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Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Building Drive, Focus, and Grip Q&A

Building Drive, Focus, and Grip Q&A

Building Drive, Focus, and Grip Q&A

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Michael Ellis

  1. I have a young dog that I have started in drive work. It is not ready for OUT training. How do I get the toy away?

  2. My young dog jumps around when I try and bring her into my arms. She will sit for the focus but squirrel away when I try and get her into my arms.

  3. Should I use a Prong collar in the drive building?

  4. My dog bites my hand when I make drive.

  5. Should I use the bite command while I am training drive with my young dog?

  6. Can I do drive building work with my dog's favorite toy and play fetch with that same toy?

  7. My 15 month old DDR pup loses interest in drive work after a few minutes. What can I do to build his drive up?

  8. When I try the "Into My Arms" exercise, my dog tries to back up or lays down. How can I correct this?

  9. My dog barks when I don't give him the ball when doing focus work. How do IO stop this?

  10. I took my dog to a Schutzhund club and the trainer corrected my dog. He is now afraid of this person and will not perform at trials. What can I do?

  11. My dog mugs me to get the toy when we do drive and focus work. How do I stop this?

  12. When going around in circles for "Into My Arms," after the first time, my dog doesn't want to go in a circle anymore. Should I try a prong collar?

  13. I have purchased 5 DVD's and wonder what order I should be using them in.

  14. My dog does great with obedience work at home, but at the Schutzhund club she has a hard time paying attention to me. What do you suggest?

  15. I am wondering if the Building Drive & Focus DVD is the right thing for me and my dog. What do you think?

  16. My dog has a great toy drive, but we have a problem with her grip - she is very mouthy. What do recommend?

  17. My dog has a lot of prey drive, but after watching the Building Drive & Focus DVD, I know I've done some things wrong. What do you suggest?

  18. I have a 7 month old GSD with loads of prey drive and is also displaying defense drive already. I have inadvertently allowed him to have a chewy grip by throwing a ball for him as a reward. I am now looking for some advice as to how I can remedy this grip problem.

  19. I had to put down my male super GSD at only 4 years old. His littermates sister has always taken a backseat role. I believe she is now over her grieving and I'm wondering if she'll ever step up to the plate?

QUESTION about the Out:

I have a young dog that I have started in drive work. It is not ready for OUT training. How do I get the toy away?


The DVD I produced with Michael Ellis, The Power of Playing Tug with Your dog has a 1 hour and 28 minute section on training the OUT. I recommend that you get this DVD and study it.

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QUESTION about Drive Training:

My young dog jumps around when I try and bring her into my arms. She will sit for the focus but squirrel away when I try and get her into my arms.


The process of a dog coming into your arms is an old concept. It's not something that should be done with a young dog.

You should be working on engagement exercises with your dog. Take it out and play tug with it. Teach it to target, teach it to bring the tug back to you when you release it and teach it to out.

When the dog understands that you are the fun person to play tug with everything gets easier. This work is covered in detail in my DVD I did with Michael Ellis

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QUESTION about Drive Training:

Should I use a Prong collar in the drive building?


No - there should be no pain involved with the drive building phase of training. If the dog has a prong on - turn it around so the flat side is against the dog's neck.

In addition a prong collar HARDENS a dogs neck. It teaches them to ignore leash pressure on the neck - we need that in heeling.

Bottom line is a prong collar often OVER STIMULATES a dog and causes it to get hectic. All of your beginning bite work should be done on a harness.

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QUESTION about Drive Building:

My dog bites my hand when I try and make drive.


This is a targeting problem with the dog. It's almost always cause from handlers not making clear presentation of the tug for the dog to grab.


When handlers move tugs from side to side - rather than straight back away from the dog they cause the dog to bite the hand. Again this is a learned exercise that is covered in detail in my tug DVD.

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QUESTION about Drive Building:


Training my pup for a patrol dog. Do you recommend when doing the drive exercise that I use the bite command when the dog is chasing the ball and when I reward him for focusing on it?




