The Benefits of Playing Tug With Your Dog

Over the past few decades, trainers, behaviorists, and researchers have debunked many old beliefs surrounding the best ways to teach, play, and interact with dogs. Training methods that used punishment and aversion have been abandoned in favor of positive, science-based methods. We’ve learned that communication and trust are more powerful teaching tools than fear or intimidation. And pet parents are now, more than ever before, considering their dogs a member of the family and cherishing them as such. Still, many of the old, antiquated myths about dog behavior continue to concern owners today.

One such myth is that playing tug-of-war will teach a dog to be aggressive.

Dog playing tug with owner showing close up of face

While tug shouldn’t be played with a dog that’s demonstrated possessive aggression without behavior modification with a qualified professional, a normally friendly and playful dog will not become aggressive simply by playing tug-of-war. Quite the opposite, in fact! In addition to just plain fun for you both, there are many great benefits to playing tug with your dog!

  • A good game of tug is an excellent form of both physical and mental exercise. And, it can be played indoors or out, making it ideal for exercising during inclement weather. In fact, a game of tug is regarded as one of the best ways to wear off excess energy when you don’t have time for a long walk.
  • Tug is proven to be a great confidence-builder for dogs. Multiple research studies on the topic of tug showed that in addition to building confidence, dogs that regularly play tug with their owners are generally more obedient and exhibit fewer separation anxiety behaviors than those that don’t. In addition, when taught to play appropriately, tug-of-war teaches dogs better impulse control.
  • Tug is a fun way to strengthen your bond with your dog. As inherently social creatures, dogs most often prefer interactive play with their people making the game an excellent way to improve the dog-human relationship.

As with any game, however, there are rules that should be followed for safe and effective play.

  1. Before playing tug with your dog, make sure he or she has been trained a reliable “drop it” or release cue. This allows you to safely end the game at any time.
  2. Only play tug with a soft, flexible toy that’s designed for the game. The Rompidogz Tug N’ Toss Rope Toy is perfect for tug. Not only does is the shape perfect for gripping, the soft, woven material is durable, strong, and returns to its shape even after several rounds of rambunctious play.
  3. Keep your designated tug toy put away when you’re not playing tug. This teaches your dog that the game is played only when you’re ready to play. When you bring out your tug toy, ask your dog to sit patiently and wait for the game to begin—don’t allow him to start jumping and pulling on the toy until you’re both ready to play.
  4. When you’re ready to play, hold the toy out and give your dog a cue, like “get it” or “let’s tug!” Once he takes the toy into his mouth, begin gently tugging from side-to-side.
  5. If, at any time during a tug session, your dog seems to be overly excited or intense, use your “drop it” cue to end the game and take a break. It’s very normal for some dogs to growl during tug. This is a normal behavior and should never be punished. As long as the growling is playful, it’s perfectly okay to continue.
  6. If your dog accidentally touches your hand with his teeth, end the game and take a break before continuing. Your dog will eventually learn to be more careful when he learns the fun ends if his teeth get too close to your hand.
  7. Play tug for the fun of it, not just to wear your dog out. It’s better to end the game when your dog is still eager to play than to end it after he’s grown tired or bored of it. This will keep him interested and excited to play again next time.
  8. When you’re ready to end the game, give your dog the “drop it” cue, put the tug toy away, and give your dog a treat or reward.

Playing tug-of-war with your dog, while following the rules of the game, can strengthen the bond with your dog, reinforce obedience commands, relieve excess energy, and provide an appropriate outlet for their inherent genetic needs. Plus… it’s just plain FUN! 

Article by Brandy A.

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