Teaching tug is one of my favorite ways to get my client’s dogs to like them; however, it’s a pretty common myth that one should not play tug with their dog. Critics say “playing tug will make your dog aggressive.” They also say, “Letting your dog win a tugging bout will make them think they’re more dominant.” I understand how someone can arise at these conclusions, seeing as this type of behavior appears to be violent to some people, and not something they want their dog to ever think about doing.
I always ask my clients, “What else do dogs have to play with, but their mouths?” to deny a dog the ability to play with his mouth is like requiring a child to play basketball with his hands tied behind his back. You won’t be the person he comes to for fun advice.
Tug can be an extremely fun and safe game for everyone involved. In this article, Part 2 of How To Get Your Dog To Like You, we’ll dive deep into the game of tug. We’ll discuss the benefits, proper tug toys and rules of the game. Hold on tight and get ready to have any misconceptions shaken up.
Benefits of Playing Tug
- Playing tug gives your dog an outlet to be a dog. Dogs love to grab and pull on things with their mouths.
- Tug is an easy and effective way to let out tons of energy and exercise your dog. Not to mention it can be quite the workout for you too.
- Playing tug is a great way to teach your dog impulse control and how to listen even when they’re excited.
- Playing tug can also be used as a reward when practicing obedience.
Dogs will generally play tug with anything, lol… the key is to use something appropriate and something that you can hold on to. Use something that’s soft, but durable. The tug should also be long enough that both of your hands, and the dogs mouth can fit comfortably. Don’t use anything you wouldn’t want your dog to destroy later like a towel, or sock, or shirt, or hat etc… I prefer using tugs with handles, but sometimes dogs will go for the handles so I encourage my clients to cut the handles when first teaching the game. Here’s a link to some great tug toy options… Tug Toys
Rules For Playing Tug
Once you have an appropriate tug, there are rules to the game. Both the dog and the handler have their own rules that they must abide by to make the game fair and fun.
Rule 1 – The dog cannot grab the tug without permission. Permission is given with a command like “YES,” “OK,” or “TAKE.” If the dog breaks the rule, the game stops for at least 5 seconds.
Rule 2 – The dog must let go of the toy on command. This command can be something like “OUT,” “GIVE,” or the dog’s name. If the dog breaks the rule, the game stops for at least 3 seconds. (Except when you’re first teaching the game then the dog should immediately get the tug the instant they let go.)
Rule 3 – The dog is not allowed to put their teeth on skin or clothing. If the dog breaks the rule, the game stops for at least 10 seconds. Sometimes this is not the dog’s fault, but the game still needs to stop for a few seconds before it resumes.
Rule 1 – The handler must present the tug in a way that the dog can grab it without hitting their clothes or skin. If the handler breaks the rule, then they’ll probably get bit, scraped, or their clothing ripped.
Rule 2 – The handler must allow the dog to tug back, and even pull the tug out of their hands. If the handler breaks the rule, the game quickly becomes no fun for the dog. It’s not about over powering the dog. It’s give and take.
Rule 3 – The handler must not scold or get angry at the dog if the dog breaks the rules. Just pause or stop the game. If the handler breaks the rule, again the game is no longer fun for the dog.
Rule 4 – The tug is never left with the dog. It is a toy only used for interaction between the dog and handler. When the game ends the tug goes away out of the reach of the dog. If the handler breaks the rules, more than likely the dog will destroy the tug.
How To Play The Game
Step 1 – Getting Your Dog To Grab The Tug
Hold the tug at one end, and give your dog the command to grab the tug. Remember, commands like “YES,” “OK,” and “TAKE” are all OK. Once you’ve given the command, start waving the tug around in front of the dog’s face. Try to get your dog to grab the middle of the tug. Because we tend to require a lot of control, some dogs will be more hesitant than others to grab the tug. In those cases, you need to put the tug on a leash and drag it in front of the dog, or use a flirt pole to get your dog comfortable with the idea of putting his mouth on something.
Step 2 – How To Tug
Once the dog grabs the tug, you want to encourage them by saying “Good boy” or “Good girl,”and grab the tug with both hands. When you’re first playing try not to play too vigorously, but give the dog enough resistance so that he wants to pull back. Move right and left and up and down. Don’t shove the tug forward into the dog’s mouth. You should always be pulling away. A tugging bout should last 10 to 20 seconds.
Step 3 – How To Get Your Dog To Stop Tugging
After the dog tugs for a few seconds you want them to let go. Here are a few different ways to get your dog to stop tugging. Give the dog the command to release the tug. Remember commands like “OUT,” or “GIVE.” You can use any of the methods below to get the dog to let go.
- Stop tugging the toy, plant it firmly against your body completely immobilizing it. When the tug goes dead, the dog will let go.
- Stop tugging the toy. Hold the toy with one hand and with the other, reach for the dog’s collar and pull the collar toward you, and the dog will let go.
- Before you start the game, hide a few treats in your back pocket. After you give the command to stop, hold the tug in one hand and with the other take out the treat and hold it against your dog’s nose, and the dog will let go of the tug. (Caution: If your dog is super food motivated, he won’t be interested in the tug after the treat.)
Step 4 – Restarting The Game
Now, the moment the dog releases the tug, give the dog the command to grab it again. The dog has to think that releasing the tug doesn’t mean the game is over, but rather that’s what starts the game again. You want to repeat the bouts of tugging and stopping until your dog automatically releases the tug toy on cue. After that, it’s time for Step 5.
Step 5 – Obedience With The Tug
This where the game gets interesting. Now you can start varying the time before you start the game again. Make the dog stay for a few seconds before restarting the game. In addition, you can start adding in commands. So as soon as you give the dog the cue to release the tug, ask your dog to “SIT.” The moment the dog sits, reward the behavior by starting the game again. Start with giving the dog one easy command at time, and then you can add more commands and longer duration before starting the game again.
Step 6 – Ending The Game
When you’re ready to end the game, simply give the dog the release command, tell the dog “ALL DONE” and put the tug up and out of the dog’s reach.
Dogs love to play tug, and humans love to play with dogs, so this game is a win win. Anytime you and your dog can do something together that you both love, it strengthens the bond between you and your dog. It also helps establish leadership. The handler is the one who grants access to the tug, and determines when the game starts up again. This debunks the myth of tugging creates dominance in dogs. The game will also provide an incredible potential to reinforce basic behaviors like sit, down, and stay. Ultimately, your dog will learn how to listen and control himself under your command even when he is extremely aroused. This is why I think tug is one of the best ways to get your dog to like you.
- Try to deliver the reward of the tug with great timing. This is a game of quick reflexes.
- Play growling is completely normal for tug play.
- Once your dog knows the rules, let the dog yank the tug from your hands and encourage them to bring it back. As soon as they come close, grab it and start tugging again.
- Get down low if you want the dog to bring the tug back to you.
For anyone interested in building a stronger bond with their fur babies, we will be holding a How To Play With Your Dog Online Course in the upcoming months. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.