How to Play Dog Tug of War the Right Way: Steps You Need to Know

Dogs Playing tug of war with each other

Dog Tug of War & Training

Most dog owners wouldn’t associate the two. After all, what in the world does dog tug of war have to do with training? The answer will surprise you!

Let’s start out with a fun little bit of psychological education.

Have you ever asked yourself exactly why dogs love to play tug of war so much? Almost any puppy owner will agree; tug of war seems like all they want to do!

Fun Dog Facts

Believe it or not, dog tug of war is, in fact, a healthy display of their predatory nature, stemming back thousands and thousands of years to a time before man even existed!

Though it may seem a bit gruesome (brace yourself), wolves will actually attack prey in groups, literally tearing at it. Though they don’t consciously consider toys ‘prey’, and aren’t thinking of hunting during tug of war, the instinct is still just as strong. You can find a more in-depth article on the subject here!

The behavior is no less present in today’s domesticated dogs; just like burying a bone to hide it from possible predators.

In this way, dogs are a simple animal and much of their behavior is instinctually based!

Think Psychologically For Dogs Sake!

How can you incorporate dog tug of war into training?

Simply use it as a reward for desired behavior!

In fact, because dogs are mostly either ‘food driven’ or ‘toy driven’ as a form of reinforcement, this method is already heavily used by many professional dog trainers today. Reward your pet for good behavior with a game of dog tug of war.
  1. Even the most experienced dog trainers in the world know that the best forms of training will rely on their charges base instincts and behaviors.

  2. You, not your dog, should be the one to initiate the game. Ignore attempts from your dog; eventually, he will learn only you decide when to play

  3. It’s important that you can train your dog to release the tug toy at any time. Remember- tugging is instinctual, and he won’t want to stop. Don’t fight your dog for the toy! Once he learns that the game depends upon his obedience, he will submit.

  4. Never offer undesirable punishment, even if your dog isn’t catching on to your training! The idea behind this should be to associate a happy, rewarding feeling of fun. Offer plenty of praise as well! The last thing you want is for your dog to fear the game rather than enjoy it.

  5. Only initiate this game as a ‘reward’. Like food treats, frequent offerings cause the treat to lose its value. You want your pet to associate dog tug of war with something ‘good’ he has done, not something that can happen just anytime he wants.

  6. Use a happy, higher pitched, ‘joyful’ tone of voice when you play tug of war with your dog. Where dogs aren’t capable of understanding complex human sentences beyond a string of a few words, they do recognize the tone of your voice well! They also recognize body language well, often better than humans recognize their own, so use this to your advantage.

How to play tug of war with your dog the right way

How to Discourage Bites

If your pup ever accidentally misses the rope and bites your hand, immediately stop the game and feign injury (even if it didn’t hurt).

This is called bite inhibition, or ‘soft mouth’ training, and puppies will go through it constantly with their littermates!

The idea is simple.

Your dog is loving this game, and doesn’t actually intend to cause you any physical harm at all. If you stop play when this happens, your pet will realized he ‘harmed’ you, and this is why the game stopped.

Because that is the last thing he wants, your dog will be extra careful not to clamp down on your hand in the future!

So, how do puppies do it? When one brother or sister bites the other just a bit too hard during play, the ‘bite victim’ will yelp ‘eee eee eee’ away. Play stops for both pups. Again, that is the last thing puppy #1 wanted, so he/she takes extra care not to bite so hard next time!

Will Tug of War Make My Dog Aggressive?

Many owners will frown upon tug of war because they have heard it will promote aggression, or winning gives their dog a false sense of ‘dominance’. The first half of this sentence is possible, but only if the handler approaches the game incorrectly. Owners will sometimes physically punish or vocally their dogs for playing too aggressively, which is one of the worst things you can do and certainly can promote defensive aggression.

The second half of this sentence is all around false. Almost every dog owner on earth has heard of the infamous ‘Cesar Millan’ and his dominance approach to training, physically forcing his charges to submit with techniques like the ‘Alpha Roll’. Not only has he been discredited by most of the professional scientific community for this approach, owner after owner has been injured trying to implement such techniques. The ‘dominance’ theory was based off a poorly conducted zoological study during the early days of dog training, and was proven false.

If you follow the rules above closely, dog tug of war will only offer pure enjoyment and is one of the best training tools in existence!

Find a dog tug toy humans love as much as dogs here.

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