11 GOOD REASONS
TO PLAY TUG!
1. Because when your dog is tugging, distractions become insignificant while training! Here’s why: In a low state of arousal, dogs can notice more insignificant things in the environment and become nervous or fearful. But a dog who’s tugging is in a high state of ‘crank’ and doesn’t tend to notice these things as much. I always used this game/engagement to introduce my puppy to potential scary things and situations.
2. Your Dog Learns How To Work Through “Don’t Wanna Don’t Have To” Moments. From the very beginning, I teach my dogs that when I say “Get it”, they must tug no matter what else they may want to do. I teach them to change from tugging one toy to another, and I teach them to tug even when I have a handful of cookies in front of their nose. That lesson transfers to “Come when I call you even though you’d rather be chasing that squirrel.”
3. Dogs “Not Into” Food, Or With Special Diets/Sensitive Tummies can still have a great reward.
4. 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.
5. It teaches your dog to go from Cranked to Calm. And you need that skill every day all day! Have you seen people trying to get a super excited dog to “SIT SIT SIT SIT!!” and fail? That’s because their dog never learned this concept.
6. Your dog learns that you control the game. An important leadership concept.
7. This is how your dog learns “Drop It” or “Out.”
8. With this game, a dog learns to control their teeth and jaw pressure. If they accidentally grab your hand, the game ends.
9. This teaches your dog LOTS of self-control. They quickly learn to tug only when invited.
10. You can use it as a reward during training! A good alternative to a COOKIE.
11. 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:
- Biting and pulling on leash
- Jumping (greetings) and biting
- “Sit,” “Down” and “Stay” (in exciting situations: guests, parks, events)
- Biting or Mouthy Pup
- Stealing toys & more …
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. Use your ‘game on position” and be verbally exciting. 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 tasty morsel from your treat pouch (I use soft, high-value dog treats for the first few lessons) and put it on your dog’s nose, saying, “OUT” or “DROP” or whatever you like. When he releases the toy, pop the treat in his mouth, and after he finishes eating it, offer him the game again by presenting the toy and saying “Get It!”.
Version 2. Switch from being in “game on’ position 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 time out.
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.
TUGGING CODE OF CONDUCT
Tug etiquette means that you always keep your eye on the environment to make sure that your dog’s game of tug with you isn’t causing dogs nearby to become excited. Your dog is vulnerable when he’s tugging, so you need to be his eyes and ears and watch out for other dogs that may break away from their owners (or run off their property) to ‘discipline’ your dog for having too much fun.
This means: don’t spin, shake, bounce or whip your dog at the end of the toy! Dogs have tremendous neck power from side to side, but not up and down. Shaking a dog that way while tugging hyper-extends the dog’s neck. Instead, tug as if you have a bungee between you, and alternate holding and giving pressure. My primary game is patting the dog’s body while they’re tugging! Using bungee toys helps to get that “give and take” action while safely playing with your dog.
- 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.
- GROWLING is an ACCEPTABLE behavior during tug!