Meagan Karnes. BS. MBA. – Senior Behaviorist
Now, I know a lot of people out there condition the “OUT” command far differently than I do.
Some use compulsion, leash corrections or tension to force the “out”….or at least make it very uncomfortable for the dog not to let go.
Others will use motivation to condition the “out”, starting on toys and working their way up to ‘out’ on the decoy. There are hundreds of ways to condition the behavior.
My chosen method, just another one in a sea of many, is to condition by rewarding the dog for outing the toy with what the dog actually wants. And, if my dog doesn’t want what I have to offer. I work hard to change that, to make him want my game, and to make him understand that we are on the same team. If I reward with something that’s not high on his list, there’s every chance he might not care enough to comply with the rules of the game. Plainly stated, I like to teach a dog how to get what he wants.
The thing is, the handler is rewarding the dog with something he doesn’t want. He wants to win the toy, but the out is rewarded with a continuance of the game.
Since there is conflict in the game, there will be conflict in the “out”. He doesn’t want to let go or necessarily continue the game. He wants to win the toy. To eliminate the conflict, teach him how to earn what he wants and if he doesn’t want what you have to offer. You have to change his wants. Yep, I mean help him decide he wants what you are offering
Here are some pointers for conditioning a more positive “Out”.
(Now, I am going to start simple here and ease you into the crazy. Just stick with me.)
- Don’t Pull – When trying to get your dog to out a toy or sleeve. Don’t pull the object in their mouth. Any pressure on it will encourage them to set their grip and hold on tighter as they worry you are about to take what they feel they’ve earned. Never should you have any pressure on an object you are trying to get a dog to release.
- Move Less – If you want your dog to let go calm your game. Many people feel that to keep a dog engaged in a game of tug they need to be moving a LOT. Dancing around, flinging the dog through the air by the toy gripped in his mouth or making the toy move all over the place. Movement ramps the dog. And the more ramped the dog, the more difficult it will be for him to have a clear head when you are trying to teach something new. Calm your game to get a clearer mind and then if you want, add movement later and do so in increments as your dog understands the command at the lowest level of stimulation.
- Check for Conflict in your Game – Conflict in your game can cause conflict in your out. The most common signs of conflict include growling, barking and vocalization, thrashing, and avoidance. I’d love to tell you how to fix conflict in your game, but that would be a novel in and of itself. For now, I’ll just say that you should always be aware of conflict, whether it be with a tug or with a decoy, and you should be working to correct it.
- Understand What Your Dog Wants – If you are using motivation to condition your “out”, to be the most effective it’s important you understand the reward your dog is seeking. More often than not, what he wants and what you think he SHOULD want are two very different things. You won’t be as effective if you reward your dog with for example, a continuance of the game, when the game is wrought with conflict, and the dog wants nothing more than to win the toy. Instead reward your dog with exactly what he wants. So, if his expectations and your rewards don’t align, you’ll either need to change your reward or spend time reconditioning the game to help him find value in what you have to offer.
5.Quit Making the Game about Possession – It’s common in bite work for the game to be about possession. (Gasp! Now this is where I often get myself in trouble and where all the Internet bullies get angry at me) Ok, here me out here. The dog is rewarded with “winning” a toy over and over again for months and months and he’s praised for possessing it. But if the game is always about winning an object, then the “out” becomes counterproductive to the game that has been so heavily reinforced. Think about it. If I teach you that your entire purpose in life is to win an object – that the object is your most prized possession and that you should hold onto it, possess it, and own it – how confusing would it be for me to tell you now, to let it go? Think about how difficult it is for me to tell you that in the advance stages of bite work, “You will not win!” Instead, you’ll simply need to let go. How unsatisfying is that? And how do you get what you want in that exchange? You don’t. And plainly stated, that sucks. If I can’t reconcile those two lessons in my own head I can only imagine how tricky it would be for my pup. So instead I teach my dog the game is about….well….the game. And once I get my dog wanting that game more than anything, getting him to out is easy. (Now I will say that there is a time and a place for letting a dog win and own a toy. In the early stages, this may be a necessary evil. But I quickly begin to make the game about the actual game, not an object. And by doing that, I can stop conflict before it even begins.)
- Start Young – Because I condition my dog to want the game instead of the object, and because I use only motivation and no compulsion to condition my “out” I can start the command young with no ill effects. I begin my dogs on “out” just as soon as we’ve mastered our game of tug. If they are playing the correct game they are learning the “out” is simply another part of the game, and it’s still fun. Now if I were to use heavy compulsion to condition the command or if my game was about possession I wouldn’t be able to condition my “out” so early. But since that’s not the case, I can condition my “out” early saving myself the headache of having to undo a reinforcement history later in my training.
Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002. She specializes in tackling tough issues such as anxiety and aggression. She also has extensive experience training dogs to hunt and for work. She has two Belgian Malinios she has trained and tilted in various sports. Meagan with her successful business the ‘Collared Scholar’ has won numerous awards in the industry.