Eight Rules for Playing Tug of War With Your Dog

Why tug is a GOOD game to play with your dog, and how to do it safely.


Commonly called “Tug of War,” I prefer calling this wonderful game “Tug of Peace.” Once frowned upon as an activity that would reinforce aggression and other inappropriate behaviors – or be woefully inaccurately described as “dominance” – today’s educated dog training and behavior professionals recognize its great value for behavior goals such as exercise, impulse control, and confidence building. The caveat: The game must be taught and played properly in order to keep dogs and humans safe.

Rules for Playing Tug of War With a Dog Safely

  1. Only tug sideways. Vigorous up-and-down tugging can injure your dog’s spine.
  2. Tug gently for puppies and senior dogs. Healthy adult dogs can engage in vigorous tugging, but pups and seniors could be injured by too much tug-intensity.
  3. Teach your dog to wait politely until invited to tug. Say “Wait,” then hold up the tug toy. If she jumps for it, say, “Oops!” and hide the toy behind your back. Repeat until you can hold up the toy and she doesn’t try to grab it. Then you can say, “Take it!” and push the toy toward her.
  4. Teach your dog to give you the toy when you ask for it – then play again!
  5. If your dog is already an aroused tugger – jumping on you, or nipping/grabbing the toy – stand on the other side of a baby gate or inside an exercise pen to play Tug.
  6. Children only play Tug (under direct supervision!) with a dog who knows and respects the rules.
  7. Your dog can play-growl during tug. You should be able to tell that this is playful by analyzing the rest of her body language: playful dogs have wagging tails and a loose, wiggly body. If she growls in an intense way, with hard eye contact, a stiff tail or body, grabs at the toy with a hard mouth and gets your hand, or moves toward you aggressively, Tug is not a good game for her. If you can’t tell whether she’s resource-guarding or playing, ask a force-free professional for help!
  8. Don’t let anyone Tug with your dog who won’t follow your rules.

Tug, Yes Please!

Not all dogs enjoy tugging, but if your does, go for it! Play safely, enjoy, and if anyone tries to tell you it will make your dog dominant, politely walk away.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.