Bruno and owner are regulars at The Clever Canine.

Bruno is my kind of dog. He is fast and powerful. He loves food, play with toys,  and play without toys. He will switch between these categories of motivators without a second thought. He did have a little stranger-danger reactivity, but that is fading into extinction.

We initially taught his positions (sit, down, and stand) with food as a reinforcer. But, as mentioned above, food is not his only joy in life. Some of his other joys bring out much more excitement than food. So he is also learning to think, control himself, and respond at these higher arousal levels.

The use of a tug toy as a motivator increases Bruno’s arousal. Since he already understands how to play tug in a functional way (target tug to handler’s hands, out when asked, etc.), we are now teaching him to respond to position cues while playing the game.

I got our session from a couple days ago on video.

Here is the breakdown:

0:01 The owner offers calm petting as Bruno absorbs his surroundings. We have developed this as a way of allowing him to adjust and get comfortable in the space he will be working in without him needing to explore everything directly.

0:11 The owner asks, “ready?” Bruno responds with a yes, by turning towards the handler expectantly.

0:12 The owner directs him to the tug toy.

0:15 Bruno targets the tug to his owner’s hands to initiate the game.

0:21 Owner says “out.” Bruno outs and starts to offer the down. The owner is frustrated with herself, because she wanted to slip in the “down” verbal cue before he offered the behavior. It isn’t a big deal. I just reminder her to say “down” immediately after saying “out” since he will quickly offer the behavior when the tug is presented low to the ground.

0:25 Owner says, “yes,” and the tug game continues.

0:28 The down is repeated. This time the owner sneaks in the “down” before he offers the behavior.

0:41 Owner cues the sit. Notice that even though she returns the tug in front of her, Bruno does not engage the tug until he is told “yes.” Good self control!

0:49 Owner “outs” Bruno. He outs, but he goes back in for the tug prematurely. The owner keeps the tug dead by holding it close to her body. (Good owner!) She captures him standing and waiting at attention (with “yes”). Notice that she waits for what she wants – attention while standing.

Notes about this video:

1. Bruno’s owner does a very good job.

2. It is hard to play a good game of tug with a dog sitting, downing, or standing still. “Yes” solves this issue. The word bridges the gap between the behavior and reinforcement. “Yes” tells Bruno why he is getting the tug, and it also releases him to play tug.

3. Bruno is mostly responding to body language for cues as to what position he should offer. Notice that the owner gives him a different picture for each behavior. Down is an out low to the ground. Sit is the tug moved behind the back and a step backwards. Stand is the tug in front of the body with one leg extended.

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