Introduction to toy play
There is plenty of information about tugging. Strategies, move from right to left, back off, let your dog pull you, keep your hand low. If you put in some effort and time, you will find what to do during a toy play. However, I very rarely see anyone talking about what happens before a tug before both you and a dog hold a toy. It’s a shame because it sets the tone up to the rest of the tug. You can either start strong and keep the positive momentum or try to gain it back after a messy start.
What is it? I label “toy presentation,” anything a handler does intend to allow a dog to catch a toy.
Why is toy presentation that important?
The most important reason is quite apparent. Would instead make it harder for a dog or easier? If your dog is already struggling with tugging, making a start harder isn’t a good idea for his learning.
The next reason is entirely based on my personal experience with clients. Teams (person and a dog) who have a hard time tugging usually aren’t that bad. Whenever there is tension on a toy, and the successful tug starts, they are doing pretty well, and the behaviors they unconsciously use are often spot on. However, the problem is that they often struggle to create the moment when with enough pressure on a toy. Good toy presentation allows them to get it and make use of their “good” tugging behavior. Tugging isn’t that difficult for many people. Gaining the proper tension on a toy is. That’s why so many people can see great success after learning how to start a tug effectively.
What makes an excellent toy presentation?
“Good” toy presentation is the one that fulfills the following criteria (also the requirements are written in order from the most important to the least important):
* Ends with a catch of the toy
* The catch put a dog in an advantageous position for further tugging (it relates to the toy’s place in the dog’s mouth, dog neck position, and more. What matters is that a dog can start tugging right after the catch.
* Time. The shorter the process is, the better. I mean, if we take the same exact situation and one toy presentation took 5s and another 3s. I consider shorter one a better toy presentation (of course if in both cases criteria one and two have to be fulfilled)
My two main types of toy presentation
One-handed toy presentation
Here you can see how I execute one-handed toy presentation from all angles:
What I do:
* One step to open myself up into the direction I want to move. If I present with my right hand, the right leg does this step. If with left, the left leg does a step
* After that, I follow it up with another step to give my dog more space and ensure that I move in a straight line.
Two-handed toy presentation
Here you can see how I execute two-handed toy presentation from all angles:
What I do:
* I do one step back. If I present on the right side, right leg takes a step. If left, then the left leg does it. Ensure that the step is pretty big, so a dog has enough space to maneuver their body.
* Then I turn with my torso to the side. I try to move as much to the side. I can’t mitigate the frontal position to the dog. Keep in mind that a line created by a toy should be perpendicular to the dog’s approach path.
Which one is better?
The right question is which one is better for what situation. There are advantages and disadvantages for both, and usage will depend on a situation and team preferences. If you just started your tugging journey, simply pick what you are most comfortable with doing. The more precise and consistent you are, the better for your dog.
Keep toy play straight
I like to keep everything in a straight line. Let’s say I’m point A, and a dog is point B. The shortest distance from A to B is always in a straight line, and the quickest which fulfills the criteria number three. On top of that, it’s easy to catch because the dog can keep moving in the direction of a toy and eventually end up with it in his/her mouth (criteria 1). What about criteria 2, the quality of catch? Dog moves into a toy, which probably means that he/she will have a deep grip. IF a toy is deep in their mouth, a dog will be able to apply constant pressure, which ensures a solid grip on it. So keeping everything in a straight line as much as possible is a good rule to have. Are there situations where moving in a not straight line will be a better choice? Yes, but if you feel like you need to bend this rule, you will probably know why. In the beginning, keep it straight.
What about a dog?
Up to this point, we only talked about what a person does in a toy presentation, but what about a dog? We should devote a few sessions where you train toy presentation. If you remain consistent with your part, a dog won’t have any problems to get to the toy. They are more than smart enough to do it!
My toy presentation practice:
Proper toy presentation can improve your tug almost instantly. Make sure to practice it without a dog before you start teaching him/her how your tug will start. Hopefully, this will help you in having more fun with your dog.
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