Should I Play Tug with My Dog?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about dogs and tug! Years ago, someone decided that playing tug with your dog will make him dominant, and that mis-information has been making the rounds ever since. However, there’s absolutely nothing to back that up. Tug can be a great game to play with your dog – just be sure he knows and follows the rules.

I’m especially fond of using tug with dogs who mouth at hands and tear at clothes with their teeth.  A great game of tug can be physically demanding for the person, and clients are usually surprised by how much an active game of tug can tire their dog.  I work with my clients to structure tug play so that everyone, dog and human, can play hard but safely and without encouraging undesirable behaviors like mouthing, jumping, and scratching

There are rules to playing tug, and these are very important to keep your dog from learning obnoxious, pushy behaviors. If your dog loves to tug, he’ll learn these rules very quickly!

  • The tug toy belongs to you – don’t leave it laying around for your dog to play with. You should initiate all tug games.
  • Your dog should have a very reliable “out” (or “drop it”) command.
    • When you ask your dog to “out,” he must do it immediately.
    • If he doesn’t “out,” the game ends for a short time (30-60 seconds). If you can’t get the tug toy from him, just get up and walk away.
    • Keep repeating this until he gives up the toy as soon as you give the command. Start slow, when you’re just beginning the game and he’s not too worked up, then as he learns to “out” on command, gradually start training as the game becomes more intense.
  • Your dog’s teeth must never touch your hand. If they do, the game is over for the rest of the day. Again, they’ll quickly learn this rule if they like playing tug.
  • Everyone in the household must follow these rules. If someone does not follow the rules, they should not be allowed to play tug with the dog. These rules are for the safety of everyone involved, and will keep tug an enjoyable game for everyone.

Whether you’re a woman, a man, or a child, discovering the games that humans and dogs like to play together is an excellent adventure.  And with a little thought, you can choose games and play that improve your relationship with your dog, rather than harm it.

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