7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

Two Dogs’ Experiences with the Flirt Pole

If you have been following the blog, you may have seen that young Clara is an absolute maniac for the flirt pole. It is right up there with playing ball in her list of favorite things.

a tan dog is stretched out at her whole length, chasing a toy on a rope attached to the end of a pole

Clara Stretching Out to Get the Toy

I waited quite a while before introducing Clara to the flirt pole because teaching “release the toy” was a real struggle with her when we played tug and ball. I had visions of her getting overly excited and breaking the flirt pole by pulling on the toy endlessly.

When I taught her to release a tug toy, I didn’t use food. I used the method of reinforcing the release with resumption of the game. I had a pretty hard time with that, since hanging onto, chewing on, and dismembering toys is very reinforcing to Clara, and I lacked experience teaching the behavior. You need pretty good timing. I finally got it though, and Clara was dropping the toy pretty consistently.

But it turned out that playing with the flirt pole actually improved Clara’s releases. First,  we lucked into the perfect toy. Marge Rogers gave me this skinny little tug toy from Dog Dreams Toys. It is perfect to chase, but not as fun to chew as, say, rabbit fur. Our flirt pole has a gizmo where you can attach different toys. It works and they do not come off! Second,  the flirt pole helped me make the game immediately exciting when she dropped the toy. I could zip it away instantly and irresistibly. Much more quickly than I could when we were playing tug. The right behavior (release on cue) was set up to predict more fun than the holding and chewing.

Here are two of Clara’s nice releases, so you can see what I mean.

Here is a link to “Releasing the Toy Means More Fun to Come” for email subscribers.

But enough about the flirt pole champ. We have an up and coming talent. Little Zani, the challenger.

small black and tan dog chases a red toy at the end of a rope on a pole

Zani Enjoying the Flirt Pole

I had first tried her with the pole months, maybe years ago. And Zani didn’t care for it. She was a little afraid of it, and I didn’t have the interest to work on that at the time. But Zani has developed methods of inserting herself into virtually every fun thing that happens around my house, and she finally had enough of watching Clara play with the flirt pole from the sidelines. One day she asked to play with it.

She went for it! Fearsome little dog! She was so excited that half the time she just jumped into the air or snapped at me before she remembered to chase the toy.

small black and tan dog is leaping into the air, snapping at the sleeve of a woman holding a toy attached to a rope and pole

Zani Slightly Confused about What to Bite

She has a different style from Clara’s when she catches the toy. Clara grabs it and holds. She loves for me to grab it and tug with her. But Zani has to give it multiple killing shakes. I have long suspected that Zani is part Russell terrier. And yes, she does know how to kill small animals efficiently. But I don’t mind her “killing” the tug toy at all.

I hope you find Zani’s sessions as delightful as I did. I just loved how she would  jump around and snap before she got it together enough to chase the toy. If she were a bigger dog, it might have been a problem, but she is a small dog with great bite inhibition and a wonderful sense of fun. She always knows exactly where her teeth are. You can see in the still photo above that she is actually not quite connecting with my sleeve. That was the case every time she jumped at me.

Here is a link to “Zani Discovers the Flirt Pole” for email subscribers.

7 Benefits of Flirt Pole Play

  1. It is great exercise.
  2. It teaches coordination, for both the dog and the human! I am continually having to develop new “moves” as my dogs learn to outwit my old ones.
  3. You can use it to teach impulse control.
  4. You may have a better chance of teaching a good release than with tugging.
  5. The dog gets to chase something at high speed but also stays close to you (you are part of the picture).
  6. She can’t run off with the toy, and thereby develops a habit of sticking around you with it.
  7. As long as the dog has a reliable release, the human doesn’t have to move at all. It can be outdoor couch training!

The toy we are using is a Chase It toy purchased at CleanRun.

Note: I have heard that flirt poles are illegal in some areas because they are associated with fighting dogs. I have not determined any specific locations for which this is true, but I am certainly not condoning dog fighting or encouraging anyone to break any laws.

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Enrichment, Fun, Play, Reinforcement, Toys and Play and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to 7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

  1. Colleen says:

    loved these videos Eileen! You’ve motivated me to play this game again with my dog. We used to play quite a bit but for some reason we haven’t in a long, long time. Maybe it will help Vita to learn to tug like Clara but right now she’s more of a “kill it!” kind of girl like Zani. I love Zani’s enthusiasm; the day she wanted to play too, how did she ‘ask’?

    • I hope you and Vita have some fun! About Zani asking: I had been letting Clara play with the flirt pole with the other dogs in the yard since they weren’t interested and didn’t even come near. Then one day Zani dashed in from the side and started barking at Clara and watching the toy. I obviously couldn’t let that continue so I finished Clara’s session and put her in the house. Zani was leaping up and down with obvious interest in the toy and the pole. From then on, whenever I get out the flirt pole, she looks at me expectantly and waits for her turn. I separate Zani and Clara completely for this since they both get so excited. I probably will always do so, even though for other things one can wait on her mat while the other works.

  2. Tracy says:

    I just bought a kong chaser from clean run, still impatiently waiting for the 8 ft snow banks in my yard to melt before I can try it out though. I loved the video with Zani, the joy in playing was clearly seen in both of you, and I really can’t wait to get out there with my dogs now and play, unfortunately it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.

