By​ ​Courtney​ ​Emken
co-written​ ​by​ ​​Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen​ ​Larson,​ ​KPA-CTP, and Amanda Ott.

Tug is a timeless classic when it comes to dog games. Who knows how long man’s best friend has been playing tug, perhaps since the first time hunter and dog wrestled over a bone, only to find that they enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, while tug itself is a simple game, the rules for playing tug are a little tricky. Without proper preparation, you can cause unwanted behaviors and easily prompt overstimulation. In this article we’ll show you how to play tug safely and incorporate positive reward based training into the game. Let’s go!

The First Steps For Teaching Tug

Before you ever go for that rope or toy, you’ll want to do some initial prep work with your dog. We recommend teaching the cue “take it.” Once your pup understands take it, they can start playing tug on your cue instead of on their own impulses.

Once you start playing, remember the #1 rule of tug: if you feel teeth or they get too excited, it’s time to stop. Don’t keep playing for a bit, and don’t just reprimand them then continue playing; just stop. You’ll prevent yourself from suffering possible injury and you’ll teach your dog that getting overexcited means they don’t get to play anymore.

That being said, not all tug games need to be super calm and mellow. It is a game about wrestling a piece of rope between their jaws after all! If your dog is excited and having fun, don’t bother stopping them. Just be careful that they don’t take it too far and cross into a danger zone.

How To Incorporate Training Into Your Game Of Tug

Like many canine sports and games, tug is not just great for mental stimulation and exercise. Once you’ve become comfortable playing tug, you can move onto more advanced modes of play where reward based training is incorporated during sessions.

First, try teaching the corollary to take-it: “drop it.” Ask your dog to drop the toy or rope they’re playing with and wait for their reaction. If they choose to keep pulling instead of listening to your cue- too bad, tug time is over!

Your dog will quickly learn that if they want to keep the party going, they’ll have to play ball. Don’t forget to reward them with treats and praise when they do listen, otherwise you may discourage them entirely.

Tug is also great for mitigating overstimulation and teaching self-control. For instance, if your dog gets overstimulated after a few minutes of tug, stop as soon as they’ve crossed the line. Wait a few minutes for them to calm down, then resume playing. Repeat this process and your dog will slowly learn how to regulate their arousal levels.

How To Stay Safe While Playing Tug

We already talked a bit about keeping yourself safe while playing, but dogs are at just as much risk for injury as we are during tug, if not more. Here’s how to keep them safe:

  • DON’T lift your dog off the ground
  • DON’T tug your dog’s head up and down
  • DON’T play tug with too many people/dogs involved
  • DO take your dog’s weight and size into consideration

Things like tugging up and down or lifting your dog from the ground can result in serious spinal injuries for dogs. You also want to play tug in a controlled environment, as having several overstimulated canines on your hands can quickly escalate into a fight.

If you have questions about how to play tug the right way, or want to come over to DogBoy’s for some hands-on experience, contact us today! We’ve got plenty of space at the Ranch for roughhousing, so long as it stays safe!

Image Permissions

Tug Toy by Tom Driggers

Tug Time by HarshLight

Group Tug by Emery Way