A good ole game of Tug of War is great for both the human, and the dog. It can even be a bit of an arm workout for the human if you are up against a large dog. It’s a great game because it burns of excess energy while being fun for the both of you. If you have more than one dog in the house, you can also teach them to play this together.
How to Play Tug of War Safely
If you follow the special rules of engagement we outline below, tug of war will be a fun game for you and pup to play, not a hazardous one.
1. Start by shaking a toy at your puppy or dog, and when they chomp, start tugging and lightly shaking the toy
2. They may not begin pulling right away, so as soon as they let go, don’t pull away but continue shaking their toy enticingly in front of them
3. As soon as they chomp down, begin tugging lightly and shaking. They will get the hint quickly and begin playing tug of war
4. Do not allow your pup to bite you. If they do let out a loud yelp or a stern “no” and stop playing for a moment. You have to show them that when you play together, they must be careful with you. You can continue play when they go back to biting the toy.
To make things easier for you, we suggest introducing commands once the pup has figured out how to play the game with you. You can teach them a cue for “grab it” and “drop it” for when you want to start and stop the game. As soon as the puppy grabs the toy, say “grab it” then hold out a treat to reward their behavior, and when they drop the toy say “drop it”. We provide a more in depth tutorial to teach drop it also.
You can also ask them if they want to play tug of war, teaching them the name of the game, and watch them get excited. If you only use a specific toy for this game, they will also likely find it so you can play.
How to Teach Two Dogs to Play Tug of War
Naturally as you play with one dog, any other dogs you have around will likely want to join. In order to allow them to enjoy tugging together and not become possessive over the toy. You have to define the rules of engagement, even between your pups.
In order to encourage them to play nicely you should start by having your hand in the middle of the toy, and allow them each to take the opposite end. You should play like this a little bit, to get them comfortable playing tug of war, with you as the equalizing factor. They should already know how to play safely with you (for example they do not bite to close to your hand). You may find that dogs are much more willing to play nicely with a toy together when you are holding it but not when you let go. This is because as the pack leader they are taking direction from you, making them more “equal”. When you remove your hand, sometimes it can become a free for all to establish dominance over the toy. That will take some correction, and you should always correct any aggressive behavior between dogs with a stern “no” to them both, but definitely aimed toward the more aggressive one.
Only Use Specific Toys for Tug of War
Dogs and puppies alike love tug of war and once they know you are willing to play they will likely try to turn every toy they have into a game of tug of war with you. Most people who have played this game know that cheeky look a dog gets when they have a toy in their mouth. They walk by you, sticking their heads out like they are offering the toy. Only to go running off in triumphant joy if you make any slight movement to suggest you’ll try to take it from them. Dogs just love tug of war but playing with the wrong toy can lead to accidental injury. If the toy is to short and the dog is to exuberant an accidental finger bite or hand chomping is more likely to occur. To avoid this, only play tug of war with specific toys, like longer rope toys. It won’t be long before your pup realizes that those are the toys to play the tug of war game with.