Tug of War can be a positive energy burner for your dog! Contrary to popular belief, the game of tug does not make your dog aggressive or dominant. High energy dogs will often prefer a game of tug as a reward rather than treats. You will see plenty of skilled handlers on agility courses rewarding their dogs with a game of Tug of War.
There are some basic training rules that should govern your Tug of War sessions. All of these behaviors are taught in our Basic Good Manners Class. You will interrupt tugging with training, so the tug becomes a reward for training. By periodically asking your dog to Trade, Sit and Wait throughout the tugging session, you help deescalate his energy so he never gets too excited. Please note that young children that cannot manage the game with the guidelines provided below should not be allowed to play tug with dogs.
Always have one toy designated as the tug toy. Take it out to initiate a game of tug and put it away when you’re done. Have a no tolerance policy for accidents: if your dog’s teeth make contact with your skin, have a Time Out. If it happens again, end the game.
Step 1: Ask your dog to Sit and Wait.
Step 2: Present the tug toy. If he lunges for it, say, “Oops!” and put the toy behind your back. Present it again. Assuming he is able to Wait, say, “Take it,” and begin to tug wildly. The toy can be shaken from side to side, but not up and down. Up and down shaking could damage your dog’s neck.
Step 3: After a few seconds of rambunctious tugging, stop and say, “Trade,” or if your dog already knows Drop It, you can use this instead. When your dog releases the toy, praise him, ask for a Sit and Wait, present the toy, and begin tugging again.
If he does not release the toy on your Trade cue, keep a good grip on the toy with one hand. With your other hand, put a food lure at his nose. When he opens his mouth to take the treat, he will release the toy, giving you the opportunity to mark it with “Yes” and feed the treat. After several repetitions, pause after you say “Trade” to see if he’ll release the toy on his own. If he doesn’t, strengthen his response to the cue by practicing the Trade lesson from your Basic Good Manners class.
In this video you’ll see Trixie demonstrating the rules for tug. Although she knows the rules, you’ll see her leap for the toy in the beginning before I give the Take It cue. She’s just excited and made a mistake. I tell her “Oops” and whisk the toy away for a second. That’s all the reminder she needs that she must follow the rules. You’ll hear her growling, but thats just part of her play and perfectly acceptable during tug of war as long as the rules are being followed. We know her growling is all in good fun because she has a soft expression on her face and her body is loose and wiggly.
By Pampered Pets Lead Trainer Valerie Balwanz, PMCT, CPDT