I often hear people say they do not play tug with their dogs because they were told it causes aggression.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this, I could take a nice vacation! As a general rule, tug does NOT create aggression. It’s perfectly fine to play tug with your dog – in most cases. Tug can be a great game to play, and many dogs love it. I encourage it for most of my clients whose dogs love to play it. It is also a great way to learn some important skills.

However, I do stipulate that it is important to have the proper rules in place. It is a game, and all games have rules. If your dog is not willing to follow your rules, or if he starts to show any resource guarding tendencies toward the Tug toy, then stop the game and seek the help of a positive reinforcement based professional behavior consultant.

Here are my rules for playing Tug:

  1. Tug is only to be played with approved Tug toys. This does not include socks, shoes, shirt sleeves, or other non-toy items. This helps teach your dog that you will play – but only with approved items. This should help your dog learn to get a toy when he wants to play or wants your attention rather than the off-limits items.
  2. Tug toys should be long so that it’s easy for your dog to hold one end without being too close to your hands at the other end. As they get better at the game, they should be able to learn better control of their teeth and be able to hold it closer to you without ever hitting your skin.
  3. If the dog’s teeth hit human skin (some dogs like to make their way up the toy to your hand, then move on to your hand) the game ends, at least temporarily. This helps them learn to make better choices with their teeth and that we never play by grabbing human skin.
  4. When you say, Drop it or Give it (or whatever your cue is), your dog must immediately release the toy. This will take some practice at first, but it is a great way to help teach your dog a solid Drop it that can be used for other things.
  5. Once you’ve asked your dog to Drop it, he must either respond to your next cue or must offer you a desired behavior to get the game going again. Leaping up and grabbing the Tug toy from your hand is not acceptable. For example, you might ask your dog to sit. When he does, you invite him to Get It! and restart the game. Or, you might wait for your dog to offer a Back Up or a Down to restart the game.
  6. On the human side of the equation, we mostly provide resistance and let our dogs do the actual tugging. You should not flip your dog from side to side, nor should you yank up and down on the toy. Be careful what type of pressure you are putting on your dog’s neck and spine. I often see people yank up and down, but you never see dogs tug in this way. It could potentially cause injury.
  7. You do NOT need to win every round of Tug. Some people have been told allowing the dog to “win” makes them think they are the “alpha” or in charge. Not true, it is a game! Most of us do not like to play games we never win. Sometimes your dog should win, that’s what makes it more fun!
  8. While not required, I do prefer tug toys with some give to them. We make and sell our own Power Tugs Natural Fiber Dog Tug Toys because we were having trouble finding toys that were long, durable, and had any flexibility to them. You can find more about them here.