Winning in Tug

So….. Do you let the dog “win” while playing tug or not?

Do you EVER let the dog “TAKE” the toy?

That, is the question.

This is such a readily answered question in dog training, that even folks without dogs have an answer for it!

So….. Where do I stand on the issue?

There is no “winning” the toy!

I think the question itself shows a misunderstanding of tug!

It’s like playing Frisbee with your friend. If you suddenly “let them have it”, it’s not a reward. It’s a bummer. They don’t want the Frisbee. They want to play with YOU WITH the Frisbee!!!!

And THAT is the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of tug. It is not truly competitive. It’s “cooperatively” competitive. And there is a huge difference.

For people that aren’t into contact/combat sports, this may be a difficult analogy…… But……

If you’re into wrestling, and you’re having fun and wrestling with your favorite team mate…… It may LOOK competitive, but it’s not. It has elements of competition. You’re pinning them. They’re throwing you. But, if your practice session was over the first time you scored a point…… You’d be bummed. Not excited.

Yes. In tug you will make them miss sometimes. And yes, you ARE trying to rip it away from them. And they ARE trying hard to keep possession of it.

But this is where perspective is important!

If you let them have it…… They should be bummed. They should punch it back into you! If you throw it they should grab it and bring it back. Not cause they know how to “fetch”. But, out of sheer frustration! They want “The Game”!!!! Not the toy!

It’s like looking at a kid playing a video game. From the outside it may look like they are playing with the joystick. But they aren’t. They are playing the video game WITH the joystick.

The tug toy is the joystick.


“Turning off” the game isn’t “winning”!

It sucks.

Look at your game as developing engagement with you, NOT the toy.

Test your theory by letting go! If they get frustrated and punch it back to you….. You’re engagement is solid! Your game is strong.

If they think they “won” and leave with their “prize”…..

Your game needs some work!

The only winning in tug is the handler grabbing that damn thing!

Now go make your dogs day and teach them to play tug with YOU!



One thought on “Winning in Tug”

  1. Agreed that letting the dog have it, isn’t letting the dog win the game, but it is letting the dog possess the item.

    Tug is the best game/reward I have encountered because there are so many aspects – and some dogs, especially young ones of certain breeds (working line GSDs) come to mind really like the aspect of the game where they get to possess the item and carry it around a bit. So, yes, I do want the dog to push the toy back to me, but If I need to let him possess it and run around a little before coming back to me, I let him in order to get him into the game, to make it motivating for him.

    My current 10 month old isn’t possessive, when I re-introduced the game after teething, he’d drop the toy if I let him have it, and just come for me to wrestle, so I wanted to build a little motivation to possess/win the toy in him.

    Also, I’ve been playing with this 10 month old at the IPO/Schutzhund club, and interestingly the training director has told me not to worry about the out right now, as he needs to learn how to hold onto that thing! (dog’s out is nearly perfect BTW and control is good). I personally, like to do more the M. Ellis style with variable intensity. duration with a lot of outs and rebites, letting the dog have it, etc.

    But the training director’s method (for my dog at this time) is not to out him, and if he holds on for a long time and really fights for the toy, let him have it and of course encourage him to come back for more, BUT if the dog loses it (and he wants me to try to rip it out of his mouth to develop the grip) to put it away (left arm pit) and get him to do some obedience, heeling etc…

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