Tug of war, now just called Tug or the tug game is one of those misinterpreted dog/human games that doesn’t get experienced by many dogs because of the aggressive perception of the game. Many animal professionals tell you not to play tug of war because it’s just easier to tell you not to play, rather than teaching you how to teach your dog to play right. Plus they still believe in the “old theories” of dog behavior, the theories about you must be pack leader , always being the dominant one. Under those “Pack” rules, you are in competition with your dog for everything and you must not allow them to “win” because they will think you’re weak, and then assume the position of “Pack leader”.
These teachings couldn’t be farther from the truth.
It’s probably one of the best games you can play with a dog. Your dog is your team-mate and not your competitor, you are working together for a common goal. Your dog instinctively knows to practice as much as possible play fighting and tugging on things, so that when the real thing happens, like taking down prey, they’re prepared. We go to the gym- dogs play fight. When tugging on the same piece of meat from a killed prey, they are tugging to tear the meat apart, so they both can swallow smaller pieces, and not so much a battle of who gets the food or biggest piece. Dogs see it as both of you against the toy and not against each other. Talk about lost in translation; they must really be confused when they’re corrected (or deprived) of things, when they are really just trying to play, practice and work together.
Benefits of tug games:
1. Helps satisfy their predatory needs i.e. seek, chase grab, tear etc.
2. It re-directs their biting behavior from your body and clothes to the tug toy.
3. Helps you build better communication skills with them.
4. Excellent energy outlet for them both mentally and physically.
5. Another great way to spend quality training and play time with them.
6. Gives you another reward source when they perform tasks.
7. Helps keep their teeth and gums in good health.
However, every game has a set of rules that must be followed, not because of dominance- but because you don’t want a dog making the rules. During my lessons, I teach people how to teach their dog to properly and safely play tug games, even if their dog doesn’t show an interest in toys. If you play the tug game properly, you’ll keep them from getting the wrong idea and developing control/ behavioral problems.
In their world it’s perfectly natural and FUN for them to jump on each other, bite, even pull the skin from each others body, etc. They also would play many more hours in the day, if they could. These things are unrealistic for us, so if they want to play this game, they must follow our rules:
1) First, teach your dog to do some basic commands, sit, stay, down etc. Obedience training is the best doorway of communication to every activity you do with your dog.
2) Make sure your dog has a really good fetch, bringing their toys consistently back to you.
3) Ask them to get the toy or have them do a task to earn it.
4) Teach them they must wait until their toy is dropped, tossed or presented to them.
5) Correctly teach a “release” command, such as: “Out”,” Give”, “Drop” “Ta” etc.
6) The consequences for unacceptable behavior, i.e. jumping at you, biting you, not releasing when asked, is the game stops, or they are given a “time out”.
7) It’s ok for them to “win” sometimes, just remember you’re in control how the game is played. Try to start and end the game when you want. Not because we want our dogs knowing who’s “Top Dog” , we just don’t want to get hurt by their sharp teeth and we don’t want them waking us up at 3 in the morning wanting to play.
It bothers me that trainers, even today equate everything a dog does as dominance or submissive reason, when it’s really just a dog that was never taught the “rules” or an owner who doesn’t know how to teach them.
Where the tug game gets negative attention is if the dog has the toy and the owner tries to take it, and the dog growls or snaps. That behavior wasn’t or isn’t caused by tug games, it’s caused by the predatory nature of dogs to guard precious resources aka: “Resource Guarding” or “Possession Aggression”. These dogs value the item too much once they get it and they want to keep it for themselves. Somewhere in the past, the owners encouraged or allowed this bad behavior to go on without modifying it. Don’t worry, the problem can be fixed with the right knowledge, just call your local dog friendly trainer, or visit my “Programs Available” page to find out how I can help you.
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