Playing Tug-of-War with Your Dog

Find out why tug-of-war is a win-win.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #10

Mark every tooth mistake with a calm “Oops” or “Too bad,” just as you would if your dog grabbed the toy without your okay. Drop the tug toy and walk away, ignoring your dog. Leave the room if you have to. You can even end the game altogether for that hour or that day.

Tug-of-War Rule #4

Fourth rule: The human keeps custody of the tug toy and always initiates play. This rule is important for pesty attention-seekers and for dogs who for whatever reason need more structure in their lives than most. You should also put the toy away between games if you’re using tug formally as a training reward. Otherwise, this rule is optional if you’ve got no problems with your dog.

Final Tug-of-War Tips

A few last pointers. Many dogs get growly during tug. Look at your dog’s body overall – is he wiggly? Are his eyes soft? Does he look happy and playful? Good. Also, as a rule of thumb, play growls are relatively throaty and high-pitched; growls that mean business are deep and come from the chest. Finally, play gently with a puppy or adolescent: no pulling upward; keep the toy at the level of the dog’s head, or lower. Skip tug altogether while your pup is teething.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).