How to Play "Tug" with your Dog

Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Denise Mullenix, stopped by today to dispel the myth that playing "tug" with your dogs is bad -- especially if you let them win. 

Here are Denise's tips for how to play "tug" the right way:

If your dog is fearful, reactive or aggressive, consult a professional dog trainer prior to trying any rough play with your dog. For most dogs, tug games do not increase risk of aggression, in fact teaching a dog to play with boundaries can strengthen the bond with his person and teach a dog self control and reliability even while highly excited. For a dog who is fearful or less mentally stable, play can sometimes be perceived as threatening and is best built up under the supervision of a experienced professional trainer. Discontinue the games and consult a trainer if your dog is growling excessively or showing any other signs of guarding or fear.

How to Tug with your Dog

  • Start with a long soft toy such as a soft rope toy or a fleece tug. This will be easier for a dog who's new to tug or a puppy to grasp. The leanth will allow the dog to tug slightly further away from you while getting used to tugging closer and closer to you.
  • If you're having a hard time getting your pup to tug, you may consider putting your tug toy on a short rope or vet leash so that the dog can become comfortable chasing without worrying about offending the owner by grabbing something out of their hand. Some dogs are sensitive to their people's social pressure, meaning the human's direct square stance, eye contact and any leaning over of the dog and to avoid conflict will not be as inclined to tug a toy that a human is holding or leaning over.
  1. Start by dragging the toy along the ground away from the dog in short "prey like"movements. The more you have the toy imitate the scurrying movement of a rodent, the more interest the toy will be to your dog. Stand slightly oblique angle and move the toy away from the dog. Remember that bunnies don't attack, so always move the toy away from your pooch.
  2. When your dog grasps the tug, give little tugs and vibrations of your hand to keep your prey "alive" but don't tug to hard so to not damage the teeth or neck and back.
  3. To teach a dog to stop tugging is crucial. Stop pulling from the dog and hold them by the collar or stand on a leash. Make sure that the dog isn't continuing to tug the toy away from you to continue the game. You may even drop the toy and let the dog hold it. Just hold the dog by the collar and end the fun. At some point, the dog will become bored and drop the tug out of his mouth. When he does, click or say "yes" and reward with a tasty treat. If he's having a hard time dropping the toy, put a piece of food under his nose and click or say "yes" and treat him when he opens his mouth and the toy falls out. Eventually, your dog will begin to anticipate when you stop tugging, to spit out the toy. At this point, add a verbal command like "drop it" when you stop tugging. Do both the non verbal cue (stop tugging) and the verbal cue (drop it) at the same time until your dog understands that the verbal command means to drop the toy and then you can fade out the non-verbal cue.

Rules of Tug

  • The human always starts the game. The human always ends the game.
  • The dog should only take the toy on a command of "Take it", "Tug," "Get it," or any other specific command ("Okay" is overused and should be avoided to prevent confusion).
  • The dog must learn "Out," "Drop," "Release" or "Give" on command and must comply on the first command.
  • The dog's teeth may not touch the human's skin while playing, even by accident.
  • The human never chases the dog to get the toy back.
  • If the dog violates any of these rules, the game ends. No negotiations - the game is over. If the toy is in the human's possession at the time of the violation, the toy goes up and away, where the dog does not have access to it. If the toy is in possession of the dog, the owner drops the toy, turns their back on the dog and walks away.



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