The last few months I worked a lot with Wi on building her value in tugging.
As a puppy she would tug at only at home. She didn't tug when we were outside our backyard, in puppy classes, with other people and if there was a dog around. At one point (I think she was around 10 months old) she stopped tugging for a while. After that period she showed a little more interest in tugging. She would still not tug in the presence of dogs, in new environments and with other people.
About 3 years ago I have taught our older dog Dora (9,5 years old mix) to tug. For 6 years she never tugged and I had to start really slowly with her, praising a lo when she pulled and rewarding her with food. But once she »got it«, she didn't need any reward. Just another tug game.
Since Wi is also highly food motivated I decided to use food as a reinforcer to build her value in tugging.
My main criteria was intensity.
At first I was rewarding any pulling on the toy from her part. Soon she was showing a lot more interest and her intensity grew. I kept it all really fast and fun. Soon I was able to let go of the toy when she pulled hard and she would immediately bring it back to me and started to tug once again when I took hold of it.
Everything got a little slower as I started to add various distractions:
- moving around the space
- touching her (it took her a while to hold on even if a touched her head and mouth)
- moving things around as she tugged
- adding distractions such as dogs, food, balls, people, ...
- changing the environment (backyard, the street, the woods, training grounds, competition areas, next to a group of people/dogs, in new environments, …)
but she's showing a lot of progress. The main criteria was always the same.
In the last weekend of March we went to Austria to see a dog dancing competition. It was a completely new place for her, indoors, new footage (slippery!), new people, new dog, noises… and still she tugged. Momma was proud.
She has a really nice weight shift and shows a lot of intensity and enthusiasm while playing. We still have a lot of things we need to work on.
Around dogs she's still a bit unsure and if any dog shows interest in her toy she lets go and leaves. At home we managed to get over this and she is able not only to tug with Dora but to win. They can tug as long as one doesn't win. Wi doesn't just let go of the tuggy. Now she really wants to win the game. And to top it, she even has the guts to go and get the toy FROM Dora if she wins it. They start tugging for it again but just a few weeks back she wouldn't come in the distance of a few meters to her, let alone try to take something from her.
Also, once we started tugging outside home I started to reward her with her squeaky balls. She's crazy for them (especially her Other Cuz and JW ball) so I can easily replace food for them when raising value.
I also use the game of tug before we start trainings, go on a walk, before her meal or before she can go to the water… before anything she really likes. Premack.