Play tug of war and get a better delivery to hand


If you have read this blog a couple of times or our book “Retrieving for All Occasions” it shouldn’t be a surprise that we like to teach our dogs things through play. I like to play with my dogs for several reasons. It is, of course, another form of reward that you can add to your list of rewards, but above all we have fun together. At the same time, you can also teach your dog a lot of things.

When Flippa came to me she was nine weeks old, and she ran happily away and picked up all the toys that I threw, then she returned to me at full speed and … then, about one yard in front of me she turned off in another direction at an even higher speed. One of the first things I trained her to do then was to put things in my hand. I don’t want to play with a dog that runs away with the dummy – and, as you know, a dog always learns the things he is allowed to do.

So, therefore I taught her at once to put things in my hand in a nice way. But I always teach my dogs two different kinds of retrieving to my hand, and one of them is that the dog should sit in front of me and hold the object until I say: “thank you”.

To have a dog that can sit in front of you with a dummy in his mouth is very useful for everybody who wants to participate in hunting tests with dummies – then you show the judge that your dog can really hold the dummy until you ask him to release it. It looks neat and tidy, and many judges get impressed. J I don’t use this type of delivery to hand when I hunt with my dogs, because then I want the dog to give me the game as quickly as possible, and the fastest way is to just use my hand target, but I often practice deliveries when the dog sits in front of me anyway, because at the same time the dog learns to be calm, which is very important when the dog delivers to hand.

When I train my cocker spaniel Tassla, which is the dog that I use mostly when I hunt, I ask her to sit in front of me with the dummy in her mouth, because it is a reminder that she shouldn’t chew; she used to have a hard time to stop chewing. For Flippa, who is more like a popcorn, it is a reminder that everything doesn’t have to be done in high speed and that she shouldn’t throw the dummy at me.

All my previous dogs have quickly learned to sit in front of me and hold a dummy or a toy in their mouth, and I used a combination of tug of war and reversed luring to teach them this when they were young dogs. When I started to train Flippa I consciously waited to teach her this behavior, because I noticed that she initially was very frustrated when food was involved in the training. She has been a very hungry little puppy and therefore she became totally blocked when she saw something good to eat. I had to use boring dry food in the training and never train when she was hungry, otherwise she would get too focused on the good food in my hand, and therefore it took a long time to teach her things. Now it is a lot better and I don’t think that she is hungry in the way she was before. 

Flippa wasn’t as good at tug of war as my other dogs. She didn’t hold things steady in her mouth – it was loose and sloppy – and she shook her head a lot and hit the toy with her paws. Therefore, at first, I wanted that the tug of war game to be really fun for her and that she started to hold the toy steady in her mouth. When she could play the game and hold on to the toy firmly, I started the long journey towards sitting and holding a dummy in front of me. The first game a played with her was tug of war with the toy in one hand and a treat in the other hand. You could say that it is a tug of war game with distractions.

I filmed the process with Flippa and in the beginning she is already able to play the game even though I have a treat in my hand and in the end she can sit in front of me and hold the toy until I say: “thank you”.

Here you can see when I play the game with Flippa, and she is still a little half-mad, but the game is now so much fun that she doesn’t immediately let go of the toy just because I have some dry dog food in my other hand:

Flippa thought it was very difficult in the beginning and I had to reward her quickly with a “thank you” and a treat. I did that as soon as she pulled a little in the toy. She understood very quickly that if she held on to the toy she would properly get more. Watch this film too:

In the beginning, I kept the treat in my closed hand next to my thigh. Then I showed it more and more, and in the end, I could have the treat in my palm next to Flippa’s nose while she continued playing. Then it was time to play in a calmer way and in the end, she played so calmly that she actually stood or sat still in front of me holding the toy. Here you can see how I did this:

I could then say “sit” and she sat down without spitting out the toy – it’s not unusual that puppies can’t do two things at the same time. When she managed this, I could transfer this behavior to the dummies and toys that she picked up and retrieved to me. After that I tried to let her stand up and hold a dummy. I filmed this process:

The next step was to see if she could retrieve the dummy and hold the dummy, and she should only release om my cue “thank you”.

Now, when she had learned this, I started to use the newly acquired skill so that she learned to hold and then deliver the game. Flippa gets very excited about game and needs to calm down a bit. It is too difficult for her to sit down and hold game for more than a second. I can use the game – reversed luring – that I played before to make her calm as well as to get her to come all the way to me and deliver the game to my hand. I use a very exaggerated reversed luring so that the treat I give her is interesting to her, despite the high value of the game. In this case she wouldn’t care about a piece of dry dog food in my hand. If she has game in her mouth, I need to use a bowl of fresh dog food as a reward for giving the game to me.

Here you can see how I train deliveries to hand with game using the same method:

Do you want better deliveries to hand too? Did you know that we’ve got a whole online course focusing on just that? Check it out here:

If you have a puppy and want help to get started with the training, focusing on aong other things delivery to hand, we have an online puppy course as well – with and without personal feedback.

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