(Do Over Dogs Tip #1) – Rules for Playing Tug of War With Your Dog


Tug is a great game to play with your dog to work off energy and allow the two of you to roughhouse safely.  It won’t make him “dominant” and it won’t make him aggressive or unruly, as long as you play by the rules.  And it’s the process of being able to follow rules and exhibit a degree of self control that makes this game such a great one for Do-Over Dogs.  The rules are designed to remind him that you are in charge (the leader controls the good stuff), and to let him know which behaviors are acceptable, and which ones are not when he’s playing exuberantly with humans.

Rules of Tug:

1. Use a toy that is long enough to keep your dog’s teeth away from hands and that is comfortable for you to hold when he pulls.  Keep the tug toy put away.  Bring it out when you want to play tug.

2. Hold up the toy.  If he lunges for it, say “oops” and quickly hide it behind your back.  It’s your toy – he can grab it when you give him permission.

3. When he remains sitting as you offer the toy, tell him to “Take it!” and encourage him to grab and pull. If he’s reluctant, be gentle until he learns the game. If he’s enthusiastic, go for it!

4. Randomly throughout tug-play, ask him to “Give” and have him relinquish the toy to you. If necessary, trade him for a yummy treat. After he gives it to you, you can play again (see steps 2 and 3). You should “win” most of the time – that is, you end up with possession of the toy, not the dog.

5. While you are playing, if his teeth creep up the toy beyond a marked or imaginary line, say, “Oops! Too bad,” in a cheerful voice, have him give you the toy, and put it away briefly. (You can get it out and play again after a minute.)

6. If your dig’s teeth touch your clothing or skin, say “Oops! Too bad,” and put the toy away for a minute.

7. When you are done playing, put the toy away until next time.

8. Children should not play tug with your dog unless and until you are confident they can play by the rules.

For more ways to play with and train any dog, buy Pat Miller’s Do Over Dogs, Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life from Whole Dog Journal.


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WDJ's Training Editor 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.