Yes! But this will be a seriously short article if I only gave a one-word answer. But…I hear you say…doesn’t it cause problems and how do I play tug with them?
Let’s have a look at these questions and I will give my responses.
There are a lot of myths and debunked science about the dog-human relationship, and tug sits amongst these. It stems from the belief that life with a dog is one long competition to be in charge (crazy!) – both the dog wanting to take over us or us wanting to seriously control our dogs. Now, I would be happy with the former option if only they would do the housework for me, but alas, it is not true and I have to clean the floors myself, again. Dogs are social beings and love to play. They just want to play with us! So why are we determined to stifle this aspect of them? Do we fear we will create a monster?
In my opinion, quite the opposite. What we think of rewarding for our dogs is often not their view, but playing an interactive game that also provides the connection (you are both holding the same article) is a fantastic way to improve your bond and relationship with them. We can’t ever get an answer in English from our dogs as to why most of them love this game, but we can guess that it harnesses some of the instinct of prey drive that gives them such a pleasure – a rush of good happy hormones that satisfies an intrinsic part of their DNA. A game of tug uses energy, a different set of muscles (as opposed to trotting around a park) and even uses their brain for problem solving and listening skills. A few minutes of tug game, followed by some relaxing chewing of a Kong or calming mat work can be as good as a walk (and great for those really rainy days).
As with most games, there are some ground rules for safety for both of you. Be consistent and keep to them – no deviation or you will confuse your dog.
First, make sure your dog is in good health! You don’t want to be playing tug with puppy teeth that can be pulled out – or any adult teeth that are not set solid. Dental health is important and you don’t want to make any issues worse! You can still play with your puppy by making the tug move along the floor so they can chase and pounce on it, but avoid the tug element until they have their full set of nashers.
You also want to make sure that your dog does not suffer from any neck, shoulder or upper back problems.
From your safety perspective, tug is NOT a game to be played with resource guarders – you are upping the value of the toy by playing with it and you need to be safe at all times.
Worried about losing your fingers? Don’t be. From a puppy’s perspective, a tug redirects the attention from your hand to a toy and teaches them what is good to grab hold of. Choose a toy long enough so that your hands are safe. Ones with a distinctive section for them and a different colour handle for you can make it clear for all parties – and stick to your section. If your dog goes to grab your handle, or touches your skin, stop the game immediately. Drop the toy if needed and walk away. They need to learn that by holding their part, the fun continues, but by trying to get your section or your hand, there is no fun at all to be had. It may seem a harsh lesson, but they will quickly learn how to keep the game going and you keep your hands intact and avoid the local A&E department.
How the tuggy moves is important. We do not want to encourage jumping up, or that jumping at you with a mouth of shiny sharp teeth near your face is appropriate.
Keep the toy low to the ground. Slide it along like a snake, and switch the speed of it to gain interest. Once your dog has grabbed the toy, keep it no higher than their shoulder height. Also, you do not want to shake your hand from the wrist – the corresponding section on the other end is your dog’s neck… need I say more?
What you do want to do is to use your full arm to move your dog from side to side – wide sweeps so you have to move as well. Don’t be lazy – engage and play! Let your dog dictate the pressure and just match the resistance. Let them move, pull and shake; you provide an anchor for them. Sending them flying is a quick way to end up at the vets.
Some dogs will growl – often short bursts but don’t be worried – if they are showing a wriggly body at the same time, they are having fun and just letting you know!
Dogs can get very excited very quickly during games of tug, so to break this up, we need to ask for a drop of the toy. To do this, practice first with other objects and once your dog has hold of something, have a treat right on their nose and as soon as they open their mouths to drop the toy, say DROP and give the treat. Practice often and with various objects. Then you can start to do this during games when they are less likely to listen. Ask them to drop the toy, let it fall to the ground (or take it to the side away from them), and then after a few seconds, restart the game – present the toy for them to grab again. Do this often. Even give a treat for a great drop and restart the game if needed. It has to be worth their while to let go, and they need motivation to do so.
To end the game – and do so before they get totally hyper – ask them to drop the toy, let go of it (or remove it), and give them a chew, kong or scatter feed them to calm them down. Give a cue of game over to let them know that the tug has stopped. Don’t just snatch the toy away with no word – or reward for giving it up – otherwise they will cling onto the toy as they learn you just steal! Fun police strike again.
So what are the best toys to play tug with?
The ones that are purpose built to withstand the strain! Have separate tug toys that only come out when you have the time to play with your dog. It’s not enjoyable for you and frustrating for your dog if they are constantly mithering you for a game as the toy is lying around all day.
If your dog is a newbie to tug or a reluctant tugger, start with a toy that hides food in their end to motivate them to chase the toy. A lotus ball on a rope (see the great ones from https://www.funwithfido.co.uk/) can start their interest, as they also need to prise apart the velcro to get to the treat – yippee!
For more involved players, the toys from Tug-E-Nuff are great as they come in various handle lengths (including bungee shock absorber ones) and the dog grab end come in many materials. They even have ones that you can place smelly food in the end too. Use this link http://bit.ly/2Rus0ML and enter code PIPPIN to get free delivery (a special offer for you!).
As a last note, tug is a wonderful game for you both. Your dog is focused on YOU – so this is a great activity to take outdoors to demonstrate you are more exciting than other distractions, so increasing the partnership and bond, and make them more likely to want to stick with you instead of finding their own entertainment. As long as you both are consistent with the rules of the game, and keep the games short and fun, there is not reason NOT to play!
Would you like to know more? Why not join one of my popular workshops here.
Pippin Pets Dog Training 2019