10 Strings to Pull to Manage Drive and Untie Behavioral Knots – Pt 1

Yesterday’s piece was about how solving behavioral problems is kind of like untangling knots. Today I’m going to talk about the strings that make up the behaviors and how they can be used as well as what happens to other strings when you tug on them with bitework.

Bite is Removal From the Hand

Marking the moment the dog removes the target from your hand allows you to scale your bite criteria from zero to hero. This is the criteria for a Bite or Take It. This is important for managing drive and reinforcing with the energy level of the game. How your dog removes it from your hand, how you present the target, how hard you struggle, what your intent is; all of these aspects of Take It can and do have an impact on the many other strings of behavior we have going on at any given time.

If you tug like a crazy person your energy level might go up, but your Rate of Reinforcement goes down. The Release of the target can become extremely difficult for the dog. Your Give may struggle as a result. You might wind up with mauling behavior on the target after the dog finally wins.

Allow the dog to remove the disc with less of a fight and in a more boring, mechanical fashion -no tugging – loosens up the string and can make the knot go away. This simple little shift makes the mauling behavior or reluctance to Drop totally counter productive, from the dog’s perspective. It changes the game. The energy level and intensity of play will drop. The Drop will be freed up. A Give will be far more likely to happen. You will have a much higher Rate of Reinforcement without the tugging and will reduce the intensity of the game.

Bite Critera for Tugging with Dogs

Tightening and loosening this string makes for elemental changes in the game. Something so simple can change everything.


We like to make the cued Drop into a secondary reinforcer by pairing it with opportunity: the opportunity to Bite and the opportunity for Next. Drop is a lynchpin behavior for sure. But it doesn’t start that way.

A cued Drop is like a well tied knot. It’s a bunch of well organized strings. Sometimes you fall right into it, but if your cued Drop isn’t happening then you have to untie that knot. While untying the knot, other strings will be affected and can be leveraged.

Marking Attention and offering a Bite as a cookie for that skill often will facilitate the Drop. This will also most likely reduce the Rate of Reinforcement and the energy level of the game. Working the Drop using Attention can be used to manage drive and the energy level of the game.

Reducing the intensity of your resistance on your Take It, and focus on that removal from the hand can make the Drop much more likely to happen while heavy tugging can reinforce a carry. A Regrab can be used to manufacture that removal from the hand criteria, and can help a dog hold or carry an object for it to be dropped later, and how you regrab, aggressively tugging like a crazy person or a quick tug and release influences the other strings as well.

Freeshaping the Drop can have a major impact on the Rate of Reinforcement and Energy Levels of the game making it likelier for the dog to check out or become distracted.

Attention Is Key

Pulling on the Attention string during bitework has a tremendous effect on the game and how it is played. It loosens up the energy level string, bringing the game to a slower or more controlled pace, can either increase or decrease the Rate of Reinforcement, and can be used to reinforce Releasing the target. Attention is a key component of managing and maintaining drive.

Use Attention to punctuate your game. Place pauses wherever you want them with Attention. Build drama – tighten up all the strings and let your dog spring into action.


Too many, poorly timed or ill-conceived tugs on the Attention string can bring the game to a grinding, grating halt, as well – knots that are boring are hard to untie.

Energy Level

General energy level of the game is a major knot solving tool that is not often appreciated and often abused. It is also a great creator of knots. Lots of times the handler tries to play up to the dog’s speed because the dog is too aggressive or too fast. Good luck there… the answer to a dog that moves too fast is to set good criteria and move and act slow. Be deliberate, give the dog achievable criteria and reinforce on your pace. Inserting Attention and a pregnant pause after a cued Drop works wonders for slowing dogs down.

Energy level really comes into effect when untying behavioral knots with dogs that are a bit lower on the drive scale or are having problems getting engaged in or understanding the game. Boring play is going to be a problem for some dogs. A Regrab or a cued Drop can really spice things up by bumping up the rate of reinforcement and keeping the train of success rolling. Verbal and physical action can help keep the energy flowing as well.


Pulling on any of the strings of behavior in the bitework game can and will influence the energy level of the game.


Grabbing and tugging the disc while the dog is carrying is a Regrab. It’s a beautiful string that many people are just scared to even touch, let alone tug on, lest it create an uncontrollable tugging monster. It doesn’t really work like that.

It’s a great tool for increasing the energy level of the game and for creating value in the area on and around the handler. Have a dog that runs off with the toy? Or sits in front of you and chews on it? A few Regrabs and your dog will be pushing it on you and into your hand, and he can’t be chewing on it if you’re tugging on it with him, right?

Regrabbing the disc really tightens up the Drop string too. If your knot is a failure to carry, the Regrab is the string you want to pull in bitework. A few Regrabs and your dog has a reason to carry.

Building value to the handler with a Regrab on the target also helps us to avoid distractions and maintain focus, promoting reorientation, and the Release of the environment.

Next Installment:

Rate of Reinforcement
Release of Environment
Release of Target

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