Years ago, tugging with your dog was frowned upon by most every pet dog trainer. People were told NEVER tug with your dog! It will make him aggressive; it will make him wild and crazy and out of control; it will make him think he’s in charge; it will make him not listen to you or become disobedient. In a word, tugging was BAD!!!
Well, as it turns out, tugging with your dog can be quite beneficial when done well, and it’s something you should do with your dog if he enjoys it.
Not every dog likes to tug. In fact, many of the dogs I’ve had over the years have been staunch non-tuggers, and that’s ok. I don’t force my dogs to tug and I don’t rely on it as the only source of reinforcement to teach and train. If they like it we do it; if not, no big deal. But if a dog LOVES to tug, as three of the dogs I have now do, then it is a great tool for training, playing and bonding.
When introducing the tug game to my dogs, I teach them my rules: that “tug” means it’s time to play and “give” means it’s time to let go of the toy (they learn the give behavior with treat rewards as needed). I start the game and let them tug for a bit then I stop and take a break; then we tug for a bit then take another break; then we tug for a bit then take another break and so on.
We play by my rules so that there is an element of obeying involved and to ensure that my dogs stay sensible rather than become slaves to their adrenaline.
While playing tug, I often branch out a bit and play the “fetch it, bring it, give it” game by tossing the toy several times. And why not include some attention exercises, some self-control exercises, some obedience exercises or some tricks that then can be rewarded with some vigorous tugging? The sky is the limit and the variety keeps them interested. So I mix it up with great results.
One important aspect of the tug play I do with my dogs is that I do not let them have access to their favorite tug toy without me. In fact, I put away the toy when we are done and pull it out when it’s time to play. I’m in charge of the toy, the game, and the rules for how it’s played so that tugging it not only fun for my dogs but it is productive for training and for our relationship.