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Tug-of-War: A Fun Game or Teaching Your Dog to be Aggressive?

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Quite a number of arguments exist about whether we should play tug-of-war with our dogs. Some insist that the game never be played at all. Others assert that it’s ok as long as you win all the time, while some say to let the dog always win. And yet others advise that with shy and sensitive breeds, owners have to win only half the time to ensure that the dog does not get wrong ideas about who is alpha. But there is one thing that most – if not all have agreed on- that is, owners should never, under any condition, play the game of tug-of-war with an aggressive dog.

What’s in it For your Dog

Despite the fact that many are hesitant about playing tug-of-war with their dogs, the fact that it is still a good fun game that provides dogs a safe outlet to channel their natural predatory instincts cannot be overlooked. Dogs possess a deep-rooted need to prey, even if it is just in play. Through tug-of-war, their inherent need is satisfied in a safe and controlled manner. With the game, your pet’s innate prey drive goes out to the tug toy. Plus, a good game of tug is excellent exercise!

Although the game facilitates aggression, tug-of-war is a shared activity that communicates the message to the dog that you are the one who is responsible for the satisfaction of his emotions. Yes, the tug-rag is a dead piece of cloth until you are at the other end, wiggling and making it seem very alive for him. The moment your dog understands that it is you who provides him that gratification, he will look up to you as the answer to his wildest and most pleasurable instincts.

Lastly, the game of tug-of-war offers the dog confidence and a sense of power. Confidence is indeed a desirable quality to cultivate in a dog, but the sense of power is kind of questionable. Like humans, you have to understand that dogs also tend to think like a martial artist: the more they are aware of their own power to hurt others, the less likely they are to need to prove it. When played properly, tug-of-war will give the dog that emotional centering essential for him to live peacefully with no need or desire to harm others.

The Rules of Engagement

Because it is true that playing tug-of-war with a dog can be dangerous, owners have to keep in mind these seven rules for play:

1. Let the dog win all the time, and do not forget to give him praises for winning.
2. Stop playing the game before your dog loses interest or gets bored.
3. If you believe that your dog seems not to know that it is a game, do not play.
4. If your dog is aggressive, and his behavior does not improve after three days, stop playing the game with him and give your experienced dog trainer a call.
5. If your dog’s teeth suddenly stray onto your hand or arm, immediately stop playing. However, keep doing this every day until your pet learns that the fun only continues when he bites the tug toy, and ends if he bites your hand.
6. You may be better off using a store-bought tug-toy rather than handing you dog an old sock or bandana, as you don’t want him thinking its ok to pull on your personal items. Using these tug “rags” will motivate your dog to want to return it to you just so you can make it alive again.
7.  Teach your dog how to drop the tug toy on your command. Toss that order into the mix once in a while. But make sure that the interruption appears to be part of the fun, and not that you are only being mean as the “Drop it” monster.

Do you play tug-of-war with your dog? Or, do you believe it promotes dog aggression? Share your thoughts with us below.

6 Responses to Tug-of-War: A Fun Game or Teaching Your Dog to be Aggressive?
  1. […] By Brandy Arnold […]

  2. Kat
    February 25, 2014 | 4:19 pm

    It all comes down to how the game is played and energetic level a pet reaches during playtime.

    Keeping the mood fun and positive……As its only a game.

    positive reinforcement and praise speaks volumes over yelling and sternness.

  3. Andrea
    August 15, 2013 | 2:31 am

    I do play tug with my dog, as well as a number of other games. (Chasing, trying to get a toy back, etc.)

    I think as long as both parties know its a game, and both parties can tell when the game is ended, that it’s just fine. My dogs are careful to let me know with lots of play bows and exaggerated movements that what they’re doing is all in fun. I do the same. (When I chase I’ve got my arms in front of me, zombie style.)

    If I really wanted the game to end, all I have to do is return to my normal stance and cue them to end. They will. As long as we both have that understanding, what’s the harm? :)

  4. Steve
    August 14, 2013 | 5:27 pm

    We started playing tug-of-war when she was just a puppy. We always used “stuffed toys” and not personal items. She’s 2 years old now and brings me toys when she wants to play or just get my attention. She can sound like the world’s most vicious dog, but always remains gentle and respective of me. If I get the toy away from her she will run to the other side of the room waiting for me to toss it to her. I don’t know what kind of interaction we’d have if we didn’t play with her. When I get tired I tell her that’s it, I’m done, she gets the message.

  5. tara
    May 31, 2013 | 1:14 pm

    it’s everyone’s favorite game to play….sometimes even with their cousins….but mostly granny!!!!

  6. Tammy
    April 11, 2012 | 9:36 pm

    We play every night before bedtime. When we’re done – it’s time to snuggle up to sleep.

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