Tug of War
Some people will say Tug will make a dog more aggressive and other people will say it is fine. Both people are right, it depends on how you play the game. Take a look at the Tug of War Debate article that goes over why we think there are two different views on the matter.
If you agree with the methodology of you starting with the tug toy and you ending with the tug toy then these are the steps to follow. We have found great success with dogs that really want to test you. Using Tug was a great way to build bond with the dog, earn their respect and help them become proficient in training.
This process will help establish you as the Pack Leader and build a bond with your dog.
If your dog really doesn’t want to let go you can use the trick of “Bitter Apple Spray”. The brand Grannicks works quite well. Spray some on your left thumb (if you play tug with your right hand) and when you want the dog to drop it. You can say “Drop it” and then wipe your thumb (with Bitter Apple on it) across their nose. This often works very well to get the dog to release. You often have to do this twice and then as the dog sees the thumb coming the third time they will release right away. Some dogs we will give them a squirt right in the corner of the mouth and that has always worked if nothing else has. We are sure there are dogs out there that it wouldn’t work for but we have not seen a case of that yet.
In the beginning your dog is testing you to see if you are strong enough to be the Pack Leader. Since you will always win it will help them see you as the Pack Leader.
How to Have Fun with Tug
Start building up to the point where you can swing it around their head or bump them with the tug toy or throw it on the ground and they cannot get it unless you say tug. Start in very small steps (dangling it motionless away from them and if they go for it pull it up and out of the way and make them sit again) and work your way up to harder and harder steps. With about 7 days practice you can really have the dog leaving the toy unless you say “Tug”. This makes for an excellent party trick.
You now have a way to really motivate your dog and you have helped establish a bond with your dog through this fun game.
Why Tug of War Can Help So Much
Just remember that you should always initiate and end the game. The tug toy is always in your possession, the dog never gets the tug toy to play with on their own. Making it a special toy increases the drive your dog has for that toy. That is why it can help with distraction training so much.