done without any force or compulsion or "pressure". I've trained herding dogs, sporting dogs, hounds and mixes to retrieve all using positive reinforcement. And yeah...my Xander was trained to tug using a tie-back schutzhund method...and when he wasn't broken (torn ACL), he could be lifted off the ground and smacked around without letting go of his tug. The Wiener also has a ferocious tug...but with his back, I don't do that often. :giggle:

So...just saying...it can be done without force. ;)
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