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Tug of War with Your Dog: More than Just a Game

Tug of war often gets an undeserved negative reputation. However, when played correctly, it’s an excellent game to enhance your relationship with your dog, providing them with a healthy outlet for natural behaviors. Additionally, it’s an effective reward during training sessions, building a dog’s skills robustly and reliably.


An exuberant dog and a joyful owner engaged in tug of war in a sunny outdoor setting. The dog is vigorously pulling a vibrant toy, while the owner, smiling broadly, holds the other end, illustrating the fun and bonding of positive dog training.

If your dog shows tendencies of overexcitement or has a history of resource guarding, it’s best to steer clear of tug of war for the time being. Dogs with these issues can still learn to enjoy tug, but this should be done under professional supervision. For most dogs, though, tug of war is a delightful and easy-to-teach activity that builds a solid relationship.


Tug of War: A Safe Outlet for Natural Instincts


Contrary to popular belief, tug of war does not encourage aggression in dogs. Aggressive behaviors often stem from genetics, upbringing, or learned behaviors, not from playing games like tug of war. This game is a controlled way for dogs to exercise their innate predatory instincts in a healthy manner.

The desire for certain aspects of the predatory sequence – scenting, stalking, chasing, grabbing, shaking – varies among dogs and is influenced by genetics. For instance, herding breeds might be more inclined towards chasing, while terriers may prefer the grab and shake aspect. Understanding these inclinations can help make tug of war more appealing to your dog.


How to Teach Tug of War


When introducing tug of war, select toys appropriate for your dog’s size and bite strength, avoiding hard rubber and traditional rope toys which can be hazardous. Engage your dog by imitating the beginning steps of the predatory sequence, demonstrated here. Maintain tension in the toy to prevent accidental regripping and to keep the game engaging.


If your dog releases the toy, mimic the behavior of prey trying to escape, rather than immediately giving it back or shaking it in their face. This enhances the game’s realism and appeal.


Addressing Common Concerns


Some dogs may initially seem disinterested in tug of war. In such cases, ensure you’re engaging their predatory instincts correctly. Forcing the toy onto the dog can be counterproductive; instead, entice them with movement that encourages chasing.


The notion that you must always win the game is misleading. Tug is a cooperative game, there is no winner or loser. Similarly, punishing your dog for a premature bite or accidental hand contact during play can diminish their desire for the game. Instead, focus on refining your own technique to keep the game safe and enjoyable.


Using Tug of War as a Training Tool


Initially, avoid cueing your dog to wait, take, or drop the toy. First, build their interest and enjoyment in the game. Over time, you can incorporate these cues, using tug as a reward for good behavior.

Remember, each dog is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You might choose to keep the tug game simple, using it just for fun and bonding. For many dogs, tug of war is a safe, enjoyable game that fulfills their natural needs.


So, let go of outdated misconceptions and try tug of war with your dog. It’s likely you’ll both find it a rewarding and fun experience!


 

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