To Tug or Not to Tug?

Whether it is okay to play tug with your dog is one of the most common questions that owners ask me. They have two main concerns based on myths that we are going to dispel.

They must always win, or else their dog will not see them as the alpha.

The “alpha dog” concept was based on the dreaded dominancy theory – a flawed study whose results were disproven – yet it still plagues the dog training industry. 

You can learn all about that by looking at a blog post, “I’m My Dogs’ Caregiver, Not Their Alpha,” which was published in Edition Dog Magazine. In short, you already control everything that your dog has and does, and you are not a dog. I promise you; it is good to let your dog win. 

Think about this as well, why would your dog want to continue playing with you if he never wins? The same thing happened between me and my husband, Rich, when playing The Lord of The Rings Trivial Pursuit. Being fascinated with the movies since they first came out, Rich was newer to the trilogy, so he just couldn’t beat me (it doesn’t help that I am very competitive). After a few games, he stopped wanting to play.

The game will cause their dog to become aggressive.

If a dog is already aggressive towards people or has trouble controlling its excitement, so it spills over to overarousal and aggression, I would discourage playing tug unless you are an experienced handler. 

Establishing rules when playing tug makes the game fun for those on both ends of the toy, builds your dog’s obedience skills, and will not cause aggression. Here are the rules that I recommend:

      1. If teeth touch your skin, the game immediately stops
      2. Drop the toy when asked.
      3. Take the toy back when released to do so, not beforehand.   

The Benefits of Playing Tug

Jeter loves playing tug. Not only because it is an interactive game with me that builds our relationship, but it is also an excellent outlet for energy, and it can be a fantastic reward for a training job well done. Turn up the sound on the video at 23 seconds, and you can hear his happy grunts.

If you would like to learn more about building your dog’s drive to tug, especially for the working lines, check out Denise Fenzi.

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Cheryl E Netter
Cheryl E Netter
2 months ago

Great article Tori! Domino also loves playing tug but as soon as the excitement of the game overwhelms him we stop the game and move on to another game of play, like fetch and return, which he also loves to play!

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