A ball on a string is old school training. The fact is a ball on a string can be used for a dog that will do the following things:

1 - Tug a tug with enthusiasm

2- Out when told to out

3- Bring the tug back when you release it

The problem with using a tug before those three things are established is the dog will self satisfy into the ball by fighting and tugging on it. If it doesn't OUT you have to apply undue force and this takes drive out of the dog.

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QUESTION on Drive Building:

Hi Ed,

I purchased your video Training DRIVE, FOCUS, & GRIP with Bernard Flinks and my question is that my dog loves his ball on the string which I also use to play fetch with him. Normally he brings it back and drops the the ball. Should I be using this toy to do the training? would I not be able to play with him with this toy not until the training is over?

Thanks for your time.


Good question.

I produced that DVD back in 1999. Since then training concepts have changed. We no longer develop drive with a ball on a string. We use tugs and teach the dog to brig is tug back to us when we release it.

The dog learns that the fun times of a tug only happen when we play with him. So when we release the tug he wants to bring it back and jam it into our stomach. There is a step by step training process for this work. Its covered in the tug DVD I did with Michael Ellis.

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QUESTION on Drive Building:

Hi Ed,

My name is Brian, and I have a situation that I would like to have some feedback with a professional dog trainer. I will try to explain this the best I can, and keep it as short as possible. I have a 15 week old DDR GSD. He has many good qualities. calm, good nerve, not fearful of anything or anyone, but his prey drive seems to be lacking somewhat, for example, today I was working on bite training, he done good for a couple minutes...some nice bites... then lost his interest. He would chase the rag around, but never did get a good bite after that. I put him back in his box for about 20 minutes or so, then tried again. He had very little interest. I feel this is my fault. I didn't do a great job of imprinting, but I did do imprinting. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the problem is that I let him have way too much fun with another dog, and my question is, did I ruin the dog, and is it too late to bring out the drive? I believe he had it in him, and I believe he had it in him when I bought him. Therefore, I'm looking for some advice and tips that I can do to bring out the drive. Another thing is he does great biting here at the house, but when I get him at the club he doesn't show so much interest. So with that said, I will close for now, and hope to here from you soon.


ANSWER on Building Drive:

What you are experiencing is normal with a lot of young dogs. Quite often young pups have much stronger food drive at a young age than prey drive.

It is very common for a dogs window of prey drive to be opened after the dog has gone through teething. So it's important to continue to check for the prey drive by seeing if the dog will play tug - but in the mean time you should be training this dog with food.

Almost all young puppies have more food drive than prey drive. Follow the work in the DVD I did on the power of training dogs with food.

Then when you see his prey drive starting to build move him into the work on our tug DVDs


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Dear Mr.Ed,

I bought the DVD 'drive and focus' and it works fantastic I have only a small problem, I'm at the focus part and hold the ball above his head for 3 sec. later 5 sec. and so on and he is doing great now I try to keep the ball longer than 5 sec. He tries to jump and I do exactly as shown on the DVD I just lift my arm higher he starts to bark and bark, I think by giving him the ball would only mean to him 'ok, I bark and I get the ball' and not to give him that idea I must stop play training, I keep the ball and leave him in the backyard after half an hour I try again the same thing happens, how can I tackle this problem? Thanks.


It's time to correct the dog and CAP this behavior. The correction strength depends on the temperament of the dog. A simple "NO or QUIET" may be enough, with some dogs it may be a prong collar correction.

If you correct too hard the dog's drive goes away. Not hard enough and he continues to bark.

When the dog stops barking you do not immediately reward the dog - you make him sit there for a couple of seconds as you say GOOD QUIET. Then reward him. Giving the dog the ball the instant he stops is a mistake. He will get confused on what he is being rewarded for. We want to reward him for sitting quietly.

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Hi, Mr. Ed
First of all thank you for your reply and second CONGRATULATIONS about your web site we really need more people with the knowledge you posses in this field.

