The Take It and Give Game

Some dogs tend not want to give back the object. For some this is because they consider it is a game, others because they just struggle to let go off their grip. The way to deal with this is to turn the “Take It” and “Give” behaviours into a game.

We cover this in the next video. One of Manouk’s favourite games has always been playing tug. As such, when he is given an object, particularly a flexible object like a piece of rope, fleece, or rubber ring for example he struggles to let it go because he is expecting a fun game of tug and he also find comfort in the grip. But by playing the “Take It – Give” game we turned the situation around. Manouk now understands that the “Give” is part of the game and he expects that he will be able to grab the object again.

The key points to the Take it – Give game introduced in the video are:

  • Offer the object to your dog and use the Take It command so that your dog takes the object in its mouth. Make the Take It behaviour exciting for your dog.
  • As soon as your dog has hold of the object, let it go the object and then get hold of your dogs’ collar. Now offer your dog a food treat from your other hand and use the Give command. You are transferring the reward from the object to the food.
  • When your dog is confidently letting go of the object when you use the Give command start fading the food reward.
  • When you have faded out the food, continue playing the game. As the Take It behaviour becomes more exciting to your dog than the Give, this behaviour now becomes the reward.
  • It needs to be a fast pace of “Give it” “Take it” so you dog does not give up and finds the game fun and rewarding, it is not a test

Tips for training the Hold It

The position of your hand when you are grabbing the object after a Give can help encourage a longer and rock-solid hold of the object.

Usually, we tend to position our hand below our dog’s mouth and your dog just need to drop the object in the hand. This issue is that some dogs will start dropping on the floor instead of in your hand.

The trick is to start pick up the object from above the object rather than below which gives a clearer cue to your dog that you are supposed to grab the object before they let it go. With time you might also notice your dog pushing their head up to give you the object.

Some dogs are very food focused and will concentrate on the source of the treats rather than engaging directly with you, so they are not giving you their full concentration. In this case hide the source of the treats so that they concentrate more on the verbal and body cues that you are giving them

Introducing Take it, Hold it, Give

If you dog can grab the object and keep a little bit of duration, you can also start to introduce 3 verbal cues whilst still working in increasing the duration of the Hold which is the hardest part of the trick.

Remember the 3 stages to teach a command or a verbal cue:

  • First Say the verbal cue whilst you dog is offering the behaviour until your dog is associating the word with the behaviour
  • Give the word before your dog is offering the behaviour, this is when it becomes a command
  • Change your position or the environment to make sure your dog can generalise the behaviour

Take it

Present the object to your dog by holding it in front of their nose and use “Take It”  to ask them to take the object in their mouth. This is what we have been working on in the previous week Mouth Targeting Part 1: Mouthing and Grabbing please add the link

Hold it

When you dog has taken the object, use Hold It to ask your dog to keep the object in its mouth. With the Hold It part of the sequence you need to start building the duration that your dog is holding the object. This is what we are mainly working on this week. Take your time, try to really increase the duration

Give

Finally introduce the Give command and take the object back from your dog as your dog needs to understand when it is supposed to release the object.

When teaching this sequence, a common behaviour that most people have is to start moving their hand towards their dog when they ask their dog to “Give”. What then happens is their dog starts associating the hand movement with the “Give” command. The behaviour you want is for your dog to give the object only when you use the verbal command “Give” without any body cue.

To teach a strong Hold It, move your hands around before asking your dog to Give. As you are moving your hands you can keep using the Hold It command to reinforce that your dog should continue to hold the object. As you previously did in the “Hold It” trick you can also gently touch the object your dog is holding but still ask it to “Hold It”.

I the following video we can see that Leo is developing a good understanding of the Take It, Hold It, Give commands but he is anticipating the Give based on Emily’s hand movements. As such Emily starts moving her hands around before asking for the Give to break the association of the hand movement to the Give command.

It is important to that you work on the Hold It to get a solid behaviour before progressing any further. 

For the next video, Emily had continued to work on Leo’s Hold It so that Leo really understands that it is the command to Give that means let go of the object. Because Leo’s hold has improved, Emily can now ask Leo to Hold the object for longer durations and continue to hold whilst she stands up.

