There has been a lot of argument over whether it is appropriate to play tug with your dog. The main reason where some are against this game is because people have argued that by playing tug you are encouraging your dog to see themselves as equal to you or that you are encouraging them to fight with you for dominance. This however is not the case. If you take a look at my “The faults of “Pack Leadership” training methods” posts you’ll see why these reasons are faulty.
Tug games are immensely beneficial to your dog, and not only because they exercise through play. This game works your dog’s brain and also can strengthen the bond between you and your dog. It works your dog’s brain because throughout the game they are having to think and evaluate what to do next. It can strengthen the bond you share with your dog because during this game you are an active participant and your dog is interacting with you! This is the difference of you tossing a ball in the air and catching it and tossing the ball with a friend as you chat. Between the two options, most people would choose the interactive option more than the solitary one.
So, how should you play tug with your dog?
It’s best to only start playing when your dog has been introduced to and has “gotten” the act of giving you a toy through a give or drop it command. This way you can periodically stop the game by asking your dog to give the toy. You then get to reward the dog for their good behavior by continuing the game!
Introduce an appropriate tug toy, such as a rope toy with a handle or tennis ball on one end or on either. This toy should be long enough that your hand can be out of the way of your dog’s mouth, but not so long as would allow you to lose control of the game.
You can use a “take it” command to show your dog that you want to play.
Resist the urge to tug the toy up or down or to tug too harshly. Rather, shake the you from side to side and lean into and out of tugs, being aware of how your dog reacts to each motion.
As I mentioned, take maybe one or two short pauses where you ask your dog to release the toy with the drop it or give command you’ve already taught your dog. If they don’t release the toy, do not pull or yank on the toy. This will translate to the dog as continuation of the original game and they will eventually learn that they don’t actually have to give anything back to you. Rather, relax your body without releasing the toy. This will show the dog that by not listening, the game is still over. The dog will most likely then let go of the toy which you will praise and then after a moment of calm, re-introduce the toy and continue play.
When you and your dog are appropriately tired there are two options of how to continue, either of which I feel are appropriate.
1.) You ask your dog to give you the toy, praise them, and then give a different toy which is used as a non-tug toy, such as a ball, treat feeder, stuffed toy, etc.
2.) You ask your dog to give you the toy, praise them, and then give them the same toy using a “go play” or “all done” command.
Both of these methods will teach your dog that interactive play is over. This will also still praise your dog for their good behavior and will show your dog that even though play may be over, nothing is “bad” with that. This will help continue their “give” or “drop” education and will help encourage them to continue this behavior. You could also combine these methods, by using a toy exchange and a command, you could use one or the other, or you could alternate between the two depending on your situation. If you’re out at a park or on a short trip you may not want to take more than a toy or two, or a replacement toy might not be near by. The important thing to do though is to show your dog that ending play is not a bad thing and that by “giving” they still got good things.
Great resources for more information on this topic and related information!: