Spring Pole Epiphany

I recently had an epiphany at a Spring Pole.

Typically, I train tug held by the handler first, and then we work our way out in responsibility and area of influence, to flirt poles and spring poles. And… That’s a solid plan that’s worked well. I’ve seen dogs that get put on a spring pole without an “out”, and a solid training relationship, develop some issues. They become obsessed with the toy that they can never “get”. They learn to check out on the handler.  They get a ton of endurance both physically and mentally to self satisfy, which makes teaching an “out” THAT much more difficult.

Of course……. As I’m coming to learn….. NOTHING IS SET.


Which makes choosing action plan much more difficult.

Way easier when you just open the recipe book and follow the directions.

Back to my epiphany…..

I’m working this dog an Olde English Bulldogge named Murphy.

Murphy is one of those dogs that NEEDS an outlet. He was born to scrap. If you don’t give him a place to put it, he will make up his own. And that won’t be good.

I sometimes call it “getting the poison out”. And that’s the truth for this one.

Anyway, he’s never had a super healthy relationship with people before. And, his tug game reflected it. Really frantic game. Like….. watching him play tug was like watching a starving kid get five minutes with a box of Twinkies. And the “out” ALWAYS had conflict. You could see him struggling with it. I even worked a two toy trade just to be able to get a game going without conflict to get some trust in the bank.

Then, one day….. I realized if I was doing a trade, I could probably use the pole as the second toy. And, I could always slip the toy off the pole to “kill” it if I needed to. So….. I put him on it.

And….. He did AMAZING. Outed pretty cleanly. A little sticky, but like a plain old “normal” dog. The “frantic” was gone. It blew my mind. Here is a little clip of that first session.

So….. I thought about it. Hard. And, this is what I came up with.

Ivan Balabanov breaks games down into “competitive” and “non-competitive”. He’s talking about the difference between like Tug (competitive), and Fetch (non-competitive). And, I totally get that. But that day at the pole I realized there is another layer!!!! I’ve begun calling it Competitive, and SUPPORTIVE!!!!

The analogy I see is like in Boxing. I can be your sparring partner, or I can coach you while you spar. It may even be the same activity….. But the dynamic between the two parties are completely different!

I’ve always seen Weight Pull as a “supportive” thing (but never worded it like that). But always just viewed The pole as a tug you didn’t hold. Now, I realize there can be a tremendous difference.

In Tug…. It is “competitive”. I am the sparring partner (Yes, I’m still the coach, but I coaches can spar. Don’t nitpick). On the Spring Pole, I’m coaching you from the outside. It’s “supportive”. Like Weight Pull.

And THAT’S why Murphy was so much better. He doesn’t have the trust, to “spar” with me without feeling weird. But when He thought I was “with” him, helping him play….. There was no conflict. He was much more cooperative. First time he had aspect to that style of play without the emotional baggage.

Is that a stopping point for him? No…… I want to eventually have enough trust worked out that we can play “against” each other without misunderstanding. But, I’ll give him a “supportive” outlet until we get there.

Any way……

To summarize.

1- There are two “styles” of games: Competitive, and Supportive. That may seem like common sense….. But was profound to me.

2- There really is no Recipe. It’s not start with tug, and work out to spring pole. Or….. Never let them “win”. Or whatever. No exact recipes. There is this guideline: Figure out what aspects of play the dog finds rewarding. Decide if you need to play in a competitive style, or a supportive one. Take that game, and build a relationship, skills, and responsibilities. Take those things and explore the other aspects, and styles. Take them, and explore the fucking world.

Epiphany on a Spring Pole.

Who’d have thought?


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