Shade Whitesel runs a great toy play class over at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. I’ve taken it twice at Gold now simply because it’s SO good and highly motivating for me, too! This is the third part of Chai and my class journey! Click here for part 1 and here for part 2 (each containing 10 videos).

June 27, 2023: tugging at the park and dog interruptions

Here’s the text I shared in class along with today’s video:

I left a little of our dog interruption in because it its hilarious: they just keep coming! (Disclaimer: explicit language!)

The second short session at the same park was interruption free! My 50% estimate (half the time, we don’t get interrupted) seems pretty accurate!

I liked the last rep of tugging I did. What do you [Shade] think about that one? More or keep it this short and gentle for now? Should I name tug already? Should I let her have the ball I’m getting out for tugging without having her chase it around my body first? Or maybe keep doing a few more reps like the (better) ones in this clip?

June 29, 2023: nice tugging reinforced by fetch!

My proud-of-Chai comments to go with this video:

Look at that tug despite the interruption! Definitely getting stronger! To be fair, that dog wasn’t body blocking her – but still, how cool! Have I mentioned that I love this puppy?

July 1, 2023: trying to get a better strike

Shade’s comments on my last video:

“So, let’s start concentrating on her strike. […] When you are about to let her strike, make sure the ball is still. So, good “misses” look like: ball is still, dog locks on to target, ball is whisked away, repeat. Try that in your misses, so we can start teaching her to have a good strike. When she gets a good successful strike, she’ll like it more!


I know exactly what you mean about “good misses” and then getting a decent strike after. It’s easy with tug toys and a dog who is into them! Turns out it is VERY hard for me to do the same thing with balls on a rope! Help please! Which one of the ones below – if any – resembles our goal? Watching the video I feel like I never really got the kind of still-ball-and-then-miss that I’ve gotten quite easily with other dogs and tug toys. We’re having fun though! And no interruptions today!

July 2, 2023: trying out different ways to get that decent strike

Shade’s comments on my last video:

[Y]ou are moving the toy in slow motion when you make her miss so that you don’t have enough time when she is far away to set the target.


The tricky part is that when I move it faster, the ball starts swining and I don’t have a still target anymore. Hmm. I need to experiment some more with this!

The video below is me experimenting. I don’t think I submitted this particular video to class, but here are my thoughts on it:

I had the idea to hold the ball as if it was a tug toy! This may be our ticket to good strikes!

July 3, 2023: Shade’s advice

Below is the next video I submitted to Shade after reading their response to my comment about experimenting:

“Whisk it away quickly diagonal to a spot about 18 inches from your hip (if facing the still ball). Dog goes flying by you, which allows you time to turn and set the target again 2 feet from your belly button. You’ve got the good still target, but faster on the misses and away from her and diagonal to her path, not up.”

My response, going with the video submission below:

This is really helpful! Thank you! I was planning on this after reading your response this morning but ended up moving it to the side (or up again) rather than forwards for some reason.

July 4, 2023: more tug reinforced with “Chase” and some misses


“[S]he’s going to get the string […], but I don’t know that it matters? […] Ask her if she needs the misses before the actual tugging.


Okay, let’s decide it doesn’t matter! […] I’ve still got an upwards tendency on the misses, but am staying more parallel to the ground than before. The video shows the first of 3 tugging reps in this session. The first one sans misses, right as we started the session. Her tugging on that first one felt less energetic/weaker than usual (even though I’m not sure you can tell from the video).

After the session, I realized that I changed two variables on her at once: I’ve started these sessions with “Chase” rather than “Tug” up until now, and today I started with “Tug.” So there’s no way of knowing whether the tugging in the first rep felt less enthusiastic because I didn’t make her miss or because she didn’t get a chase before. I’m thinking I should do a chase first and see if her non-miss tugging looks any different tomorrow. What do you think?

Otherwise, I really like her tugging here. She’s MUCH more into it then when we first started! Still dropping her toy right away after because she knows that every tug rep will be reinforced with at least one “Chase,” and Chase is still her favorite toy game. But it feels like she’s having a good time tugging as well!

July 5, 2023: Cueiung “Chase!” while tugging


A couple chases, then ask for the tugging immediately after the drop of the ball and see if you can get the strike and the carry over of the chasing. Maybe alternate? One with misses, one just strike, that sort of thing.


I experimented with this today and got stronger tugging without misses! I like the plan of alternating between tug with and without misses and will keep starting the session with “chase” for now.


“It’s also worth noting that the dropping is getting reinforced by the chase, not necessarily the tugging itself. What you could start to do is cue chase when she is tugging the best she can tug. Then, when she lets go, throw the toy that she was tugging with. That way the tugging is directly reinforced.”


Did you mean cue chase while tugging and then I let go of the toy we are tugging with and wait for her to let go too? Or did you mean cue chase while tugging and I hold on to the toy we are tugging with until she lets go first and then I throw it?

I tried the latter version today; she didn’t let go on “chase” when I held on to the toy so I waited a second and then threw the second toy for her. I wonder whether throwing the second toy while she’s still tugging is even better than waiting for her to drop her toy anyways because this way, I really am directly reinforcing the tugging (rather than a drop)? Let me know what you think. Below is what I tried today!

Otherwise, I bet if I cue “chase” and let go of the toy I am tugging with, she will let go as well. She is used to letting go right after I let her win.

July 6, 2023: More tug reinforced by “Chase,” cued while tugging


“Keep holding onto the toy you are tugging with while cuing chase. If she doesn’t let go, still hold on to it. Show her the other toy you have, wait until she lets go then, and then throw that second toy. The second toy in sight should prompt her to let go, but the marker cue happens when she is tugging. She’ll get faster and faster!”


