Tug is a great game to play with your dog, because it’s one of the few games you can play were you can really be down on their level. This really helps to build your relationship. But not only that, it’s good mental and physical exercise. However, there is right way to play, and an even better way to play. So let’s get started!
#1 Choose your Toy:
Pick a that is toy designed for tugging, and that you won’t use for other games such as fetch. The toy should be durable and flexible. The best tug toys are typically made out of rubber or similar material and have a comfortable handle that keeps your hand away from the dog’s mouth.
Pro Tip: have a toy that you ONLY use for tug. This will help your dog know when it’s time to play and when it’s not. “Oh, Mom’s got out the tug toy. Time for Tug!” instead of: “Oh, Mom is swinging her sock around….must be tug!”
#2 Pick your Play Space:
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.
#3 How to Play:
I sometimes see people shove a toy in their dog’s face as a way of starting tug. Does that normally work for you? If I shoved Monopoly in your face and said: “Wanna play? Wanna play? Wanna play?” Would you be more or less likely to play with me? Dogs are pretty much the same. Entice them. Start with your toy on the ground, move it around in short quick movements. (Remember you’re trying to imitate a squirrel or other small creature. Be the squirrel! You can do this.) Once they catch the ‘squirrel’ don’t let go….fight for your life! And it’s okay to let your dog win–nobody wants to loose all the time. Take turns winning.
Pro Tip: only go side to side with the toy, not up and down. Up and down can cause injuries, like whiplash.
#4 Take Breaks
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 or aggressive, and take breaks to keep the game from getting out of control.
- A bit of growling with the tail still wagging is probably OK, but anything too intense warrants a break. In fact, if you are feeling uneasy or in doubt at any point, take a break.
- If your dog’s teeth come into contact with you at any point, play should stop immediately. Say your release command, and then take the toy and walk away for 30 seconds.
- Two dogs can play tug of war with one another as long as they get along on a normal basis. The game should be supervised, and the same rules apply. Take breaks if they don’t follow rules, as this will help keep it from getting out of control.
- 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.
Tug is a great way to spend some of their energy and it’s a great way to spend time together. Think of it as part of your 15 minute break or lunch break, and build in as part of your new quarantine routine. It will give you both something to look forward to. Try making your own enrichment toys at home!
My favourite part of tug: when, after winning, my pup offers me back my end of the tug toy.
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