Tug of war? Play fighting? Grabbing collars?

Tug of War #2

QUESTION:

Don, what’s your opinion on playing “tug” with your dog? Does this give the dog control? Also, our puppy and ten-year-old dog play fight together quite a bit. They both will go at each other’s Command Collar if they’re wearing them. Since we’re supposed to leave the Command Collar on all the time except for sleep and unsupervised times (which makes sense), what do I do? And, should they actually be allowed to play fight and wrestle, or is that aggressive behavior and, therefore, counter productive to the training?

 

ANSWER:

Whenever training a new dog, I normally avoid the “tug” game until I’ve reached the “Trust Zone” level with the dog (i.e. until the dog has reached the “self governance” level that I discuss in my Perfect Dog DVDs). At that point, you can introduce the game, but always be cautious of two things: 1) signs of aggression, and 2) signs of disobedience/possessiveness.

The dog doesn’t always have to “lose” to the handler, however the dog should be instantly responsive to commands such as “Bring” and “Drop.” The dog should know you’re allowing him to have possession of the toy at times – at your discretion only. If there are any signs of either aggression or disobedience/possessiveness, I quit playing the game, do some reinforcement training with dog, and then I reintroduce it at a later date.

I actually prefer simply playing retrieve/fetch with my dogs. They have just as much fun, they get more exercise, and there’s never any potential for the dog to rise up against my leadership.

Regarding dogs play fighting and wrestling: This is acceptable as long as the dogs do not display any signs of aggression along with the game. These signs can be subtle, so you need to be acutely aware. They include growling, barking, and nipping. You can allow the game to happen and then correct for any signs of aggression as they occur. The dogs will soon get the idea of what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

However, if their training is not advanced enough at this stage for them to respect the boundaries/rules of the game that you’re communicating to them then play fighting needs to be completely stopped until such time as the dogs can handle the game responsibly.

Regarding the dogs biting at each other’s Command Collars: You’re right for wanting to prevent this. And, good on you for wanting to follow the strict instructions to keep the Command Collars on your dogs at all times (except for bedtime and for times when the dogs cannot be supervised) until their training is complete.

The collar grabbing issue can be resolved by observing the dogs intently for a number of days during their play fighting sessions. Simply say “No!” firmly and step in to correct them every time they go to grab the Command Collar with their teeth. You can use the snout correction (the same one I demonstrate for the “Drop” command in my Perfect Dog DVDs) for this situation.

You may find the problem is resolved within only one day. Just be careful to remember the golden rule about increasing the level of the correction if the unacceptable behavior does to change. This goes for all behaviors you have to correct. If you don’t clearly recall this golden rule then you need to review the “Golden Rules” section on DVD #1.

– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”

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