Playing Tug of War With Your Dog

Behavior and Training  •  Jasey Day  •  Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tug of war can be a great way to interact with your dog, tire your dog, reward your dog with play, and teach your dog self control. Tug may also help to build canine confidence.

You will need:

  • A tug toy that is only for tug. This toy is put away when the tug session is over. Having a designated toy for tug will teach your dog that you only tug with that item and not with everything available in the house (e.g. your sofa cushions!). Tug ropes made of fleece, rope, or fake animal fur often work well.
  • A tug command word, such as “tug” or “pull,” to start the tug game.
  • A “drop” or “give” command to have the dog drop an item in his mouth.
  • A word to designated to mean the tug session has ended. I like to pair the “game over” verbal command with physical touch, such as a gentle double tap with my right hand on the dog’s left shoulder.

Teaching the “drop” command:

  1. When your dog has an item (e.g. dog toy that is not necessarily the special tug toy) in his mouth, put a treat in front of your dog’s nose. The dog will drop the item. Deliver the treat to your dog’s mouth as you pick up the item. Then give the item back to the dog! Repeat. And repeat.
  2. After a few successful repetitions, add the command word.
  3. Increase the distance between the treat and your dog’s nose until eventually your dog will drop an item in his mouth on command even if the treat is in your pocket or if he is not sure you actually have a treat.
  4. During training, almost always give the dog the item back. This is win-win to the dog, “I gave my human my item, but I got a treat and I got my item back! Yahoooo!”

Getting your dog interested in the toy:

If your dog is new to the game of tug, you may need to drag and gently shake the toy on the floor and have your dog chase it! Avoid shaking the toy in your dog’s face – dogs generally do not like that. Praise when your dog interacts with the toy. After your dog is interacting and tugging with toy regularly, pair the playing with the toy with your tug command.

Follow these tug game guidelines:

  1. You start and end the game. For example, you start the game with “tug.” When you are done, tell the dog to “drop” the toy and then tell the dog “game over.” Put the toy away (out of the dog’s reach).
  2. Teeth on skin or clothing is never allowed. If your dog accidentally grazes your skin or clothing with his teeth, yelp (like a dog!) or say “ouch!” Then immediately leave the room. You’re not angry or upset – you just calmly and quickly leave! This will teach the dog to be aware of his mouth and realize that he will lose his best friend - and the play session - if he is not careful.
  3. Be aware of how you are tugging – you do not want to pull your dog’s spine into an unnatural position.

Is it about winning?

No, it’s not about winning! Most dogs that “win” a round of tug - by pulling the toy out of your hands - immediately bring the toy back to you for more tugging! It’s about playing. You may want a dog that needs more confidence to “win” more often.



Share the Greatness