Before I proceed I find it appropriate to introduce myself and believe it's a good and polite way to give you a picture with whom you communicating. As you already know my name is Angela I'm greek grew up in Germany moved back with my parents to Greece when I was 17 after 2 years met my husband who was living in New York and came to Greece as well,we got married had 3 kids and we decided to come to Australia-Melbourne.

I always wanted to have a Doberman was never allowed as my parents thought a dog can't live in a apartment,when I saw that here in Australia all the houses have gardens etc. I said "now i will get a Doberman," because of not knowing much about dogs I started reading books to learn as much as I could about them before I buy one. I accidentally came across a guy who's bitch had a litter of 17 and he gave me one pup,I started the old fashion obedience training, enrolled in a Doberman Club and after 2 years my dog was no where near obedient and gave up training blaming my dog eg. it was not in his genes. However he was loved and as a pet he was ok. He died at the age of 14. Before I made a step to purchase a second Dobe I wanted to investigate further to find more out about the breeders and then about the pedigree of the future pup and came across VON FORELL. I was told that he has the best dogs etc. So I got my pup Sire: BLITZKRIEGER BARON DAM: VONFORELL FARO, it took me 14 months to get the pedigree papers (that's another long story). I enrolled in the schutzhund club called southern cross K-9 and my trainer, president and judge is John Mcdonald, we started with the prong collar to train the dog learned quick and he was doing ok. Now and then the trainer was handling him to teach and to show me what I was doing wrong this made my dog scared of John (trainer) because when he was correcting him the dog could feel the correction when it was my turn to correct the dog couldn't feel a thing, for the dog to come to me after a recall with John nearby he was making a detour to come to me just to avoid John. This was a problem when I competed for BH we failed, because John was on that trial the judge and at the long down the dog got up and sat next to me so I failed of course. So we changed to the e-collar to fix the down problem (still its a problem) the worst part is whilst at the down position he cries non stop e-collar or no e-collar many times other members yell at him"SHUT UP!"at the next trial I was sure that we do alright the judge came from the U.S.A. in the meantime the dog was showing big improvements (so I thought at the time) and the result was that he behaved like a dog that never had training done, he didn't even know what "SIT" meant. I was told he got away the first time, he did it again and it was the same ground and he remembered that he got away unpunished. I gave myself and the dog a break from training and did a lot of thinking instead and reading at your web site I came to the conclusion that he became collar wise (collar on! no problems, collar off! who cares) and that I posses only 50% the title of the Alpha dog.To finish off, I think I need to start from scratch again and here I need your assistance please. Which DVD should I buy first and from where to start and finish? I leave it up to your advice. Just to remind you of the problems which are: not heeling correctly, not focusing, crying at down (leaking), collar wise.

But it's not all that bad, he has a strong drive and loves bite work. (I'm always optimistic). Thank you for your time and hope to hear soon from you!



It is 4 to 5 times harder to fix a problem than it is to train an exercise correctly the first time.

There are a number of things that jump out at me in this email.

1- Jumping right into a prong collar is not always the right thing to do on a soft dog. Many get over stimulated or hectic from prong collars.

I recommend that you visit my web site and read a training article I

Allowing another person to take your dog and correct it is not ever recommended until later in the protection work process and then only by someone who really knows what he is doing. It does not sound like the person you are working with fits that description.

If I can't instruct a person on how to handle the training and correction in a manner that they can follow my instructions - I will not work with that person.

I can't tell you that your dog is salvageable. All you can do is go back and start from square one. Work this dog on MARKERS! You need to become an expert on marker training. Then bring that into this dogs training program.


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I have used you DVDs,training in drive and focus ,how do you get the dog it quit trying to mug you and take the toy? I can hold the toy in front of him and tell him to leave it and he will but when he knows it is in my vest it is a different story! Do I start with baby steps and work up to it? I am, age 67, 5 feet tall, first dog, with a 95 lb male German Shep. He is a good obedience dog but this drive work presents a challenge!


