dog

Tugging

Published by: Mikołaj Synowiec

Introduction

It’s hard to imagine dogfrisbee without tugging. There are a lot of exercises based on this behavior and they are really beneficial for dog’s development. On top of that it is 99% of the time our main source of reinforcement. In my opinion there is no point in questioning whether tugging is a part of dogfrisbee. We should go one step further and ask WHY it is so beneficial and useful.

What is tugging?

In this type of consideration we should start with defining what behavior are we looking at. We are talking about tugging when two sides (handler and a dog) are holding the same toy and are trying to get it by pulling it. Tugging ends when only one side holds a toy.

Tugging as reinforcement

Probably everybody has heard “reward a dog with tugging”. From scientific point of view we treat tugging as positive reinforcement(R+). The definition of R+ is adding a stimulus to the environment during or slightly after the behavior which increase its frequency in a similar conditions. In our case we start tugging after a behavior to make it more likely to occur next time when we ask for it.

Functionality

Ideally tugging should be reinforcement but food can also reinforce behaviors. Most of us taught a dog to sit with food as a reinforcer so why tugging is better than food?

Words better or worse can cause a bit of chaos. Reinforcement is reinforcement. It is a term for describing what is happening.

Dogfrisbee is very physically demanding game. Dog’s heart rate and breath rate will be quite high. It is basically interval sprinting with additional behaviors. Imagine a sprinter who just finished his 100m run. Would he be pleased by a food? Even if we would put the best dishes from around the world he wouldn’t care! His body would not want to it at that time.

The same goes to our dogs. Maybe some of them will eat anyway but it is not healthy and not functional.

What if I can find R+ which is also connected with “high energy”?

Maybe there is a reinforcer other than tugging which demand similar body conditions as the game of dogfrisbee creates? And that is a sweat spot. Tugging is used also because it’s need the same body conditions. It fit to the dogfrisbee very well.

Sooo what about chasing?! We can throw something. For many dogs chasing is a primary reinforcer so it would fit here. Wouldn’t it? It demands similar body conditions, it is a high energy behavior and we have toy which is meant for throwing.

Topography of behavior

Topography is how the behavior looks like (described very precisely). We care how our behaviors look like because it is scored on competitions :P. We want to have nice freestyle figures.

The type of reinforcement influences the topography of behavior. If I train a behavior with a ball throw as a reinforcer and the same behavior with tugging. Both will still be the same behaviors but will look different.

Again words better and worse doesn’t help here. We need to know how our ideal behavior looks like and with that on mind choose a reinforcer. From my experience most of the time it will be tugging.

Other benefits

We discussed tugging as reinforcement but the benefits of this behavior goes way further. Tugging done properly is a great exercise to increase a motivation for toys. It is also great physical exercise because it involves vast majority of dog’s body.

There are plenty of exercises based on tugging which are amazing for practicing various skills and behavior which are a key for dogfrisbee performance.

Summary

Tugging is not a magic thing it finds it usage because of its functionality. There are times where other reinforcers fits for certain behavior better than tugging because of that we should always consider why are we choosing certain reinforcer over another. It is also has many other advantages than just a reinforcement procedure. It is a huge part of dogfrisbee not because someone said so.

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