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Playing Tug of War With Your Dog

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two dogs playing tug-of-war

Two dogs play tug-of-war

Photo © Ryan McVay / Getty Images
Many dogs love to play tug of war - it is a healthy display of their predatory nature. There has been some debate over tug of war and dogs. Some feel the game causes aggressive behavior and dominance. However, the tug of war is actually mental and physical exercise for your dog. It is also a great way to reinforce the human-canine bond. The most important thing to remember is that there are rules that should be followed to keep the game from going overboard.
  1. Before you begin playing tug of war with your dog, you should teach a release command, like drop it. This will help you stop the game if necessary.
  2. Choose a dog toy that is designed for tugging. The toy should be durable and flexible. The best tug toys are typically made out of rubber or a similar material and have a comfortable handle that keeps your hand away from the dog's mouth. Here are two good choices:
    Kong Tug
    Orbee-Tuff Tug
  3. Play in a large area without distractions, clutter or dangerous objects. Outdoors is great, but the beauty of tug of war is that it can be safely played indoors if you have a bit of space. Make sure there is room for you both to move about and that there is nothing in the way should one of you back up.
  4. While playing tug of war, your dog might get excited and begin growling. This is normal, as the game itself is predatory behavior. However, it is important to keep your dog from becoming overly excited. A low mild growl with tail still wagging is probably okay, but anything more warrants a break. Or, if you are in doubt an any point, take a break.
  5. To take a break, stop tugging and use the release command. Take 30 seconds or so to go through basic commands like sit and down. Once your dog seems more relaxed, the game may resume.
  6. If your dog's teeth come into contact with you at any point, play should stop immediately. Let out a yelp, say "drop it," then take the toy and walk away for 30 seconds. If your dog seems relatively calm, you can go through the break with commands, then begin the game again. If your dog makes the same mistake two or three times, tug of war should be ended for the day. This is just to remind your dog to be extra careful with her teeth. It is likely that teeth might graze you from time to time due to the nature of the game, but once your dog understands the rules, she will be much more careful.
  7. While playing tug of war, it is okay to let your dog win! This builds her confidence and rewards her. However, if she misbehaves, you should be the one who ends up with the toy.
  8. Two dogs can play tug of war with one another - if they get along on a normal basis. The game should be supervised and the same rules apply. This will help keep it from getting out of hand.
Playing tug of war with your dog can be a quite rewarding experience. It is mentally and physically stimulating for your dog, and pretty good exercise for you, too. Have fun and be safe!
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