NOTE: This post was originally featured on the Carpe-K9 blog and is copied here with the author’s permission.
You probably already know that most dogs enjoy play, and toys make it even more fun. Our dogs love toys, and we love to buy them for our dogs, trying to find what will really excite them. Some dogs are obsessed with fetching toys, while others enjoy tearing them up. Some will play happily for hours by themselves, and others really want their humans to be part of the game.
Tug o’ war can be a great game to play with your dog if you and he are both properly prepared. Some people are nervous about playing tug with their dogs, as they worry that it will incite aggression, or cause the dog to become dominant. Some experts even still believe this, and may have scared you away from the game.
The truth is that many dogs can play tug just fine. Aggression doesn’t just “come out of the blue.” A nice, social dog is not going to be “made aggressive” by the game of tug.
To be fair, tug isn’t for everyone, or every dog. Some dogs are possessive of toys, and may not be able to handle close proximity games like tug. Some dogs get way too ramped up by the game, and may redirect their excitement onto your hands. Some dogs are just way too strong. And if you don’t have some training on board, or a relationship with your dog, you will be hard-pressed to end the game on your terms, and it will become a competition, instead of a collaboration. If your dog is pushy, demanding, guards his food or toys, or has acted aggressively with you in the past, please contact our Training Department for help before playing.
Make sure your dog will release the toy when you want him to. This is taught with a “Drop It” command. Be sure to teach this PRIOR to starting the tug game with your dog.
Dogs that already like toys and will happily take them in their mouths will enjoy tug the most. If your dog isn’t really interested, you might want to experiment with some different textures of toys and create value in them to get him interested. We’ll cover that in a future post.
So you’ve got a dog who wants to tug with you. Great! You want to select the proper toy to make the game fun and interesting. Tug toys can be made of rope, rubber, nylon, cotton, or any material that can withstand some pull. You can buy or make them, but be sure whatever you use is long enough for you to have your hand securely holding one end away from the dog’s jaws.
NOTE: puppies can enjoy tugging objects, but be careful when playing this game with them, as they don’t have all their adult teeth until about 7-8 months of age. Their baby teeth cannot withstand much pulling or whipping about. Keep all four of their feet on the ground and keep your motions controlled. Once their adult teeth are in, you can use a bit more strength. If your pup seems interested but doesn’t hold on to the toy very well, use very little pressure, and let him “win” a lot.
Dogs will often grip and regrip on the toy multiple times, and they can bite you accidentally if you aren’t careful. A longer toy (or kevlar gloves) will help prevent this. Some toys have a handle for you to hold, which can be helpful.
The tug game should begin and end on your terms, so keep the toy put away unless you are playing tug. Don’t leave the toy where the dog can access it on his own–we want the arrival of the toy to signal a special game.