Features December 2016 Issue

Rules for Playing Tug

WDJ training expert Pat Miller shares the 4 rules her dogs play tug by.

[Updated February 5, 2019]

Some unenlightened trainers caution against playing tug with your dog, with dire warnings about dominance and aggression. Modern, educated trainers recognize that as long as you play tug in a manner that doesn’t reinforce unwanted behaviors, the game can be extremely beneficial. Tug is good exercise, can reinforce desirable behaviors, and has nothing to do with dominance. Here are a few important rules for safe and beneficial tug-play:

rules of tug

1. Your dog needs to wait for an invitation to play tug. Tell her to 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.

rules of tug

2. Now give her permission to grab the toy with your “Tug!” cue. Let her fiercely shake it back and forth and growl in play, while you hang onto your end and encourage her to tug.

rules of tug

3. Occasionally ask her to “Trade” and offer her a treat in exchange for the toy. When she gives it up, return to Step 1 and ask her to “Wait” until you invite her to play again.

4. If at any time her teeth touch your skin or clothing, she gets an “Oops!” and the toy goes away for a few minutes. You can then initiate play again. If necessary to keep yourself safe, you can stand inside an exercise pen with her on the outside when you tug, until she learns the rules.

That’s it! I don’t care who “wins.” We can alternate! I don’t care who initiates play; he can bring me the toy and ask me to play, or I can pick up the toy and start the game. There’s just one last really important rule:

Have fun!

playing tug with a dog

Comments (7)

Good tips, but as mentioned, even before starting a "tug," the command "Drop it" should be solid. If the dog is fixated on the object, then "Leave it" should be solid also. These two commands will reduce chances of an unpleasant reaction. Last, a good solid "fetch" can reduce an inappropriate "tug" reaction also.

Posted by: Dane Lover2 | January 8, 2017 2:22 PM    Report this comment

I've heard a number of times to make sure you don't shake the dog's head up and down (can cause spine injury) but side to side is okay. My dog is more is active in participating in tug when I get down on her level.

Posted by: Stephenie D | January 3, 2017 5:43 PM    Report this comment

I think good cues to interacting with a dog can be gained from watching how dogs behave with each other. Our Jack Russells, as aggressive and argumentative as any of that breed, play tug with each other all the time, yet rarely get into fights because of it. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other, and eventually one gets tired of the play and finds something else to do. I don't see any major dominance issues. That having been said, the suggestions offered in the article and comments seem quite sensible.

Posted by: ajhil | January 2, 2017 10:23 AM    Report this comment

I learned that you should never pull the toy up and down, that could hurt the dog's neck.

Posted by: msu1975 | January 2, 2017 8:20 AM    Report this comment

I agree with dog needs to "drop" the tug toy on command.

Posted by: K9Baron | January 1, 2017 6:53 PM    Report this comment

I would add one more. The dog needs to be trained to drop the toy on cue before learning the tug game. And if he doesn't drop it on cue, the toy goes away when you get it back... and you do more training on drop!

Posted by: hg | January 1, 2017 12:28 PM    Report this comment

Rule number 1
Be sure that your back/knees/wrists/hands are in good nick!

Rule 2
If your dog is totally uninterested in playing tug, don't worry. Try some game your dog loves instead.

Posted by: Jenny H | December 3, 2016 4:24 PM    Report this comment

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