We've all heard it: never play tug with your dog! It will make them mean. It will make them aggressive. It will make them think they can control you and that they're in charge. WE DISAGREE!
We strongly believe that when taught right, playing tug is an amazing way to interact with your dog. It's a great game for rewarding most dogs. It's helpful in encouraging a strong retrieve. Tug is fabulous for helping a dog understand the rules of play and interaction. Here are a few of the things we insist on when teaching a dog the game of tug.
#1 - We Start the Game
The toy is off limits until you start the game. Just because it is in your hand that does not mean the dog should try to grab for it. Here's a great opportunity to teach your dog that they are not allowed to snatch or grab things just because it may be something they want. Think of a child with a sandwich. The dog should know that it does not belong to them, and unless it's been offered to them, they should leave it alone. Playing tug with your dog with a toy gives them a clearly defined start point to focus on and helps to reinforce the rule that they can only take things with permission.
#2 - We End the Game
The toy needs to be dropped on command and left alone until the dog is given permission to play again. This will strongly reinforce your "out" command and help to establish it in other facets of life. Having a strong "out" command is crucial for keeping dogs safe. You want them to immediately spit things out on command to ensure they don't chew or swallow something dangerous.
When you work on teaching your dog to drop a toy, be sure you hold the toy still. One of the biggest mistakes we see people make is asking their dog to "out," but continuing to pull on the toy at the same time. This continues the game of tug with the dog and that reinforces play continuing over the dog releasing the toy. Be sure to reward heavily when your dog drops the toy. Sometimes, use their favourite treats and other times, start the game again by giving them permission to "get it." Another great way to reward is to pull out a toy they like more and start the game of tug with it.
#3 - You're Responsible for Your Teeth!
Dogs are extremely capable of being careful with their mouths! It's very rare for a dog to make contact with their mouths accidentally. When they do, it's usually because they haven't been taught good bite inhibition. In our interactions, we always make it the dog's responsibility to be careful with their teeth. In order to teach this and reinforce it, you must be 100% diligent that anytime you feel teeth, the game ends immediately. This will be a very important life lesson for any dog and will carry over to everyday acitivities.
In the end, it's your choice to allow this game to be part of your interaction with your dog or not. If you decide not to allow your dog to tug, we want it to be for reasons that are logical and important to you and not for the rumours and false hype that typically surround this game. If you decide to allow tug to be part of your life, be sure it's played by the rules so it's enjoyable for both human and dog!
To help illustrate the above points, please join over 20 time world agility champion, Kayl McCann and her new puppy Bee-Line.