You are ahead of yourself in training. Presentation of the tug is key to not getting dog bit. When a dog has a clear straight shot at the tug they will bite the tug and not the hand. We also recommend cutting the handles off the tugs for new dogs. This eliminates the dog trying to bite the handles. The fact is if you hold the handle of the tug a dog can jerk it around and self satisfy into the tug. If you hold just the ends of the tug you can immobilize it to train the dog to OUT.

This is all covered in my tug DVDs

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Mr. Frawley,

I know your probably get 100s of e-mails daily but I have a question. I Bought your building drive and focus DVDs last week I just started day 3 of training, my pup is 8 months and has never been worked or played with much-- his drive when playing with me is ok...

But in the past when my 17 yr old son has played with him he goes into high drive, since I have started training my son has not played with the pup.It seems to me that the pup looks at me as the discipline man of the house and my son as the play toy, the pup will play with me,but not as hard as it does with him. What should I do? and how long should I play ball with him at a time? and how do you leave the pup high and dry? or is the pup still a little young to expect high drive?

Thank you in advance,


First of all, you dog is giving you some very valuable feedback here.  Your son is more fun to play with than you are.

What you need to do is become an expert at marker training and then study engagement. What your saying is that your dog is not engaged with you. Good engagement means the dog is totally focused in on you and what's what you have.

You can repair any damage you have done with good marker training. Start with the food program and then move this dog into tug work.


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Hi Ed,

When going around in circles for "Into My Arms," after the first time, my dog doesn't want to go in a circle anymore, so he lays down and tries to chew the tug. Then I take it away from him. Should I put a prong collar on him when he lays down and have him come and go around in a circle then come "Into my arms"? He has a flat buckle on now and when I pop the leash it doesn't get his attention at all.


There is a better way to train the dog to engage with you. What you really want is for the dog to learn that the tug is only fun when you are playing with it. This is a trained response. There is a step by step process to accomplishing this that is outlined in my DVDs with Michael Ellis.

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Hello, I have a 13 month old female GSD and I belong to a local Schutzhund club, recently they started obedience class with the younger dogs. I have your video on Basic Obedience and Building Drive and Focus and many more, my problem is she is distracted in the obedience class by other dogs, at home and alone her drive and focus is great. In your video Basic Obedience you say you don't care for these classes because they are crank and pull, should I discontinue these classes and work more on her drive and focus and any suggestions how she can overcome this problem.

Thank You.


The Basic Obedience DVDs that I sell is directed towards pet owners and not people who want to do competition sports.

What you need to do is learn to play with your dog. Learn to use food with your dog to build drive. Then become an expert on engagement. Learn how to engage your dog in tug and in food games. This is all covered in my food and tug dvds

When you can engage your dog at home - start taking it places and playing enragement games with it. Take it everywhere and do this - so when you come to a new location and get the dog out it thinks "WE ARE AT A NEW PLACE - THIS MEANS I GET TO PLAY WITH MY MASTER".

This includes going to your schutzhund club. If your dog will not engage with you at the club when you try and play it is not ready to learn skills and exercises.

So until you can take it to club and get it out and it only has eyes for you and is challenging you for the toy you have and challenging you to play - don't do anything else.

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I have a question concerning your video on building drive and focus. I was watching your video on electronic collar training and it mentions using this video. I was reading about it on your web site and it sounds like it is meant for younger dogs. My dog is almost 2 1/2 yrs. old.

I have worked with him since I brought him home as a 7 1/2 wk old pup and he is an amazing family pet. By the way, he's a neutered male Rotty. I've owned Rotty's exclusively for the last 25 years and love the breed. Too bad they get such a bad rep.

I work with him everyday in obedience using food as reward along with markers, either a "yes" or a clicker. As a matter of fact, I guess he's worked with all day in our normal living together and interaction. He absolutely loves this and you can see it in his eyes. I haven't had any intentions of anything other than keeping him a family pet with outstanding obedience, and we track some for fun.

Is there anything in the video on building drive and focus with Bernard Finks that we can benefit from? He loves going thru the obedience work but I'm afraid of it getting stale and boring and am looking for something new to keep his and my "interest" up.