    • That’s quite a bit of melting! Then I imagine you may want to wait until mud season finishes? I notice even around here that my yard gets pretty torn up if we play a lot after a big rain. I hope you all have a great time as soon as possible.

  3. Marjorie says:

    I have never seen or heard of these for dogs. I bet my girls would love it. They aren’t interested in retreiving sticks or balls, but they love to chase leaves, butterflies, birds and bubbles. One question I have though is if it will increase their drive to chase or satisfy it? I would be hesitant to introduce it if it increases their drive as what they like to chase can get them in trouble on off leash outings. They can get so carried away and get into a dangerous situation in seconds.

    • Hi Marjorie! I don’t know the answer to your general question, whether it will increase their drive generally. But I do know that teaching it with a rule structure increases their self control both for the game and in general. You don’t see it so much in these clips, but if you look at the one in this post you can see that Clara knows that flattening herself on the ground and staying there is the only way to get the game to start. I don’t do it too much in that clip, but I can dangle the toy right under her nose and she won’t go for it until I release her. So if there is an increase in drive, there is also an increase in self control and responsiveness to me. I can’t help but think that that would carry over as well. Perhaps some others can chime in. You know they have little baby poles like this for cats with something feathery on the end. I don’t know if those are too small for your girls or not, but it would be a way to experiment. I think Zani was intimidated at first because of the length of the pole and having it going over her head up in the air. Oh, one more thing they are improving is their actual skill at catching things. That is very clear to me as I have watched Clara improve. Some people might not want that, though. I hope some others will chime in about this. For us it is way worth it.

  4. Marjorie says:

    I like the idea of gaining self control, but I think I’d have to work on that more before I introduce the game. Your dogs are so well behaved with all the work you do with them. I think I’d like to try it though.

    • Well thank you. I did try hard to teach them all to drop stuff before we tried the flirt pole. So it was a nice bonus when the flirt pole itself turned out to help improve their releases. Hope you can try it sometime.

  5. Kim says:

    Thanks for sharing! I think my dog would love this as I need to both exercise her when I don’t have much time and teach her some self control. Any ideas where to get a flirt pole? Do you think it would hold up to my large 110 lb girl?

    • Hi Kim! I know that people with bigger dogs use flirt poles. If anybody wants to speak up with some pointers, let me know, since my biggest girl is 45 lbs. It seems like you would need to be sure your dog wouldn’t grab the toy and run off with the whole assembly. The dog could then chew the toy off pretty quickly. As long as your dog is happy staying close to you, it seems to me it would work. Anybody else? I bought the Chase-It from cleanrun.com. The link is in the post. The Chase-It has now been purchased by Kong and can be bought through them as well I think. There is another one called the Bow-Wow flirt pole that is available here among other places. I don’t have any experience with that one. The Chase-It bends under pressure (a good thing). When my dogs would want to tug on the toy for a while, I would just grab the toy in my hands so they wouldn’t be putting pressure on the line. It seems important to me to let them actually play with the toy when they catch it. You just need to work out a way to do that without them chewing it up, chewing it off the line, or chewing the line. A good release cue will probably do it. Good luck!

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  16. Michele says:

    Hi…question. I have a smaller female GSD who is a rescue and is fearful of a lot of things. Outside play, even with the rest of the pack is not her strong suit, and she won’t play ball of fetch. She cannot however resist butterflies. When she is outside, let a butterfly go past and she’s off to the races. Do you think a flirt pole used a something fluttering above, rather than a tug or on the ground chase might work for her? I’d love to have something that she would find fun, that may entice her to come outside happily.

    Thanks for any ideas you can give me!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’ve known of some bird dogs who can’t resist anything that flutters, including things like canvas flapping in the breeze. I also know some people with small dogs who use cat toys with their dogs, you know the little feathery things on the end of the stick. Now that would not be practical for a GSD, but I bet you could find something. But swinging something around so fast that it would be off the ground (if I understand you right) might in itself be a scary motion. If it were me I would experiment indoors first with things on the end of string, to see what might be enticing.

      That being said, when dogs are generally too timid to play outside, there are things you can do to address the fears. If you can succeed at that, the play will come. I recommend the Fearful Dogs group on Facebook if you are interested.

      • Michele says:

        Thank-you Eileen…I’m already there! I don’t think Freyja and I would be as far along as we are if I hadn’t found that group…They’ve been a lifesaver.

        I see what you mean about the amount of energy to keep it afloat being a problem. I think I may try something more like a light cane fishing pole and a feathery cat toy, like you said. This way it could be kept high and fluttered about. She doesn’t need to actually catch it, and she doesn’t play tug…it’s about the chase for her.

        My hope is that we can play it a bit inside, to get her enjoying it and then it can be something that she enjoys doing outside…reinforce that outside is fun.

        • Eileen Anderson says:

          Freyja, yes! I’ve seen your posts I think. (Funny how we remember dog names!) How cool to see you both places. I’m thinking now along the lines of lure coursing. I don’t know what those lures are made of but they look kind of lightweight. I think you are onto something, since it’s the chase she loves. Let me know how you do!

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