Once you have a solid Hold It behaviour the next stage is for you to work the sequence with a variety of different objects and with larger distractions. It is likely that as you introduce a new object to your dog you will see that it will be initially less confident with the Hold It and may start dropping the object before the give command. This is quite common and is one of the reasons why you need to work with different objects to reinforce the Hold It.

Introducing “Hold It”

This week you are going to continue with building your dog’s Mouth Targeting Tricks. You should have worked on engaging your dog to grab an object and now you need to help your dog understand that what you want is to “Hold” the object with a moment of Stillness. 

Wait to introduce the “Hold it” command that your dog is having some duration with keeping the object in its mouth, if fact at this stage you may not even introduce a command yet.

Take it, Hold It, Give!

In this topic you are going to continue with building your dog’s Mouth Targeting Tricks. You have already worked on the Hold It, so you will now be extending this behaviour with the Take It, Hold It and Give.

Take it

Present the object to your dog by holding it in front of their nose and use Take It to ask them to take the object in their mouth.

Hold it

When you dog has taken the object, use Hold It to ask your dog to keep the object in its mouth. With the Hold It part of the sequence you need to start building the duration that your dog is holding the object.

Give

Finally introduce the Give command and take the object back from your dog.

When teaching this sequence, a common behaviour that most people have is to start moving their hand towards their dog when they ask their dog to “Give”. What then happens is their dog starts associating the hand movement with the “Give” command. The behaviour you want is for your dog to give the object only when you use the verbal command “Give” without any body cue.

To teach a strong Hold It, move your hands around before asking your dog to Give. As you are moving your hands you can keep using the Hold It command to reinforce that your dog should continue to hold the object. As you previously did in the “Hold It” trick you can also gently touch the object your dog is holding but still ask it to “Hold It”.

I the following video we can see that Leo is developing a good understanding of the Take It, Hold It, Give commands but he is anticipating the Give based on Emily’s hand movements. As such Emily starts moving her hands around before asking for the Give to break the association of the hand movement to the Give command.

It is important to that you work on the Hold It to get a solid behaviour before progressing any further.  

For the next video, Emily had continued to work on Leo’s Hold It so that Leo really understands that it is the command to Give that means let go of the object. Because Leo’s hold has improved, Emily can now ask Leo to Hold the object for longer durations and continue to hold whilst she stands up.

Once you have a solid Hold It behaviour the next stage is for you to work the sequence with a variety of different objects and with larger distractions. It is likely that as you introduce a new object to your dog you will see that it will be initially less confident with the Hold It and may start dropping the object before the give command. This is quite common and is one of the reasons why you need to work with different objects to reinforce the Hold It.

There are some dogs, particularly if they are toy orientated, that once they have been given an object, they do not want to give it back. For some this is because they consider it is a game, but for others it can be because holding the object boosts their confidence and they consider that simply holding the object is a reward. As such they are less inclined to give the object back. The way to deal with this is turn the Take It and Give behaviours into a game.

We cover this in the next video. One of Manouk’s favourite games has always been playing tug. As such when he is given an object, particularly a flexible object like a piece of rope, fleece or rubber ring for example he is disinclined to let go because he is expecting a fun game of tug.

The key points to the Take it – Give game introduced in the video are:

  • Offer the object to your dog and use the Take It command so that your dog takes the object in its mouth. Make the Take It behaviour exciting for your dog.
  • As soon as your dog has hold of the object, let it go the object and then get hold of your dogs’ collar. Now offer your dog a food treat from your other hand and use the Give command. You are transferring the reward from the object to the food.
  • When your dog is confidently letting go of the object when you use the Give command start fading the food reward.
  • When you have faded out the food, continue playing the game. As the Take It behaviour becomes more exciting to your dog than the Give, this behaviour now becomes the reward.

Tips for food orientated dogs

All dogs do not react to the same stimuli. Some dogs are very game and movement motivated, whilst others are very food orientated. In the previous topic you saw that Mozzie and Phoebe could be encouraged to grab at an object simply by animating it when they approached it. If your dog is more food than toy orientated and animating the object is not enough, a good option can be to apply a little bit of soft treat on the object to encourage your dog to lick it or mouth it.

The only disadvantage with this technique is that your dog may understand that the behaviour required is licking instead of mouthing and holding.

As soon as your dog starts mouthing or licking the object (which implies opening the mouth), Mark and Reward; do not let your dog to simply continue licking the object. Your dog should not think that the reward is to be allowed to lick the object, the reward is the treat you give it for having given the object a quick lick.

