Playing Tug With Your Dog Won’t Make Him Aggressive
Laika and I play tug of war nearly everyday – it’s physically tiring, mentally stimulating, and just plain fun. And despite an old popular myth is does not cause aggression.
Most Dogs Love Playing Tug
Old school trainers really did a great job at discouraging playing tug of war. It’s still one of the most commonly asked questions; “Won’t it make my dog aggressive?” No, it doesn’t make dogs aggressive. Nor will it make your dog see you as weak if you let him win. If you let your dog a game it makes him enjoy the game even more, it’s a great confidence builder.
Playing tug of war with your dog is a great way to mentally and physically exercise your dog. Minute for minute it’s the best way to help burn off some energy – for dog and owner alike. Occasionally trainers still tell people not to play tug with their dog claiming that it leads to dominance and aggression issues. There has been no evidence found that suggests a link between tug and aggression.
Interactive Play Keeps Dogs Healthy & Happy
Playing a game of tug of war with your dog is one of the easiest ways to engage in meaningful play with our canine companions. It’s great exercise for dog and owner alike, and it’s mentally challenging for our dog.
Recent studies have found that the more play a dog engages in the less likely he is to exhibit behavioral problems.
There is a growing acceptance among scientists that play is very, very important and the type and frequency of play are a really good indicator of a dog’s quality of life. – Mark Evans former RSPCA chief vet
Playing Tug Will Not Make Your Dog Aggressive
In the studies that have been conducted they’ve found that dogs that play tug with their owners have higher confidence and amenability, meaning they were more obedient. The same study also found that dogs who engaged in more rough housing games such as tug were found to exhibit fewer separation related behaviors.
Dogs are very socially oriented. Meaningful play is a great way to spend quality time with your dog and strengthen your bond. Tug is a satisfying activity for your dog; it’s interactive play that gives your dog a great outlet for their mental and physical activity.
Using Tug as Positive Reinforcement
Many professional dog trainers use more than just treats when working with their dogs. If you’ve watched dogs being trained for K9 police work, military dog training, or agility you’ve likely seen the trainer holding a tug toy in their hands. When the dog completes the desired behavior he’s rewarded with a quick game of tug.
If your dog enjoys a game of tug try using it as the reward in your next training session. For Laika it’s much more rewarding than dog treats – many of which she’ll spit out in favor of a game of tug.
Benefits of Playing Tug With Your Dog
- Minute for minute it’s one of the most intense forms of exercise for your dog. They’re getting a mental and physical workout.
- Strengthens your bond with your dog.
- Easy way to reinforce obedience basics and helps to teach your dog to listen while excited.
- Redirects destructive chewing.
- Builds a dogs confidence (especially if you let him win sometimes)
- Creates a useful distraction when working on learning other behaviors.
Rules Of Playing Tug With Your Dog
- Your dog must know a “drop it” or release command. This will help you stop the game if necessary.
- Use a tug toy that is long enough to keep your dogs teeth away from your hands. The toy should also be flexible and durable.
- Keep the toy put away when you’re not using it. It’s a game that you initiate when you want to play.
- Teach your dog that he can only grab the toy when you give permission. Hold the toy up or off to the side; only begin the game one he sits. After he sits and waits you can encourage him to “take it.” If your dog hasn’t played tug before he might be reluctant. Let him grab onto it and gently move the tug from side to side encouraging him to pull.
- Don’t pull upwards; only tug from side to side. Pulling up on the tug can injure your dogs spine.
- As your dog gets more excited he might begin to growl; this is normal behavior. If you feel that your dog is getting too excited or intense take a break.
- If your dogs teeth come in contact with you the game should stop immediately. Say “ow” or let out a yelp and tell the dog to release the toy. Once your dog is calmly sitting down and waiting to begin again you can tell them to “take it” and start tugging again. If they let their teeth touch your hand again it’s OK to stop the game for the day. They’ll eventually learn to be extra careful when grabbing the tug.
- Do not let children play tug with your dog unless you’re supervising to watch out for signs of over excitement.
You Can (and Should) Let Your Dog Win to Keep Their Interest
Trainers might also advise not to let your dog win a game of tug. They fear that if the dog is able to win they will therefore see you as submissive. There’s been numerous studies done on letting your dog win a game of tug and there’s no evidence to suggest a dog will take advantage of you if he wins tug. If you let your dog win a game of tug over and over it likes you. It’s having a great time and is more likely to want to play with you in the future.
Your dog will learn that you’re fun to be around; this can make future training sessions much easier. You can use tug as a reward for other behaviors. Some dogs are more motivated by games than food, this is especially true for high drive dogs. Often times you’ll see police K9 & military dog trainers using tug as a reward when they’re working and learning new behaviors.
Don’t concern yourself with whose ‘winning.’ There’s a difference between being a great leader and being dominant. Your dog is looking for a leader; someone to help him find a purpose and to engage in meaningful activities. Initiating a game of tug is one of the easiest ways to teach your dog to follow along. It’s a game for the both of you – it doesn’t make you any less of a leader if you purposefully lose.
Trying to dominate the game by winning is likely to cause less interest from your dog. A game is no longer fun when you always lose.
Tug is a Great Game For Dogs on Rainy Days
Tug, hide and seek, working on basic obedience, and nose work games are great ways to get your dogs mental and physical exercise in even when the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activity. Next time it’s raining clear out some room and initiate a game of tug – it’s a lot of fun, and physically demanding, for dog and owner alike.