Everyone has advice on playing tug with your dog.
Some say never do it at all, because it encourages aggressiveness.
Some say it’s ok to do it with some dogs, but not dogs that are dominant, because they will learn it’s ok to challenge you.
But then there are a whole slew of professionals that use tugs to create amazing obedience.
So…. What’s the deal?
Here’s how I see it.
They’re right. Both of them.
The problem is, that most people play tug with their dogs without rules, or purpose. They let the dog start the game. Half the time they let the dog pick the toy. They HOLD the toy while the dog tugs (cause it’s way easier). And, They let the dog either stop when it’s bored, or they get frustrated when they try to end the game because they can’t get the dog to let go. This is bad, because if the dogs pick the toy and are able to start when they want, sometimes they pick your sleeve. If they get bored, then it isn’t exciting enough to be used for an obedience reward. And, if they don’t “out” the toy on command, you have a problem. Either, they don’t think you’re in charge and they don’t have to listen to you. Or, they KNOW they need to let go, and they want to….. But they have no impulse control, and they are too excited to comply. Both are bad.
If you play tug “right” it can be an AMAZING way to exercise your dog (and you!). It can tremendously reinforce pack structure. And if you do it often, you can develop a great reward that your dog will work for! That’s why so many Law Enforcement Dog Trainers use toys to motivate their dogs. They learn that you control resources. They learn they you are the source of fun! And what I think is the most important thing……. They learn impulse control!
If they are super driven for a toy, but they can see it waved around in front of them WITHOUT biting it…… That translates to other things that they may want to put in their mouths but DON’T because you said not to. How important does that seem?! Especially for power breeds, or dominant dogs.
In order for tug to be all beneficial, and not cause bad behavior, there must be some clear rules.
Now there are a lot of different trainers out there advocating different styles of tug play that all have a different twist on them. But they all have a few rules in common:
1. You start (and stop) the game.
2. You don’t “give” the dog the toy. The need to go after it.
3. You need to make the game fun. If you just hold the toy, the dog learns that them yanking on things is fun. YOU aren’t fun….. Things are fun. And the point isn’t that they love to play with toys. The point is that they love to play with YOU with the toy.
4. They Should not bite you, or your clothes! (that one should be obvious)
5. You should be able to calmly say out and have them release the toy on one command, and end the game.
Here’s a couple of examples of trainers doing it well. They are my two favorites of all the tug advocates I’ve seen. They are:
(this isn’t embedded because the poster disabled it. But, it’s worth clicking. It’s a GREAT example of what solid tug work looks like)
And Ivan Balabanov
(The only one I could find was in German! Apparently, good English footage of quality tug trainers is hard to find without buying the DVDs)
DVD’s and the internet are awesome resources. And if you have to teach yourself I would suggest one of these guys.
But If you’re interested in the way I do tug….