Pentti playing with tug toyThere are two kinds of dogs — those that want to do nothing but play and those that are bewildered when their owners WANT to play.

Today I’m going to address the first kind of dog.

Most of the time these dogs just don’t seem to have an off switch. They want to GO GO GO and need to be taught how to be patient and go from excited to calm.

One of the ways I teach this at Superior Dog Training is with a tug toy.

How to Teach an On/Off Switch

Begin by starting up a game of tug. Once the dog has hold of the toy and is tugging away, and has been tugging nicely with you for at least 15 seconds, grab the toy on either side of the dog’s mouth and pull the toy in close to your body.

Hold very still in this position until the dog releases the toy. As soon as the dog releases the toy, start the game back up.

Before long the dog will realize that once you freeze the only way for them to restart the game is to release the toy. This is yet another way to use the Premack Principle.

When the dog reaches the point where they release the toy almost right away, you can begin to add the cue you’d like to use to ask the dog to release the toy (I use “leave it” but other common cues are “drop it,” “thank you,” and “release”).

Riley and I demo the game!

Skill Building: Adding Criteria

Once this has been reliably trained you can add criteria by asking the dog to do a bit more “work” in order to restart the game.

A good first step might be to ask the dog to release the toy and then make eye contact in order to resume the game. Then you might ask them to release the toy, make eye contact, and ignore the toy while you dangle it from one hand.

Gradually, you can increase your “tempting” of the dog with the toy, until they only grab it when you tell them they can, as I do at the end of the video. At that point you’ve taught a good amount of impulse control, taught the dog how to switch from “on” and tugging to “off”  and patient — and you’ve managed to teach a pretty reliable drop it cue, all at the same time!

Special thanks to Katie Brennan for the picture of her dog, Ch Finkkila’s Pentti ThD CGC TDIA – aka “Pentti,”  used above! Want your dog featured in a blog post? Join our facebook group!