Saturday, November 20, 2010

Teaching Release/Drop

Dog Blog Post #158: This is in reponse to a question posted by lessonsfrom4legs...

Important Note: I've only done this with non-aggressive young puppies who simply want to play for fun. I you are dealing with aggression and/or resource-guarding issues, you should talk to a professional!

I've taught releasing a tug toy two different ways.

The first was to offer something in trade to get the puppy to release what it has. So it's tug-tug-tug, have a cookie! tug-tug, here's a different toy! tug-tug-tug.

You need to make the original thing go "dead" and be boring (but don't let go) as you show off your new offering until the puppy releases what it has. Then you either give them the treat -and- immediately start tugging again, or immediately beginning tugging with the new toy if that's what you offered.

The puppy the learns that releasing not only gets them the new thing (treat/toy) but it also makes the game start up again. Keeping ahold of the old toy is boring and gets them neither play nor the new thing.

While that method worked, what I found was that Beau remained in an excited state the whole time, simply shifting his energy from one rewarding item to another. While that's not necessarily bad, it wasn't quite what I was after - especially with Beau!

My favorite approach, which I switched to with Beau and used with all three puppies after I found I didn't like the one above, is to tug-tug-tug, and then stop dead. Keep ahold of the tug toy with your primary hand, preferably right up near the puppy's muzzle. With your other hand, gently cup the puppy under the chin, gently wrapping your fingers toward their mouth for stability but don't press!

You are not trying to pry the mouth open!

Picture yourself holding a raw egg in one hand on a roller-coaster ride.

And then you simply wait.

Eventually, the puppy will (at least mine did!) decide this is boring, and start to release. Be patient, sometimes it takes a while for them to decide this. Sometimes it takes even longer for them to get their teeth loose!

Once they start to open their mouths, I might shift the toy a little to help get it free, especially if their teeth seem to be stuck. I want to work with my puppy, "Here, let me help you!" and often they really do seem to want to let go and can't quite do it!

As soon as the tug toy is free, return to a wild and fun tug-tug-tug session for a minute or two. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The purpose of the hand under the chin is three-fold. One, it helps steady the puppy so they are less likely to flop around/flip over to try to keep the game going. Two, it seems to help the release part, although I can't exactly say why. Perhaps a calming influence? And three, it turns into the physical cue to open their mouths.

It's important to be totally calm, quiet, and very boring. The instant you feel them start to open (yet another advantage to the hand under the chin) you can quietly praise/give encouragement to let them know they on on the right track!

The first few times took the longest, but after that they quickly caught on.

Very soon (a day or two) I find just putting my hand under their chin is enough to prompt them to release. At that point I add my "Drop" verbal cue.

I like this method better because of the "pause" this inserts into playing. I think it's important for a puppy to learn to calm down when excited, and you can visibly see them doing so as they are releasing the toy.

This is different than the drop and snatch that occurs with the first method, where they are focusing and getting rev-ed up for the new item before they even release the old. With the second method, there is nothing exciting for them to focus on, so their intensity level naturally drops.

Releasing/dropping a tug toy is a critical skill for me, and one of the first taught to my puppies, because of my long hair. It is usually braided and reaches my waist, creating a natural and quite irresistible tug toy.

This makes me highly motivated to teach this skill, and gives me plenty of opportunities to do so!

This also brings me very close to the puppy (ie: his face is usually inches from mine as he's clutching my braid) which is another reason why having one hand near the muzzle holding my braid (between his jaws and my face) and the other under his chin (to discourage flopping/rolling) are important to me. It's also why calming things down is so important!

As always, your mileage may vary, every puppy is different, different breeds behave in different ways, don't try it if it seems like a bad idea in your situation, etc. etc. etc...

1 comment:

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Hey Kathleen, thanks for writing this post. It is exactly the post I was planning!LOL

I too prefer the second method, I like the added benefit, of teaching patience while the puppy waits to play again. I used both methods for Maizey, but as I said she really just doesn't care so it was easy. I love being able to exchange these ideas! Thanks again!

Oh, BTW the image of the dogs chasing that wonderful "prey" that hangs from moms head is just too funny, though I suspect less so when its your head.LOL Thanks again!