I have several of your videos including, Basic Obedience, Puppy 8 weeks to 8 mos and just recently got electronic collar training and the pack structure videos. We have always used a pack structure type of training and I guess it's referred to as NILIF, nothing in life is free. I'm sure you've heard of it. I ordered your video just to make sure we haven't missed anything.

I got the electronic collar video because he get's so excited when neighbors come over, if my wife has him on a leash, he'll drag his way over to them and pull her right along. (He loves everyone) Anyway, sorry for being so long. Let me know about the drive and focus video or any other suggestions you may have for a continuing training program for a pet.

By the way, awesome videos and web site. I've learned allot.



Good for you in working for markers. What I would rather see you get is the TUG DVD. When this is done correctly the dog will not get bored. It's also good exercise for you and the dog. I am sitting her huffing because I just came in from playing a 5 minute game of tug with my 6 month old mal pup.


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Hi Cindy,

My name is Annette. I recently got a 8 week old ( now 14 weeks ) Doberman pup. I plan on doing schutzhund with her. I am brand new to schutzhund. I became interested in the sport after watching a few trials and seeing a couple videos of her mother doing protection work.

The breeder had the pups evacuated before she sent them to their new homes, to make sure the right pup would be going to the right homes, as some new owners wanted ob and two of us wanted working pups, and a couple of others to do different things.

I purchased a few of your DVDs before Lacey came home. Your puppy 8 weeks to 8 months, how to raise a working puppy, establishing pack structure, and building drive a focus.

So, here is my concern. Lacey has extreme prey drive and even focus for her play toys. She is way more toy driven than food driven. So getting her and keeping her in drive is no problem. The problem is her grip. She is very mouthy. She doesn't drop the toy but she mouths it allot. I have been doing the exercises that are in your DVDs. I try to run her faster in a circle. I but her in to my arms very often, but she still mouths.
Even when I tug with her she mouths. Is this maybe due to the fact that she is so young? Do you think she will grow out of this?

I have been going to private lessons with the helper of the club I will be joining. He says this is a genetic trait. Is that true? This puppy's parent are both titled schH1 and two grand parents are schH3. Her grandmother on the mom side has schH1, FR1, French Ring Brevet, and Mondio Ring titles (she is the first dobe to ever title in schH, FR and MR ).

Anyway,I know that schutzhund requires a calm firm grip. So how do I get Lacey to not be so mouthy with her toy? Any help or suggestions would be much appreciated.



Hi Annette,

Your trainer is right, gripping behavior is genetic. You can ruin a good grip by bad training but it’s very hard to change a genetically shallow or chewy grip and then it’s very situational. When under stress dogs always go back to their genetically programmed behaviors.

I would be aware that she could be beginning to lose her baby teeth and this can cause discomfort and chewing. I don’t play tug with puppies during the teething stage, to prevent a negative experience associated with tugging.

All you can do is keep working with her (after teething) and promote a calm grip as much as you can. Depending on what you are using to work grip, you may want to switch to a tug or if you are using a small tug, use a larger tug that she can really clamp down on . I have found that a lot of dogs will mouth on a ball but have a great grip on a tug.

Experiment and see what you come up with.


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I have a 7 month old German Shepard and I messed up some of his training. I just watched the building drive DVD and realized that it goes against everything I have done so far playing with my dog. His mother was a highly energetic ball nut, and none of the kids would play with her because she would nip at the toy.

I could tell the pup had a high prey drive and did not want issues with the kids. I taught him to NEVER touch a toy in my hands and once retrieved, to drop it and either sit or lay down.

He never tires of chasing a ball and completely ignores ANY distraction while we are playing. This includes a set of new born pups who nip at his legs while he sits waiting for me to throw the ball.

I tried the first step in building drive with a small orbee ball on a string. He simply sits there and barks/cries, never taking his eyes off the ball. The few times he has tried to get the ball from me, I've played tug for a very short period and let him take it from me. He mouthed it while he sat down and spit it out at my feet.

