This quick, easily taught 3 step method works best for dogs with a very strong drive for tugging and no desire to let go. If your dog won’t stop tugging even when you wave a hot dog in front of him, this method is for you.
Step 1: Immobilize the toy. Your dog loves the action tugging creates. If you no longer provide resistance to your dog’s tugging, this lessens her enjoyment and will usually provoke a response–like releasing the toy. I like to trap the tug toy with both hands against my thigh.
Step 2: Give your cue. Say it immediately after you have stopped tugging with your dog. My older dogs were taught to release the toy when I said “leave it” but I’m using “thank you” with my new puppy. I start using the verbal cue with the very first repetition I attempt with a new dog.
Step 3: Restart the game. As soon as your dog lets go of the tug toy, IMMEDIATELY restart the game by giving your cue to take the toy (mine is “get it”) and moving the toy AWAY from your dog. Moving the toy away from your dog is critical as this will instantly stimulate her prey drive and make for a very satisfying reward–another game of tugging. Your dog will learn that the quickest way to a great game of tug is a fast release of the toy when cued by the handler.
Q: My dog took a while to let go of the toy.
A: That’s okay. Some dogs may take several seconds to let go of the toy; just wait for them to let go, and IMMEDIATELY give your “get it” cue and move the toy away from them.
Q: I can’t immobilize the toy because my dog is too big and stronger than me.
A: You can try using a leash to prevent the dog from pulling away from you, but you must find a way to immobilize the toy or this method will not work. You may have to try a different way.
In the video below, I demonstrate the 3 steps with my experienced, 9 year old border collie Rook and my new 6 month old border collie Miriya. Miriya has great toy drive but very little food drive, and will not stop tugging for any food. This is just her 2nd session working on this skill, and you can see her steadily improve as she begins to understand the structure of the game.