Is it okay to play tug-of-war with your dog?
Many dog experts are asked if playing tug makes dogs aggressive. The clear answer is NO. We suggest you play tug with your dog because it’s good for them, but it’s critical to know how to do it safely to avoid hurting your dog.
Despite what some experts might think, tug games don’t make dogs aggressive. Instead, tug games are excellent for teaching dogs to be gentle with their mouths and to have self-control. These games also strengthen the bond between a dog and its owner. People who take part in dog sports or use dogs in jobs like scent tracking or police work often use tug games as a reward.
For instance, James’s dog, Journey, prefers playing with toys over food rewards. He enjoys fetching and tug games, so his training often involves toy rewards.
Remember, some dogs get excited or worked up more easily than others. Playing active games like tug might make this excitement stronger and cause certain behaviors. If playing tug seems to worsen your dog’s unwanted behaviors, it’s best to stop the game.
If your dog guards resources – meaning they get protective over things they have – tug games could be tricky, depending on how strongly they guard. In such cases, tug might not be a good choice. (But this depends on the specific dog.) Learn more about resource guarding.
Benefits of playing tug with your dog
- It fosters a strong, interactive bond between the dog and its owner.
- It offers excellent mental and physical stimulation.
- It’s effective for teaching dogs to control themselves.
- It serves as a reward for good behavior.
- It can be used to change behaviors, like when puppies bite.
- It boosts confidence in shy or nervous dogs.
- It provides a way for dogs to release excess energy or stress, preventing bad habits.
- It increases a dog’s eagerness to work and learn.
Playing tug with your dog: Safe practices
While tug games are beneficial, playing them the wrong way can be harmful. Below are key tips for safe tug play, along with some useful how-to videos!
1. Safe surfaces
Choose a non-slippery surface for tug games. Avoid wood and tile floors as they can be slippery, especially for strong pullers. This can lead to injuries. Play on surfaces where your dog can get good traction, like carpet, rubber floors, or dry grass.
2. Learning ‘Drop It’
Most dogs don’t initially need to know the “drop it” command to play tug, especially puppies. One method is to use two similar toys, swapping one for the other. Another way is to let the game continue until the dog releases the toy, then encourage them to chase it before grabbing it again.
Introduce ‘drop it’ separately from your regular tug sessions. It’s vital for situations where your dog grabs something dangerous or gets too excited while tugging. Watch this easy video on teaching ‘drop it.’
3. Your dog should do most of the work in tug play
During tug games, your dog should be the main worker. This means you shouldn’t swing your dog’s neck aggressively side to side or up and down, nor drag them across the room (unless they move along willingly).
Your dog should grab the toy when offered and start tugging on it independently. The primary actions of tugging, pulling, and shaking the head should come from the dog. Some dogs may require your encouragement if they’re unsure or not very excited about the game.
In such cases, make the toy more appealing by moving it on the ground, making it seem lively and fun. You can also use playful noises or phrases like “Do you want it? Do you want that toy?” to get your dog more interested.
Pro tip: If your dog is too anxious, scared, or disinterested in tug games, don’t force them. Forcing a dog to play tug can strain the dog-owner relationship. It’s okay if your dog doesn’t enjoy tug.
4. Select a toy your dog likes
Some dogs will tug with any toy, while others have specific preferences. You might need to experiment to discover what your dog enjoys tugging the most.
For example, our ‘Dog Chase Toy‘ is designed to cater to dogs who love dynamic play. Not only is it great for tug-of-war due to its durable and dog-friendly design, but it also doubles as a chase toy, adding an extra layer of fun and exercise for your pet.
This versatility makes it an excellent option for owners looking to combine tug play with active chase games, ensuring both mental and physical stimulation for your dog.
5. Keep the toy near the ground
Dogs usually stay low when they play tug. You might see your dog with its rear end up and the front lower. Excited dogs might even dig their paws into the ground. When you play, keep the toy close to the ground or at your dog’s spine level.
A common mistake is to hold the toy too high, which can stress a dog’s spine and overextend their neck. Dogs play naturally close to the ground, so your tug toy should be low too. This is evident in the videos on this blog.
6. Side-to-side movements are natural
In tug play, dogs often move side to side, and might vigorously shake their heads this way. This is a normal way for dogs to play. Avoid moving the toy up and down, as this isn’t a natural dog movement and could hurt their neck or spine. Let your dog do the bulk of the work, and you’ll see how they naturally move or shake their head side to side, as shown in the videos on this blog.
7. Don’t let go suddenly
Some people release the toy when their dog pulls hard or for amusement, watching the dog tumble. However, suddenly letting go can be risky and lead to injuries, possibly resulting in expensive vet bills. It’s safer to let go when your dog isn’t pulling intensely.
8. Let your dog win sometimes in tug games
For those who think tug games cause aggression, here’s a surprise: It’s good to let your dog win sometimes! Remember, the tug is about building a bond and can reward a dog for good behavior or completing a task. Winning the game can be very satisfying for dogs. You might even say “You win” when you let your dog take the toy.
Every dog is different; some might run off alone with the toy, while others might return to you for more play. Don’t worry that letting your dog win will teach them to always run away with the toy.
There are several ways to encourage them to bring it back, like running the opposite way and starting another tug game with a different toy or training them to return the toy to you on command.
Important note: Avoid tug games with dogs that have neck or spine issues, as it could worsen their condition. If you must play tug with a dog with such issues, choose a shorter toy to reduce their pulling strength and the amount of movement, like shaking the toy. Also, remember to keep the toy low to the ground during play.
Essential tips for safe tug play with your dog
To grasp the correct and incorrect methods of playing tug, observe these key points. In a proper tug game, the toy should be kept low to the ground. This is the safest way to play. On the other hand, holding the toy too high is dangerous and could harm your dog.
Also, it’s important to note the surface you’re playing on. Playing on a wooden floor isn’t the best choice because dogs struggle to get a good grip on such surfaces as well as rubber flooring, carpet, or grass.
Plus, there are several instructional videos available. Watch them to further understand safe tug play, and then have a fun and secure game with your dog!
FAQs about tug of war with dog
Do you have questions about playing tug of war with your dog? We’ve got answers! Here are some frequently asked questions to help you understand this fun and engaging activity better.
1. How long should you play tug of war with your dog?
The length of a tug-of-war session can vary depending on your dog’s age, breed, and energy level. Generally, a good play session can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Watch for signs that your dog is getting tired or losing interest, and always end the game while it’s still fun to keep them excited for next time.
2. Do dogs like it when you let them win tug of war?
Yes. Most dogs enjoy the thrill of winning! Letting your dog win sometimes boosts their confidence and makes the game more enjoyable for them. It’s a playful way to reinforce your bond and can be especially encouraging for more timid or less assertive dogs.
3. Is playing tug of war with your dog bad for their teeth?
No. Playing tug of war is generally safe for your dog’s teeth, especially if you use a toy that’s designed to be gentle on their mouth. However, it’s important to use a proper tug toy and avoid overly vigorous tugging, especially with puppies or older dogs with more sensitive teeth. Regular dental check-ups and monitoring your dog’s teeth and gums for any signs of damage are always recommended.
4. Does tug of war make your dog aggressive?
No, as long as you play it correctly! Train your dog to follow commands like “let go,” or ” drop it”, stop them from grabbing the toy again too quickly, and decide when and how to play tug. Playing tug of war the right way is a good and enjoyable activity that can make your dog behave and listen better.