I frequently get asked the question, “Will playing tug-of-war with my dog increase his aggression?”

Every dog, to a greater or lesser degree, has predatory instincts or prey drive  – that’s their inherent characteristic to chase moving
objects. This prey drive activity includes running, chasing, biting, dissecting and chewing.

Some behaviorists would say that engaging in a good game of tug-of-war, if done correctly, can help to strengthen the bond between owner and dog
because it could be interpreted by the dog as a rehearsed team effort to rip and tear prey apart versus a competitive game of winner-loser as we humans may perceive.

But is playing tug-of-war a good game to engage in with your dog? Can you play the game without creating an aggressive dog?  It partly depends on how the game is played. Let’s break it down and take a look at how it makes sense to play tug-of-war with your dog.

Before you start:

It will be important to make sure your dog can respond to the following commands before beginning your game of
tug-of-war: sit, take it and drop it.

This will insure the game goes smoothly and to your benefit as you will want to control all articles of play. As you work on these commands, your leadership is consistently being reinforced. Who knows, you may be able to use “Drop it!” to get your dog to release something of yours he has just picked up.  See, you’re already ahead of the game! Besides that, dogs like rules and expectations. Knowing what to do and when can significantly reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.

How you play the game:

How you play tug-of-war is very important – especially with bossy dogs.  Always keep interactive toys up and away from your pup or dog so that they know you control them – until you are ready to play the game.

  • First, require a sit.
  • Then say, “Take it!” as you offer your dog the opposite end of the tug toy.
  • Then play the game until you are ready to stop (always on your terms).
  • When it’s time to stop say, “Sit,” then “Drop it,” and take the toy.
  • Always put it away until you decide when to play the game again.

Who gets to play:

It is important to set house rules on who gets to play the game. Playing tug-of –war with the dog should be limited to adults and   Only those who can follow the rules listed above and always win the game should be allowed to play.

Parents, no small children, please.

Benefits of tug-of-war:

There are some advantages to playing this game with your dog. Let’s have a look at some of the benefits:

  • Playing tug helps your dog burn predatory energy similar to natural activities – like running or walking – althoughit’s not a substitute for walking your dog. There are just too many other benefits associated with walking.
  • It gives your dog something on which to reflect in your absence. So, a good time to play tug is right before you crate or leave your dog for a period of time.
  • Proper play of the game becomes a consistent reminder of who is in control of articles of play and what the expected rules are to earn a place in the game.
  • With each “sit, take it and drop it” you are reinforcing fast command response from your dog which, in turn, can foster faster responses in other situations where you need your dog to drop something he might have of yours.

Most importantly, have fun, teach and train your dog every day and continuously set rules, boundaries and expectations.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”