Encouraging Grabbing

In the previous topic you worked at encouraging your dog to investigate an object held in your hand and eventually to try to mouth it.

When your dog is consistently mouthing the object, you are ready for stage 2: getting your dog to grab the object and if your dog is managing, to progressively increase the duration of the grab. At this stage, you aiming to get around half a second or a second duration. We demonstrate this with Phoebe in the video below.

As seen in the video, it is good practice to vary the object as your dog starts holding them for longer periods. We want to encourage the generalisation of the behaviour rather than only working with a single favourite object.

Key Learnings from the Video:

  • Gradually increase the duration of the hold by increasing the time between your dog taking the object in its mouth and you giving it the “Yes” marker.
  • Keep your hand next to the object, either lightly touching it or in a position that you can take hold of it when your dog lets go. You want to avoid letting the object fall to the floor.
  • Build the duration slowly.
  • Keep using different objects as your dog will behave differently with each object. Do not assume that if your dog is able to hold one object for a significant duration that it will do so for all objects.

Tip: As you start to build the duration you may find that your dog tends to drop the object to the floor. In the following video I discuss some simple tips to help avoid this.

Encouraging Mouthing

In the following videos we will be working the exercise initially with Mozzie who has never formally been taught any tricks, and then with Phoebe who does have more experience at performing tricks.

The aim of this first stage is simply to get your dog gradually interested in an object you are holding in front of it and encourage your dog to ultimately take the object in its mouth.

It is unlikely that your dog will immediately want to take any object in its mouth. Start off by marking & rewarding any time your dog investigates the object you are holding in front of it.

At this very initial stage, give the reward next to the object. This will give value to the object your dog is investigating.

  1. Start by marking and rewarding your dog for any of the following behaviours:
  • Looking at the object
  • Sniffing the object
  • Nudging the object
  • Touching the object with its front teeth
  • A slight opening of the mouth next to the object
  • Mouthing the object
  1. When your dog consistently investigates the object, or even starts mouthing the object when you present it in front of you, progressively start to reward away from the object so that your dog needs to re-orientate itself back towards the object after each reward.
  2. Start to vary the position of the object, so that it is not always located directly in front of you; hold the object further away from your body. This is to ensure that your dog fully understands that the reward is related to investigating or mouthing the object, not just when the object is directly in front of you.

I like introducing hard objects because it is possible to the dog’s teeth on the object as the dog starts to hold it. This is useful it may not always be able to see the behaviour clearly.

When your dog is working well with a specific object, it is time to introduce a variety of objects with different characteristics, from soft fleece tuggies to harder objects such as plastic, wooden, or metallic spoons or training dumbbells. Of course, you can decide to only work the whole trick with one type of object, but I like introducing different objects from the start to avoid the risk of my dog only understanding the behaviour for one specific object. By using different objects, we can generalise the behaviour which will allow us to use the behaviour in different scenarios.

You will see Emily and Mozzie progress through these steps in the following video.

A key point to note is that during the three steps you are not going to be giving any command to your dog, other than giving it a “Yes” marker and a reward when it offers the correct behaviour. We will only introduce a word to be associated to the behaviour when your dog has understood how to hold the object.

When your dog is consistently targeting the object as described in the steps above, and demonstrated in the video with Mozzie, the next goal is to encourage your dog to start to take the object into its mouth.

In the following example with Mozzie, Emily starts by making the object more exciting by waving it about to animate it. Giving movement to the object can encourage your dog to grab it.

At this stage we are not looking for your dog to hold the object for any length of time as soon as your dog takes the object give it a reward. This is clearly demonstrated in the next video.

It may take a long time to get your dog start displaying the desired behaviour. Some dogs will pick this up much faster than others. Do not try to rush the exercise and especially do not be tempted to push the object into your dog’s mouth, they will not like it and will be less inclined to want to take it on their own

As it is always valuable to watch different dogs working, the following videos of Emily working with Phoebe also demonstrate how to encourage mouthing of an object.

Introduction to ‘Hold It’

Over the coming weeks we are going to be working on getting your dog to hold a variety of objects on its mouth. This is a trick that we call Hold It.

In the following video, Emily & Leo are going to demonstrate the end result of the ‘Hold It’ before we move on to how to teach the behaviour.