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Tug of War

Some will say “don’t play tug of war, it will make your dog aggressive” and other people will say “go ahead, play it, it’s fine”.

We suspect both sides are correct as there are two ways to play tug of war.

  1. Law Enforcement - When police dogs are being raised they play tug of war with them. They let the dogs win and they don’t take toys away from them. This builds their confidence and aggression for bite work. Which is often not what you are training the family pet to do.

    In the case of bite work, that dog has to have the confidence to run down a criminal, bite them, and hold on no matter what until the officer releases them. If they won’t bite criminals, they don’t pass as a police dog.

  2. You Win - If you start with the tug toy and you end with the tug toy, and the dog can only tug when you say “tug” and has to drop it when you say “drop it” (you can use other commands if you prefer) then you can lower aggression. This can help the dog see you as the leader.

    When we did Board and Train we had some dogs that really wanted to be boss. We played tug of war and we would always win. We started establishing rules on tug of war and the dogs became very respectful after that.

Where people would say not to play tug as it could cause aggression is: They wouldn’t want to see you sitting on the couch and the dog brings their tug toy over to you and you play tug with them. A little while in you may decide that is enough and you let the dog win and walk away with the tug toy.

The way the dog reads this game is “Would you like to accept my challenge?” If they play and win and walk away they seem to think “Yup, I thought so, I am still higher ranking”.

If you always start with the tug toy and you play and win, it shows your dog that you are always higher ranking.

You Initiate and Keep the Toy

It is best when that tug toy is always in your possession. You start the game and you end the game. That way the dog views you as being higher ranking.

When we were training dogs for other people we wanted to transfer to Fetch as quickly as we could. Fetch is a lot higher desire to please type of game. So once the dogs were listening with Tug and respecting the rules we would start doing more Fetch as it also helped with the dog dropping the fetch toy which many dogs do not want to do right away.

Difference in Dog Types

An Omega will not play tug of war with you. They see it as your toy and there is no way they will challenge you.

Alphas may really not want to let go. We had one client where they wanted to play tug with their dog but their dog wouldn’t drop the toy and they couldn’t pry their dog’s mouth off the toy. They decided to out-wait the dog. They held on for 45 minutes and the dog still wouldn’t let go of the toy.

There are competitions where a dog will jump up and hang onto a toy with their feet dangling off the ground. We are told the world record is over 3 hours in length.


As you can see, it seems to depend on how you play the game. If you initiate the game or if your dog initiates the game.

Tug can be a super good reward. If you ever watch an Agility Competition you will often see a white tug of war rag the human brings out at the end of the course. The faster the dog runs through the course, the faster they get to play tug of war.

In the case of police dogs, if they find a missing person, narcotics or bomb substance they often get to play tug of war as their reward. If they find a criminal they often get to bite that person and they get really excited for that.

This is why it seems that each side has their opinion. Both are right, it just depends on the way you play the game.

A dog is challenging when playing tug of war even if you are initiating and ending the game. This is why with some dogs we transfer over to fetch as their drop it command improves.