The problem is not with his drive...he has it. The problem is all the times I held him by the cheeks and told him NO! when he touched a toy in my hands and from making him do a sit stay before throwing the ball.
Any ideas are greatly appreciated.



I would try tying a tug on a sting on the end of a buggy or horse lunge whip. You can buy them at any farm supply store for a few dollars.

When the pup drops the tug, make it escape very quickly and let him catch it again. This also helps dogs that are worried about biting a toy that is in the owner’s hands. You can then graduate to a shorter line on the ball and eventually work towards the short string.

We also have a q & a section on building drive.


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I have a 7 month old GSD with loads of prey drive and is also displaying defense drive already. Training is going really well except for one area......Grip!

I have inadvertently allowed him to have a chewy grip by throwing a ball for him as a reward during other types of training and allowing him to run back to me carrying the ball to commence a game of tug. During this run back to me he has been mouthing the ball, without me taking much notice and now that I want to do grip training I can see where I have gone wrong. You live and learn!!!

I am now looking for some advice as to how I can remedy this grip problem, I have many of your DVDs and have tried the routines used by Bernard Flinks in the Drive, Focus and Grip DVD but the problem is he can run around and chew the tug no matter how fast I run and I feel that continuing with this is going to make the problem worse (if that is possible). Also he has a pretty firm grip when he wants to and when I try to rip the tug from him when he is chewing he is quicker than me and can bite down before I can get it away from him.




A lot has been made of GRIP in a dogs bite. Especially in the sport of Schutzhund. The fact is grip has nothing to do with the character of a dog.

I have seen some police dogs with terrible grips - that will rip a bad guys leg off. I have seen full mouth gripping dogs that would run from a shadow.

So unless you are trying to put a schutzhund title on your dog I would not worry about it. If you are interested in Schutzhund I would recommend that you take a look at the Mondio Ring Sport. It's more fun for the dog and doesn't have the politics and corruption seen in Schutzhund USA.



Thanks very much for taking the time to reply, it is very much appreciated. I am a very big fan of you and Ed's training methods and recommend your web site to everyone who has an interest in dog training.

Your web site is always my first choice when I am looking for answers to training problems and I feel that I am fast gaining the knowledge and experience to compete at working trials in England. I own 7 of your DVDs and my son has just received a copy of your new DVD training with Markers today and is raving about it. I will watch it over the next few days.

I am reassured by your email that the grip thing is not an issue to get too worked up about,I will continue to work on it but I will now put it into perspective. Actually, over the past 2 days I have seen some improvement and have been using a heavier bite pillow which is more difficult for him to chew without dropping it, it's not perfect but it is an improvement. I was also very impressed with the little bit of the new DVD that I watched about negative markers, which I am going to try out tomorrow as I think that could also help to improve the grip.

Thanks again for the advice and keep up the good work, your web site has been a revelation for me over the past couple of years as I had been training dogs in the british armed forces for 10 years prior to finding your web site. Since finding it, I have a better understanding of training methods that dogs understand.

Kind regards.

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Dear Cindy,

One month ago I had to put down my male super GSD at only 4 years old. His littermates sister has always taken a backseat role. I believe she is now over her grieving and I'm wondering if she'll ever step up to the plate?

She is a very kind dog but doesn't quite get the idea of playing fetch, hide and seek, frisbee catching, etc. She watched the male do everything. I give her a ton of time walking,etc. How long will it take for her to take the alpha role, if ever? Thanks for your advice. 



Hi Paul, sorry for the delay. Computer problems here the last several days.

It may be that your dog will always be a follower. Some dogs aren’t comfortable being anything else. There is a window of opportunity for certain skills like playing, fetching, etc and some dogs don’t ever do these unless they are taught to participate as puppies or young dogs.

All you can do is try, and give her lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement when she shows interest in a game.

You may want to try marker training with THE POWER OF TRAINING DOGS WITH FOOD and THE POWER OF TRAIN DOGS TO TUG.

I hope this helps.


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