One question that I see a lot is about hyperactivity in dogs. Whether you are training, or you are just trying to get through everyday, having a hyper dog can be exhausting!
The key to a hyper dog is to intercept your dog before the reactivity or hyper energy has a chance to run amuck!
I want to tell you about a magical toy that can help change all of this for you and your dog.
It may seem counter intuitive to use a toy to help calm a dog down, usually toys just make things worse, but this toy is different… and you probably already have one in your house.
The toy that is so magical is the tug toy … but it does have to be used correctly!
What About Food?
Food rewards are great, and I often start out with them, but over time we want to decrease the food rewards and gradually shift to more rewards that do not include food, such as play and praise.
This should be a natural progression not just with what we think of as training (cues) but also in everyday behaviors that we want to see in our dogs, for example calmness.
We know that we can reach for food rewards if necessary, but we don’t want them to be our go to forever.
It’s not only important to phase our food rewards for the physical health of our dog, but also because they can turn in to bribes over time and the longer we use them, the easier they will become for your dog to ignore when in a heightened state.
Why A Tug Toy?
A tug toy is a very versatile piece to have.
It is a toy that you use in close contact with your dog, so your dog is focused on you and stays very close to you while engaging with the tug toy.
It is also a toy that is pretty low profile, meaning that if you are around other dogs, the tug toy will not garner attention from other dogs. This is especially useful if you are outside at a park or beach, for instance.
If you were using food, or a ball, or even a squeaky toy, these could all potentially garner attention from other dogs, which could be very bad, especially if your dog is reactive.
How To Use A Tug Toy
Start by teaching your dog how to tug with the toy. When we start, we can use outside rewards, especially praise and petting, to reinforce a positive association with playing tug.
Now that your dog loves to play tug, we can start adding in some training!
We can now begin to use the tug toy as a reward. Ask your dog to come to you, then to sit and watch.
Remember to reward each step of the way, and continue to reward for longer periods of time that your dog can focus on you while remaining calm.
As you and your dog get better at this, you will also want to slowly add in distractions.
Using A Tug Toy In Real Life Situations
Real-life can sometimes through us (and our dogs) through a loop when we’ve been practicing something at home.
One thing I like to remind myself is that perfection doesn’t exist, my goal is to maintain my dogs health and happiness while minimizing stress and anxiety as much as possible. Some interactions will be more difficult than others, and that’s ok.
We learn and we grow.
The most important thing we can do is to be in the moment with our dog. Be aware of what is going on, while remaining as calm as possible.
If you see something coming up that you know will cause your dog to react, start paying attention to your dog. Look for signs that your dog notices that trigger (let’s say for example sake it’s another dog).
Once your dog notices the other dog but has not yet started reacting, or acting out, we want to intervene at this time.
Take two steps back, even turn around if necessary. Get your dog’s attention with the tug toy, ask for a sit and watch. Begin to engage your dog with the tug toy as a reward.
The tug toy has become your secret magical weapon to keep your dog focused on you!
Here are a few things to remember:
#1 Playing tug is a wonderful way to allow your dog to let off steam and get some exercise
#2 It’s a powerful tool for teaching impulse control, engagement and focus.
#3 To control your dog’s hyperactivity and reactivity… teach your dog to love playing tug… then use the tug toy to train a super reliable “come, sit, watch” sequence.
#4 Practice in increasingly challenging environments until it becomes second nature to your dog.
What are you doing now to engage your dog? Even if your dog is not hyper, this is a great exercise to teach to be able to engage your dog in any situation!