Tug is a great game to play with your dog – it can be a great reward during training, a great way to exercise, or just a lot of fun! Contrary to what you might have heard, tugging does not cause your dog to be aggressive. That being said, there are rules to tug that your dog must learn and follow for both of you to have fun and stay safe.
Rule #1: Do not take the tug unless I give you permission
Your dog should not try to snatch the tug from you when you’re not ready for him. You need some sort of cue that tells him it’s ok to grab now – “ok”, “get it”, or whatever works for you.
Rule #2: If your teeth touch skin, the game is over.
This should be a rule for all games with your dog. The instant teeth touch you, even accidentally (it will usually be an accident, anyhow) drop the toy and walk away. Oftentimes this happens when the dog gets over stimulated and over excited, so watch for signs of this and don’t let them get so worked up if they can’t control themselves. Work on other self control games (wait, leave-it) to help with the over-excitement.
Rule #3: Drop the tug when I ask/when I stop playing
This is the real key to the game – you can’t use tug as a reward if the dog won’t let go! It also teaches self control and helps keep your dog from getting over stimulated.
Here is Marcus demonstrating this step. He already knows the first two rules, and will not grab the toy unless I say “OK!” In this video, we have worked on drop a few sessions already, but you’ll see that he is still definitely learning – sometimes it takes him a good several seconds to drop the toy after I stop tugging. Here are the steps to follow to teach this to your dog:
1. Choose a fairly stiff toy that won’t stretch (a regular knotted rope toy works)
2. Wiggle the toy and tell him to get it
3. Immediately freeze and plant yourself – lean against a wall if you have to. Wait for them to give up and release the toy. This could take a LONG TIME – that’s ok! Just wait.
4. The instant – I mean INSTANT – your dog releases his grip, wiggle it and tell him to get it again. The immediate reward for releasing his grip is getting to play again.
5. Once your dog is releasing quickly when you freeze, add the word you want to use, “drop”, “release”, etc.
At this point, you can start actually tugging back for a few seconds before freezing. Work up to longer tug games as long as your dog isn’t getting so overstimulated that they can no longer release quickly. If you find that happening, go back to shorter play sessions until they are showing better self-control.
Note: These instructions are obviously for a dog who really wants to tug – they wouldn’t work at all on a dog who isn’t interested in tugging! To get your dog interested in the game, you can get fluffy fleese toys or food-stuffed tugs.