11 GOOD REASONS
TO PLAY TUG!
1. This is how your dog will learn “Drop It” or “Out.” He’ll learn that stopping when you ask him will result in him getting another game of tug.
2. Dogs “Not Into” Food, Or Those On Special Diets, Or With Sensitive Tummies can still have a great reward. I have many students whose dogs can’t –for whatever reason – use food as a reward. The tug game is perfect for them.
3. It helps with body handling. When your dog is focused on the tugging, you can touch his shoulders, face, flanks, feet – anywhere. It really decreases the anxiety some dogs feel about being touched, which is important when you go to the vet or your dog is at the groomer.
4. It teaches your dog to go from Cranked to Calm. Which is a skill you need every day, all day! Have you ever seen people trying to get a super excited dog to “SIT SIT SIT SIT!!” when company walks in the house, and fail? That’s because their dog never learned this concept!
5. Your dog learns that you control the game. An important leadership concept.
6. “Squirrel? What Squirrel?”This is one of the reasons that tug is a foundational game in my puppy toolbox. We literally start playing it the day a puppy walks into my house, in order to create more focus for me and not everything going on around us. Here’s why: when a dog is bored, and not ‘on a task‘, he tends to notice more things in the environment. Certain types of dogs – those that are more ‘emotional’ – can focus on those things and become (more) fearful or nervous. But a dog who’s tugging is in a focused state of play, and he doesn’t tend to notice these things as much. With this skill, I can keep him focused on me/our game, and NOT on things that will upset him. Eventually, though, all the exposure he’s had while he’s been in a state of play will create a positive or neutral (and not fearful) response to things in his environment!
7. With this game, a dog learns to control their teeth and jaw pressure. If they accidentally grab your hand, the game ends.
8. This teaches your dog LOTS of self-control. They quickly learn to tug only when invited.
9. Even if your dog LOVES food…..you can use it as a reward during training! A good alternative to a COOKIE.
10. It builds a fun working relationship with the dog. A treat can be eaten in 2 seconds, but a game of tug requires you to participate, so you become the reward!
BEHAVIORS THAT ARE HELPED BY TUG:
- Jumping (greetings) and biting
- “Sit,” “Down” and “Stay” (in exciting situations: guests, parks, events)
- Biting or Mouthy Pup
- Any behavior that is caused by lack of impulse control …
TUGGING Q & A
“I’ve seen two dogs playing tug & having a great time, but will playing games of tug cause aggression?”
NO. Properly taught and managed, “Tug” will NOT teach your dog to be aggressive.
“Can people play tug with dogs too?”
YES. People CAN & SHOULD play tug with their dogs.
HOW TO TEACH TUGGING:
1. Select a sturdy tug toy that your dog will enjoy. ‘Audition’ the toy before playing the game, and DO NOT allow your dog to have access to the dog during the day. It’s only to be used for tugging/training, and if the dog has access to it all the time, it won’t be special. Also, if your dog doesn’t find a toy he likes, don’t be afraid to use a ‘non-toy’ tug. When my puppy, Never, was 10 weeks old, I used a knotted sock because the toys were too big for her wee mouth!
2. Stand or sit on the floor, show your dog the toy, and then hide it behind your back. Get your dog excited. I say things like “Readyyyyy…are you readddddddyyy?”
3. Present the toy to your dog and say “Get It”!
4. If your dog grabs the toy, GENTLY pull on it. Your goal is not to pop the tug out of his mouth; your goal is to have him enjoy the game. If he shows no interest, you can drag it ‘snake-like’ on the floor, throw it in the air and catch it, etc.
5. TUG for a few seconds (less time when first learning) with your dog. Eventually, you can gently pat his body to work on body handling, but if your dog is a tentative tugger, hold off on that.
6. THE RELEASE: Version 1. Grab a high value treat from your treat pouch) and put it in front of your dog’s nose, saying, “OUT” or “DROP” or whatever you like. When he releases the toy, pick it up AS you put the treat in his mouth, and play with the toy yourself for a few seconds to build his excitement for it. Then offer him the game again by presenting the toy and saying “Get It!”.
Version 2. Switch from being interactive and tugging to becoming still and quiet. If you were tugging in a kneeling position, now that you’ve stopped your upper body should be ramrod straight, not giving the impression that you’re still playing. Hold the toy firmly against your body at the level of the dog’s mouth. Don’t pull it up and away from him. You can slowly reel in the toy with your fingers so that there’s a lot less surface area for the dog to hold on to. Don’t stare at the dog, just look at the floor. You can breathe, too! Basically, just stop the fun. There’s a chance – a very good chance – that he’ll keep tugging. Just stay still. Be calm. Wait him out. He will release the toy, and the second his mouth comes off the toy, say “Yes! Get It!” and give him the toy again. Instantly put it right back in his mouth and get on with the tugging again. The cue “Out” (or “drop it” or “enough”) will be given later – after multiple reps when you see that he understands the concept of when you stop, he should let go, and then he gets more game. On the very last rep of the session, when the dog releases the toy, say “Out” and then give a cookie as a reward. The toy is the returned to wherever it’s stored. Far away from your dog’s reach.
1. If your dog’s teeth touch your skin intentionally (not accidentally), the game ends. A time-out is earned, and then you may try again later.
2. If your dog grabs or re-takes the toy before an invite, use collar grab and hold them away from you, calmly saying something along the lines of “I don’t think so” for a few seconds, then try again. If that escalates your dog’s behavior, it may be time for a timeout.
3. If your dog doesn’t drop the toy when asked (NOT applicable to dogs who are just learning the game), see #2.
4. When using Tug as a reward during training, if your dog doesn’t do what you’ve asked (sit, down, stay) make sure you enforce the command you’ve asked for, then release, and then ask again. Only your dog’s successful response will result in you offering a game of tug.
Always stay alert, and watch out for other dogs that may break away from their owners (or run off their property) to come see what all the excitement is about.
To prevent injuries to your dog’s neck, learn how to play the game correctly! Dogs never spin each other around like pro wrestlers when they’re playing tug with each other. They also don’t bounce each other up and down! Playing like that can easily hyper-extend a dog’s neck. My dogs tug with bungee toys, so I can mirror the ‘give and take’ movement that dogs use when playing tug with each other.
- TUG is NOT about Possession! It’s about relationship building.
- It’s also teaching the dog that you are in control: You start the game. You end the game.
- “Game On” position – for me – is a crouch. If I say their name and when they look at me go into that position, they get excited in anticipation of a game with me.