There are a lot of old wives tales in the doggie world. One of the most prevalent is that you shouldn’t play tug with your dog because it will make your dog aggressive or make your dog dominant.
While tug does play with arousal levels and you may see some behaviors thought to be aggressive such as growling, barking, biting, nipping, and pulling these behaviors can be curbed by controlling the level of play. After all, some of the most highly trained dogs in the world are trained with tug (search and rescue, military dogs, and high level sporting dogs).
Tug is one of my favorites to teach to young excitable dogs because you can play with their excitement levels. This is easily done by shortening the length of play and decreasing the roughness of play until the dog can handle the excitement. In between play sessions if you wait for the dog to offer a calm/polite behavior like sitting he will learn that he can start the game by being calm. A dog that is calm so he can get excited? Talk about a dog that can control his excitement! Okay, Let’s PLAY!
Rules of Tug
- Don’t Bite – This means no teeth touch you at all!
- Have FUN!
- If your dog gets mouthy or doesn’t calm easily you can tether your dog when you’re going to play tug. This way if he gets out of hand you can then walk away painlessly. This is also a great way to teach your dog that when he gets carried away the fun STOPS.
- Start with short tug sessions. 5-10 seconds at the start will do. After 5-10 seconds of tug, stop playing by holding the tug toy still. You may need to brace it against a leg. Now wait. Wait for your dog to spit the toy out. As soon as your dog releases the toy hold it close to you and out of your dog’s reach. Should he jump for it, make sure it’s contained in your hands or covered in your arms and ignore the jumping.
- Now that you have the toy your dog has to figure out how to ask to restart the game. He can do this by offering you a calm behavior such as a sit or down. As soon as your dog sits (or lays down) show him the toy and tell him to “take it”. Repeat.
- When your dog is playing tug and quickly offering a sit (or down) you may start to increase the excitement of the game by playing a few seconds longer or reaching in to rough house him a little. But remember RULE #1 and be ready to enforce it at a moments notice by stopping play and putting the toy away.
- Another way to increase self control is to teach your dog to wait to take the toy even if it’s flopping around in front of him. You can do this by offering the toy but waiting a moment to tell him to “take it”. If he lunges for the toy without being told take it away, wait for the sit again and repeat. Repeat until he waits to hear “take it”. When first introducing this step only wait a moment or two and gradually increase the time you wait and then the excitement of the presentation by flopping the toy around.