Teach Your Puppy to Play Tug of War

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If you have ever raised a puppy, you know that puppies love to bite. Biting and mouthing are ways puppies have fun with their littermates, but it's not much fun for human family members whose hands and ankles become targets for razor-sharp teeth. Tug of war is a suitable play outlet for a puppy's biting and mouthing instincts. The game can teach your puppy how to play appropriately with people and strengthen your bond!

Debbie Martin training a puppy

Photo courtesy of Debbie and Kenneth Martin.

Tug of war can be both a physical and mental outlet for energetic dogs. In their bestselling book, Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog (now also a course), Debbie and Kenneth Martin offer the following tips for teaching your puppy to play tug:

How to Play Tug of War

  1. You should initiate and end the tug of war game. Sloppy attempts by your dog to get the toy that make contact with your skin should end the game immediately. You should walk away with the toy.
  2. Give the verbal cue "take it" and present the tug toy. Move the tug toy back and forth slightly to foster interest or chase.
  3. When your dog has the toy in his mouth, engage him in a gentle game of tug. Reward his interest in the tug verbally.
  4. Freeze (stop tugging and any toy movement). Give the verbal cue "drop it" and prompt the command with a treat placed directly under your dog's nose. Reward with the treat for dropping the toy. Pick up the toy.
  5. Add the cue "sit" or "down" and reward the behavior with "take it" and the presentation of the tug toy. Including the "sit" or "down" behavior helps to control your puppy's arousal.
  6. Repeat the above steps. Eventually, delay your presentation of the treat after giving the "drop it" cue.
  7. When the game is over, the tug toy should be placed away from your dog.

While teaching your dog to play tug of war will not make him aggressive, do not play tug of war with dogs that guard objects and/or display aggression. We do not recommend that children play tug of war with dogs because the excitement level may be more difficult to control.

Happy tugging!