Shaping the Give with a Collar Grab

He Just Tears It Out of My Hand!

One common problems that most handlers experience at one time or another is getting the dog to give a toy. This can be frustrating especially with powerful or ferocious tuggers because they so easily rip the disc out of human hands. And if it’s winter time, oh man… grr…

A real nice technique for handling this problem is to get a hand on the disc then reach for the dogs collar with the other hand. This changes the attachment point between dog and human from the disc to the dog’s collar. The disc  is hard to hold, the dog has too much leverage, and the more the handler pulls to maintain control the more desperately he wants that disc. Wrestling with a dog over a Give only reinforces the tug and hold.

Get a Better Grip and Reduce the Tension

Hook a finger under the dog’s collar as he tries to tug on the toy and he winds up tugging on his own collar. Any handler will be able to hold a disc gently, making the struggle over the disc a boring proposition. Holding onto the object and tugging solo after the Give becomes an empty reward at best.

Do not put any load on the disc. If the handler pulls the disc, a dog with a Give problem or tug drive is going to pull back. Ever so gently grab the disc and hold it just tight enough to maintain control. Same thing with the fingers under collar, try to keep the load off the collar — if you pull he pulls. Once it’s secure, relax and wait. If he jerks and tears keep the load off the disc and let the dog pull on his own collar. Sometimes the dog does manage to tear the disc from the hand even with the collar hook, but that’s no big deal, just keep the collar hooked and gently put a hand on the disc and give no resistance.  Tugging is quite boring when the handler refuses to resist.

When the dog finally gives, mark and reinforce by offering him a bite on the disc he just gave.

Reinforce the Give Behavior!

When the dog performs a Give, mark and reinforce with another bite or a roller. If we set up the Give again, it should take roughly 1/2 the time to get the Give behavior. The latency between the Cue and the performance of the behavior gets smaller on each successive repetition of the skill. For serious issues, it could take a couple of reps to start to see the halving of latency, but it should happen.

Giving the dog the same disc back in the form of a cued Bite as Cookie is a great tactic for reinforcing a Give. The look on a dog’s face when he realizes that he will get the disc right back is often a memorable experience. Giving the same disc back after he gives it to you reduces the need to possess it.

Reinforcing the Give means doing something that makes the Give more likely to happen. All of the annoying biting, tugging, mouthing and such that the dog does between the Give cue and the release of the disc  will be forgotten if the teeth off is marked and well reinforced. Performance of the cued Give makes the Bite happen. 

Set the Pace of the Game, then Test

Warm up with some fast paced bitework focused on the cued Drop. Get the game cranking and then slip a Give in there. The game will lag until he gives. Once the Give is performed, mark and reinforce with more high energy bitework. This provides a stark contrast that quickly teaches the lesson that Give works just like Drop — they both make Next Happen.

The time spent not giving the disc is part of the lesson. Don’t try to rush it or get frustrated. Just hang out and let your dog learn that a Give makes opportunity happen.

Plan for Success

It is a good idea not to jump into a challenging training session when the dog has just taken the field or hasn’t played in a few days. He will be too high to comply. Trying to fix the Give when the dog is tired is a bad idea as well. Tired dogs don’t do well on this skill. Successful shaping requires that the handler set up a situation in which the dog is likely to succeed. Make sure to have a plan and set the stage for success.