Dog jumping up playfully on a girlPlaying Tug With Your Pooch

With so many myths out there it’s hard to know how to play with your dog properly. During my eight years of dog training I’ve come across all sorts of myths. One of those erroneous beliefs I’ve come across is that you don’t want your dog to win when you play Tug-of-war, this is based off the incorrect assumption that the dog/human relationship is based on submission and dominance. Preventing your dog from winning during the play activity only does one thing, makes most dogs not want to play. It’s no different then with us, if we constantly lose, it makes the game unrewarding and our interest in the game lags. Instead let your dog win the majority of the time. At first you may have to release the toy after only a light tentative tug, don’t worry this is only your dog testing the waters, making sure that this tug-of-war game is ok to play with you.

Encouraging is only one part of the intriguing game we are developing. We also want to entice our dog to play. Use a tug rope or an old towel in a fun lightly teasing manner all the while giving our dog every opportunity to sieze their prize. Once grabbed, lightly tug before letting the dog win the game (try to keep increasing the longevity and the amount of tug before letting them win). When playing tug use a backward/forwards pulling motion, never a side to sids motion, a dogs teeth are not designed for a side to side motion but to capture and hold prey. Refrain from trying to grab the tug toy, instead pet and love on your dog first before continuing the tug game, this will encourage our dog and let them know that we like them winning.

In the beginning it cannot be understated that is so beneficial if we introduce this game while they drag a leash around, the ability to guide and steer our dog is invaluable. Keep in mind that leash and collar corrections may still be needed even during play to communicate if the dog did something inappropriate. The leash will also allow us to easily teach a drop command. When you have decided the game has come to an end now comes the time to teach the “drop”. With the leash in hand calmly say “drop”, if the toy is not dropped then slowly take away the slack from the leash ever increasing the tension until we get the desired result of the toy ending up on the floor. At this point don’t worry about your dog putting the toy in your hand (that will come in time). Once the “drop” command is given the toy is no longer your dog’s but is now yours. At anytime the dog tries to retrieve the toy give insistent but light leash and collar tugs. Take your time picking up the tug toy there should be no rush during this time. Once the drop command is complete then put up the toy, try not to leave it out as most tug toys are easily destroyed.

There are many benefits to teaching tug-of-war. Not only is it a great way to have fun but it can also give a tug driven dog an outlet for their drive. Tug is also game that is essential in teaching certain service dog tasks. I’ve also found that tug can be a great motivator when teaching commands. Whatever game you like to play with your dog make sure you’re the one who initiates it and most importantly make sure that you are having fun playing it.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer