Features March 1999 Issue

Tug ‘o War Used As a Training Tool

WDJ selects the best and safest 'Tug o War' toys.

From tiny Pomeranians to huge Mastiffs, dogs love to play Tug ‘o War. There is an inherent canine joy in growling, grabbing, pulling, shaking, ripping and shredding that satisfies a dog’s basic predatory instincts. Owners also find it rewarding to roughhouse with their four-footed friends, and a Tug ‘o War game is a great way to take the edge off a high-energy pooch.

Many trainers caution against playing Tug ‘o War with canine companions, warning that it teaches a dog to be dominant and aggressive. I encourage my students to play Tug ‘o War with their dogs. If you play the game right, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach your dog deference and good manners and you can even resolve aggression problems. Only if it is done improperly does “Tug” teach your dog bad habits.

The first key to playing the game right is that you always win. At least almost always. At least in the beginning. The Tug Toy is a very special, cherished object. It is kept hidden in a special place, and only comes out when you want to play. Tease Woofie with the toy – shake it a squeak it, and use a word such as “tug” or “pull,” that you chose for your behavior cue. Let him grab one end, and have a great time tugging and shaking the toy with him for a few minutes, then offer him a very tasty treat.

Left to right: WDJs top pick, Four Paws
Rough & Rugged; Cressite Solid Rubber Play
Ring (not recommended as a tug-toy); and the
Cressite Solid Rubber Tug Toy (approved by
WDJ for use with small dogs only).

If you’ve used a sufficiently tasty treat, Woofie will open his mouth for the treat. When he does you say “Drop,” or “Give,” since he must drop the tug toy to eat the treat. You just won the game. “Click!” a clicker or tell him “Yes!” to let him know he did a rewardable behavior, then hold the treat and let him nibble at it while you safely remove the tug toy. Now you can either play again (playing the game again is another reward for Woofie for giving up the toy when you asked) or you can put it away and play again later.

Left: the 20-inch Booda Tug not
quite long enough, and lacking
a handle. Right: WDJs top pick,
the Booda Wonder Tug Twin,
featuring a secure handle, and
enough length to reduce the risk
of accidental bites.

Before long, Woofie will be programmed to drop the toy on cue, and you can win whenever you want. Now you can let him grab it and run off with it every once in a while to make the game more interesting. Just remember to have him give it back to you when his turn is up – don’t start playing chase!

Some dogs want to play too aggressively with a tug toy, and some dogs get seriously aggressive. If Rambo plays too rough, and either jumps up on you or puts his mouth on your clothing or skin, it’s time for an instant “time out!” Just say “Too bad!” in an upbeat, cheerful, non-punitive tone of voice and put the toy away for a few minutes. If his rowdy behavior persists, use a tie-down, a crate, a puppy pen, or just step out of the room briefly. After a moment or two, resume the game. Every time he bites or gets out of control, it’s “Too bad!” and a time-out. Four time outs in a row ends the game for the day.

Rambo will learn very quickly that when he is too rough, playtime is over. In short order he will begin to control his behavior so that he can continue playing the game.

There are lots of different tug toys on the market. To some extent the ideal tug-toy depends on your own dog’s size, strength and chewing preference. Tug toys should be durable, safe, appealing to the dog, and affordable. WDJ tested several tug toys based on these criteria.

Solid rubber tug toys
Dogs seem to like these – the solid rubber gives them something to sink their teeth into, which is an especially enjoyable treat for young dogs who are still teething.

WDJ Approves

Cressite Solid Rubber Tug Toy
Pet Supply Imports, Inc.
South Holland, IL (made in England)
$7.79. Available at most pet stores.

The Cressite Rubber Tug Toy is made of natural rubber and was very inviting to our test dogs. They got quite enthusiastic, to the point that I feared for the integrity of the toy. The price is reasonable, but given the somewhat flimsy construction (I have seen them snap under heavy use), I would reserve this toy for dogs 25 pounds and under.

Not Recommended

Cressite Solid Rubber Play Ring
Pet Supply Imports, Inc.
South Holland, IL (made in England)
$7.29. Available at most pet stores.

Made of the same natural rubber, but thicker and sturdier, the Cressite Play Ring is a great fetch toy, as it promises on its label. However, the packaging also encourages its use as a tug toy, which we could not recommend. We found insufficient distance for safety, with your hand on the edge of the ring on one side and your dog’s teeth on the other. This could be a suitable tug toy for a well-behaved, trained dog, but it’s not one we would recommend for the “Rambo” who is just learning how to play politely.

WDJ’s top pick

Four Paws Rough & Rugged
Four Paws Products, Ltd.
Hauppauge, NY (made in China)
$12.99. Available at most pet stores.

It’s more expensive, for sure, but the Rough & Rugged gets our rubber toy vote, paws down. It is also made of natural rubber, and is more than twice the thickness of the Cressite Tug Toy, which increase its durability substantially. It is a decent length to separate hands from jaws (13 inches), which should give Rambo the needed distance to differentiate rubber from skin.

Tennis ball toys
Most dogs love playing with tennis balls, so it was only a matter of time before they got incorporated into all kinds of dog toys. WDJ looked at two from a tug toy perspective.

Not Recommended

Tug Max
PetSport USA
Pittsburg, CA.
$9.49

The Tug Max consists of two tennis balls tied five inches apart with a soft nylon rope. It appears well-constructed, although a little pricey. Our test dogs loved it, but even they had difficulty restricting their teeth to their end of the tug toy.

Also, having tennis balls on both ends invites teeth at both ends. This could be a great toy for two dogs to play tug with together, but it would not be WDJ’s choice for owner-dog “Tug” play.

WDJ's Top Pick

Cassidy Big Tug/D
Farlar Int’l., Camarillo, CA. (made in USA).
14.99. Available in pet stores.

This tug toy has a tennis ball securely attached to two ropes at one end of the toy. A full 22 inches away, a rubber handle encircles the rope, making it easy for the owner to hold on to the toy – and win the game! Rambo has plenty of room to chomp the ball or the rope, without getting too close to human skin at the handle end. This is the kind of toy that would be most useful to teach the rules of “Tug ‘o War” to your dog.

Braided rope toys
Dogs love to chew these colorful, heavy, cotton braided ropes for hours – which is exactly the problem; when swallowed, the tiny threads can wreak havoc in the intestines, sometimes necessitating major life-saving surgery. As a tug toy, though, they can be great. Just don’t leave them lying around – they should always be put away at the end of the game. We selected two of the almost infinite variety of knotted rope toys to demonstrate what you should look for.
Not Recommended

Booda Tug
Aspen Pet Products, Inc.
Denver, CO
$5.99. Available at most pet stores.

This 20” model is on the modest size (and price!), yet plenty long and sturdy for a good game of tug for a small to medium size dog. It was our Pomeranian’s favorite. We would not recommend it for bigger, stronger dogs, as there is no handle and it would be relatively easy for a large dog to pull the tug out of the owner’s hands.

WDJ’s Top Pick

Booda Wonder Tug (Twin)
Aspen Pet Products, Inc.
Denver, CO
$15.49. Available at most pet stores.

A shade pricier, but this one comes with all the extras you need for a really safe tug toy with a larger dog. A soft rubber handle protects the owner’s hand, some 27 inches from the business end of Rambo’s teeth. Halfway down the rope the toy splits into two ends, giving Rambo a choice if he tends to bounce around with his teeth.

These are just a few of the many tug toys available. Keep in mind the importance of safety, durability, dog appeal and price, and you can find several more that can fill the bill. Have fun, and remember to win!

-By Pat Miller

Pat Miller, a freelance writer and dog trainer from Salinas, California, is a regular contributor to WDJ. For information about her training classes, see Resources.

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