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Traditional training wisdom tells you not to play tug games, as the dog always wins and thus learns an inappropriate dominance.

Today, we realize that tug games are a great way to focus the dog on YOU. As with every other experience in your dog’s life, the important thing is to make sure the game is never played without your permission. The toy is yours and the game starts and stops when you say so. Don’t ever leave the toy with the dog, it is YOUR toy and they only get it when they play with YOU.

If you watch competitors at an international or national level, in obedience and agility, you may see the dogs searching immediately after competition for their toy. Certain obsessions are good, when they are under your control, and can be a very valuable tool in your relationship with your dog.

The choice of toy is yours. You always have a leash with you, right? Other good toys for tug are “Chuck It” squirrels, rope toys, and knotted socks. When you add food to the knotted socks, the dog is even more motivated to play. Who cares if the sock gets ripped up, you can buy a million of them at the thrift stores.

To begin the game, play with the toy yourself. When the dog gets a little excited and touches the toy with its teeth, praise the dog and let the dog win by moving toward the dog while it is holding the toy. If it is tugging even a little, go with the tug.

Once you have built some interest in the game, add a command like “get it” or “tug”. Then, of course, you need a “give” or “out” command. When you give this command, hold your hand under the dog’s chin and if you need to, reach your fingers into the corners of the dog’s mouth. Once they release the toy, praise like crazy and give the toy back again. At some point, also throw the toy a short distance and race the dog to it. If you’re lucky, you will also get a retrieve game going as well.

What if your dog is a little growly? Don’t worry about it too much, for some dogs making noise is half the fun. If the dog gets a little stiff in body and makes a little too much eye contact with you when you ask for the “out”, get out a really delicious treat (roast beef, chicken, liver, etc) and trade. Give the tug toy right back again and keep trading for the special food. Then put the toy away somewhere safe and practice again another day.

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