Let me make sure this is what you had in mind before I keep practicing! Hold the toy Chai is tugging on still after the “chase” cue and make the other one interesting?

July 8, 2023: … and even more tug reinforced by cueing “Chase!” while tugging!


“Remember how we held the ball out to the side to get the drop? Do that immediately after cuing chase. That way she’ll remember the signal and likely think more dropping thoughts. Try to hold the one you are tugging with as still as possible-not an easy feat with the balls on ropes I know.”


Is this what you had in mind? I put a “Chase” subtitle starting right when I say the cue in case you can’t hear it over the background noise.

I find it interesting that in this video, it looks like the game Chai would have chosen as I was holding out the second toy after marking “chase” was switching to a second tug toy rather than chasing!

July 9, 2023: the second chase/tug session of the day

I’ve been keeping sessions short and only doing one a day – I want it to be special, and Chai is not as pushy as my Mals (yet?). Today, I did two brief sessions before and after coffee-shop relax practice. Both were chases interspersed with 2 tug sessions. In the first session (not on video), she needed the visual cue of the second toy to let go for the first post-tug chase. In the second tug-to-chase rep, she let go on the verbal “chase” and predicted a chase, not a tug!

The second session (see video) also was chases with 2 short tug sessions in between – that’s in the video below. Both times, she let go on the verbal alone without seeing the second toy, and did not confuse it with “switch” (which is not yet a game she knows)! This is making me so happy! She’s also needing less misses in order to be exicted to tug!

July 10, 2023: adding behaviors to toy play

Shade suggested I start adding behaviors to Chai’s toy play to introduce this concept early. I only have one behavior that is relatively reliable on a verbal cue outdoors, and it’s a hand touch. Here is me giving it a try:

Our conversation preceding the video and my thoughts as I handed it in:


“We don’t have bring to hand for more tugging-but… we don’t actually need it.”


Help me see the big picture, please! If I eventually want to use tugging as a reinforcer for obedience … would I just not let go of the toy/always combine tug with chase? I’m used to having the dog push back into me for more tugging when I let go of the toy we are tugging with – and then we continue.

Is this something you believe Chai will offer with time, or do you assume this just isn’t a behavior she is going to go with? In the latter case, how would you (in the future, way down the line) use tug as a reinforcer for other behaviors? Or would you stick to chase or a chase/tug hybrid game for good? Paint me a session picture, say, one year down the line, please!


“So, our next step would be adding some simple behaviors in there after an offered drop, and reinforcing with chase or tug. I’d like to try that!”


Sounds good! I just tried this. I only have one behavior I believe is fluent and generalized enough on a verbal to work under toy play arousal (I have positions on cue, but only reinforced with food and so far, I’ve only worked on them in the house – I don’t think they’re ready for toy reinforcers quite yet). So my one behavior, and the one I went with, is a hand touch.

I started with chase-es as usual – you see the last one in the beginning of the clip. Then at 00:04/05, my touch cue (I cue without my hand present, then bring out the hand). Chai does it but with her mouth open and a jump – I suspect that she expected me to whip out a tug toy from behind my back. That catches me off guard so my first “Chase” marker is super late. Ooops.

00:13-00:17, she is being goofier with the ball she just fetched than she usually is. I wonder if that’s a tell that the touch just before was HARD. What do you think?

00:30 The second time she returns the chase toy, she is back to normal: bring it back, drop, offer eye contact right away.

So I try another touch cue. She does not actually touch my hand at 00:32 but stops half an inch short of it, so I don’t reinforce that one.

00:36, I get the touch that I’ve trained: mouth closed, strong touch.

00:37 I marked a little late, but better than before. Trying to reinforce with tug this time and not presenting the toy as a good target to strike – I’ve got some practicing to do myself here! I’ll do some of this with Game to get my mechanics figured out and then go back to Chai. (So convenient to have an adult dog who knows all the toy games and will let me focus on my own mechanics!)

00:47 I cue “Chase” to reinforce good tugging, but I don’t get the immediate out on the “chase” cue. Again, I wonder if that’s a tell that this is difficult!

After the video ends, I did two chase-es, then a tug, then another chase. For that one, she was able to let go on the verbal alone again: I went back to just tug and chase and things got easier; she could do it again (is my interpretation).

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts!

I suspect that the touch is a harder behavior here than a sit would be because my hand motion will remind Chai of the toy being whipped out from behind my back. On the other hand – it’s a great verbal discrimination exercise! Maybe just one touch per session to keep it fun? She’s good at verbal discrimination; I do think she’d figure out when I want a touch and when I want a tug within a few sessions. (Oh! Writing this down, I just realized “touch” sounds an awful lot like “tug”! Argh! Is that too much verbal discrimination to expect under toy arousal conditions? Should I try for it anyways? So many questions! Happy questions, of course. I love a good challenge! I apologize for today’s novel-length post!)

I didn’t save Shade’s response but remember the jist of it. Shade recommended I get positions on solid verbals out in the world and then use them in toy play, and suggested changing my hand touch cue to make it more different from my tug cue. (I’ve since done the latter – it used to be “touch” but is now “bump.”) I’ll practice and if/when I get stuck reach out for a 1-on-1 to keep going.

We haven’t practiced as much as I’d like since the class ended – but we do and are slowly but certainly progressing!

This video concludes the toy class series. Hope you had fun!

If you enjoy the series, take the class at the Gold level yourself! Shade does a truly fantastic job of tailering advice to the dog/student team in front of them – whether you have a drivey dog or a reluctant player!

Urban art clue #8: this is your last clue. Our art piece is 66 steps from A (the corner of the building), walking down b. If you are taller than me, you’ll probably need less steps. If you are shorter, you might need more. Found it and want tacos? Mail me a picture of the art piece you took and I’ll pay!

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