Playing tug is a great way to have fun, bond with your dog, and provide him or her with important exercise and mental stimulation. Fitting it into your dog’s exercise regimen has many benefits for both you and her.
Some clients are surprised that I recommend playing tug because they have been told it teaches dogs to bite or develop other nasty habits. Others have been told to make sure they always win because of that mystical pack leader thing they hear about on TV.
Because of these myths, I think it’s worth providing a quick demo and explaining how I have been taught to play tug and how it can be a fun, rewarding, and educational game.
Tug must be played with rules. These rules keep people and dogs safe.
1) The toy is released when the dog is told to release it.
2) Teeth never touch the person or the person’s clothes.
3) The toy is only taken when permission is given.
4) The human is responsible for keeping things under control.
A game of tug should pretty much follow this script: the dog performs a behavior (or few) on cue, offer the toy, play tug, the dog releases the toy on cue… lather, rinse, repeat.
The commands in between the tug sessions perform a few functions. First, they mix in some mental stimulation in with the physical exercise. They also act as a control for the dogs excitement level. If your dog start to get too wild, mix in more behaviors in between sessions, maybe ask for a wait or a stay as demonstrated in the video. The play sessions in the video were made deliberately slow and sedate because I was limited in what I could film and wanted to keep the action easy to follow.
Finally, mixing in the cues is training the dog without treats. After a few sessions, you should have a dog that will work for a tug toy. How cool is that?
If your dog doesn’t give you a toy. Don’t yell, don’t pull harder – just stop. Pulling and raising your voice will simply excite the dog and probably make her think you are still playing. Stopping makes the game boring.
When initially introducing the release cue, you may need to use food. Take a treat and literally place it on her nose. She’ll open her mouth, dropping the toy, and take the treat. Say yes! and then give the tug toy back. After a few repetitions, say give or release (or whatever cue you wish to use) before you place the treat on her nose. After a few sessions, stop using the treat.
If teeth touch you or your clothes. Stop the game. Again, do not get excited, push or shout. The game stops and the dog has to calm down before the game continues.
Find a toy that your dogs loves and use it only for tug. When the game is over, put it away, out of sight. When the tug toy comes out, your dog should always be excited and ready to play!
Also, some dogs have preferences when it comes to toys.
Tug teaches your dog how to play. Rather than teaching them to bite, it teaches them what to bite and when. Dogs know how to bite – the trick is to get them to bite the right things – toys. Tug doesn’t have winners or losers (unless you count the poor toy.)