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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.

  1. Choose a Tug toy that the dog will want to tug with. Keep it out of the dog’s reach and only bring it out when you want to play. Long tug toys (2-3 feet) are nice as you don’t have to bend over as far. It also helps ensure the dog doesn’t grab too close to your hand. In the beginning they will want to grab as close to your hand as possible. You want to remember they are trying to challenge you and beat you at this game. If they had the respect of an Omega they wouldn’t even accept the challenge of Tug.

  2. Get a set of gloves to play tug with so when the dog “rebites”, it doesn’t pinch your skin.

  3. If the dog is very strong or you don’t want to put a bunch of effort in then you can tie a rope to the end of your tug toy and tie it to something really heavy that the dog cannot move whatsoever (not even a millimetre). Then stand in between the dog and whatever you tied the rope to. Now you can play with one hand and there is no way the dog can yank it away from you and walk off with it. If you only tie the tug to one object they can still yank side to side pretty hard. If you want the Tug Toy to be very stable you can anchor the tug toy to two separate points (imagine you being the center of a “V” and the rope goes behind you in a V and is anchored to 2 spots. The further the anchor spots are away from each other, the more stable the tug toy is.

  4. Have the dog do something first (sit, down, or even just 4 paws on the ground) and then say “Tug” and start playing the game. Some dogs will jump like crazy for the toy. Just keep it away and the split second all 4 paws are on the ground say “tug” and initiate the game. You can get a little more fussy each time and make sure the dog’s paws are on the ground for a full second, then 2 seconds, etc. Then you can ask for Sits and Downs if the dog knows those commands.

  5. Play Tug for a couple of minutes and then pull the toy in close to your leg and hold on tight and don’t move. We like to move our dominant hand right in front of the dog’s mouth. Then your non-dominant hand will hold just over top the dog’s snout. This helps prevent them from doing a re-bite and nipping your hand. If you have the rope tied to the toy then walk out to the end of the rope and hold onto the toy and let the dog pull as hard as they want as it won’t matter because they can’t go anywhere. Then wait the dog out. They will usually begin to release and as soon as they do praise the dog and quickly say “Tug” and go back into the game.

  6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 a couple of times and you will get the idea when the dog is going to release the tug rope when you hold the tug toy still by moving your hands close to the dog’s mouth and one hand over their snout.

  7. As you get a feel for when the dog will release you can then say “Drop it” just before you figure the dog will release and praise and quickly say “Tug” and go back into the game again.

  8. Then end on your own terms and walk away with the toy (always take the toy with you).

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

  1.  It will help your dog see you as the leader if you initiate and win the game.

  2. It builds bond between you and your dog. It is a fun game your dog enjoys playing. They get to do this game with you. Fetch and Tug are two of the best games to build a bond with your dog.

  3. Distraction Training - If you are struggling with having your dog listen around distractions, Tug or Fetch when built up can help out tremendously. Some dogs will ignore all other distractions when their Tug or Fetch toy appear.

  4. Reward Training - To help your dog enjoy obedience or other training exercises you can reward them with Tug or Fetch. Police dogs when they find a narcotic substance or a missing person often get to play Tug as their reward.

    In agility, once the dog has run through the course they often get to play Tug of War as their reward.

    If you are doing Tracking Training, when your dog finds their target they can be rewarded with Tug or Fetch

  5. Bite work - In the event you are doing bite work training with your dog, tug is essential for this. A lot of people think they need a naturally aggressive dog to protect them. This is often like having a loaded gun that may go off at any time. The safer alternative is to do bite work training where your dog learns who they can bite, when they can bite and when they have to let go. This is all directed by you. It isn’t your dog that is deciding who is good or not. Sometimes a naturally aggressive dog will think even Grandma is a shady character and shouldn’t be allowed in the house. A proper bite work trained dog you often won’t even know they are trained for it, they are under such good control.

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.