Playing with my dog – tug-of-war

Tugging is a game where a dog and his owner (or two dogs) each pull vigorously on one end of an object to win it. This game uses the natural prey drive dogs that most dogs have, so it is very easy to teach. It is also a lot of fun, a great way to exercise a dog quickly with limited room, and a good mean to help dogs work off steam. Like any other games, it also has the potential to strengthen your relationship with your dog.

Tug games however have a bad reputation. Some trainers advise people to not play tug with dogs, because they worry that teaching dogs to use the full force of their mouth and to “battle” with humans can generate aggression or cause unwanted accidents.

To avoid such situations, it is particularly important that tug playtime be structured.

The first rule is to always play tug with a dog toy so that your dog learns that it is only appropriate to pull on toys. After all you would not want your dog to grab a shirt or any object to initiate a tug-of-war with you or anyone! You should probably only tug with a game specifically designed to be used for this kind of game so that your dog does not have the idea to start tugging with his brand new Frisbee (and break it in the process, or just really annoy you when you simply want to have Frisbee fun with him!). Tug toys are also safer as they are usually long enough to keep your fingers far from your dog’s teeth, thus avoiding all potential biting accidents.

You should also always be in control of the game. This does not mean that your dog can never “win the fight”. Who would want to play a game they never win? Be a good sport and make sure that your dog sometimes “wins” and gets the toy from you. This will especially be an incredible confidence booster to shy and nervous dogs! Being in control only means that you are able to stop the game whenever you want, and not only by loosing the game and letting the toy go.

Tugging is a fun context to practice an important command: “GIVE”. Your dog should give you the toy when you ask him. Tasty treats or another toy to give in exchange are the quickest way to teach a dog to “give”. It is also important to resume back to playing in an even more fun and active manner when your dog gives you back the toy. If you only ask your dog to give you the toy when you want to stop playing, “GIVE” will be perceived as a negative command that ends all the fun to your dog. Some dogs might be reluctant to give in this context.

You could also teach your dog to “TAKE IT” or “GRAB”: when your dog grabs the toy by his mouth, you say “TAKE IT” and you reinforce him with fun play. You are teaching your dog to take the toy when you want him to have it, which is an important command if you do not want your dog to jump on you to try to grab the toy before the game actually begins. Such control and manners are important lessons to teach dogs, and you are making it fun!

“LEAVE IT” is another command that can be practiced while playing tug. You leave the toy next to your dog and you ask him to “leave it” until you invite him to “take it”. This is another great tool to practice self-control! You can make it harder by moving the toy near your dog’s face to make it more exciting. Play then becomes the great reward for having waiting until your OK (“take it”) to grab the toy.

Structuring this kind of game is important so that you are able to managing your dog’s excitability. When dogs play together, they request pauses often when they feel the game gets too intense. It is only natural that you do the same.

Have fun tugging!

Good video on tugging:

Here are some great tug toys:
Kong Tug : And
Ropes and other long toys can also do the trick.