What is Tug of War?
Tug of War is a game played between owner and dog. The main objective of which from your dog’s point of view as a predator, is to cooperate together as a team in an effort to pull the toy apart. Owner holds onto one end and the dog engages on the other with his teeth.
What is a tug toy?
There are a number of toys that are suitable to be used, the most popular being knotted rope toys. Other common tug toys are made from rubber with handles for ease of play or a variation of the knotted rope toy with a tennis ball attached at one end. Dish clothes, slippers or plush fleece toys are not recommended due to their lessened durability but also due to the fact that your dog will find it difficult to distinguish between non dog related slippers/ dishcloths as ideal tug toys. One designated tug toy is preferable and this toy should be stored away when you are not engaging in play with your dog. If he doesn’t always have constant access to it, the toy becomes more potent as a reward when he finally gets to interact with it.
Will playing tug with my dog make him aggressive?
Since tug of war is a vigorous and intense game and usually involves a dog getting so riled up that they start to growl. It might appear that your dog is exhibiting aggression. This however is not the case at all! Predatory behaviour should not be confused with conflict resolution. This game is simply an outlet for your dog’s hard wired predatory instincts, a legal outlet at that. In fact a study has been conducted by behaviourists Dr. Peter Borchelt and Linda Goodloe that concluded that there was no correlation found between engaging in tug of war and increased aggression in family pet dogs.
Why play tug of war?
There are many reasons why tug of war is beneficial to play with your dog.
It can be a great rainy day activity and serves to burn your dog’s energy both physically and mentally.
It is a great reward that can be dispensed for good behaviour, for example building a fast recall.
It can increase a dog’s focus and confidence
It serves as a good gauge as to the kind of control you have over your dog particularly over his jaws when he is in this excited state.
It can prevent behavioural problems due to under-stimulation
It is a game played with rules and therefore provides an opportunity to incorporate, practice and sharpen your dog’s obedience .
Rules of Engagement for Safe Play
1. Release on request
Your dog must release his grip on the tug toy when you request him to do so.
Once your dog has the in his jaws, request him to release the toy.
Use a phrase such a ‘drop it’ or ‘out’ then immediately hold a meaty treat right in front of his nose. As soon as he releases his grip and drops the toy, reward him with the treat. After 10 reps in a row, change the rules; prompt him to release the toy using your phrase, once he does reward him with another short round of tug of war.
2. No uninvited grabbing at the toy
Your dog must control his impulse not to grab or jump for the toy unless he is invited to do so. Ask him to ‘sit’ and dangle the toy 2 feet over his head. If he jumps to snatch at it, simply hold the toy out of his reach. Only offer him to grab for it when you request him to ‘Get It’ and when he has composed himself enough to sit patiently and forgoes jumping/grabbing at the toy.
3.Employ frequent obedience breaks
Allow your dog to engage in tug for no longer than 30 seconds each round. Then instruct him to release the toy and only initiate play when he sits or lays down on request. This allows you to gain more leverage over him performing obedience exercises and all you to obtain better impulse control when he is in such an excitable state.
4.Game ends for sloppy use of jaws
Since dogs are capable of using their teeth and jaws with great precision it goes without saying that if your dog accidently nicks your hand with his teeth while trying to re- engage on the tug toy to get a better hold then the game needs to end abruptly. If you feel any teeth on skin, say ‘OUCH’ and immediately drop the toy and leave the room giving your dog a time out and an obvious signal that you won’t be participating any longer in the fun activity if he cannot abide by the rules.