Playing Tug of War with Your Dog—Does this Cause Aggression?
When your dog grabs on to your clothing or you take a toy from him and he starts to pull in the opposite direction and growl, he is getting aggressive…..right? What you are looking at most likely is not aggression. There are many out-of-date books still on the market that tell you playing tug of war leads to aggression.
To a dog, tugging with you on an object is like “group killing”. You are killing this object together. It mostly builds your bond. Dogs LOVE to play tug of war.
Many dog handlers who compete their dogs in agility, obedience, search and rescue and Schutzhund, use tug of war as the reward. At the end of the exercise, the handler will say a release word (letting the dog know they have accomplished the task) like “Free Dog” and pull out a tug toy they have hidden in their back pocket. You may also wonder, “what about all the growling”? Dogs that growl during tug of war are usually the more insecure dogs. When I used to test puppies for police competition to see if they were good candidates for the work, I would play tug of war. If the puppy growled, I usually would reject the dog for this type of work. Growling in this case would show insecurity. A confident puppy will not growl when playing tug of war.
So let me give you a few rules to help make this a fun game for you and your dog:
1st You must be the one who controls the tug game. Pick a tug toy that your dog likes and keep it away from him when you are not actively playing the game. I recommend in most cases that you always win the game at the end of the training session by taking the toy away and leaving him wanting to play more. This way the dog will be more motivated to try harder in order to get to the tug. For many dogs, playing tug is more motivating than getting a treat.
2nd Keep the dog’s attention on the tug. If he starts to move his mouth to your hands or other parts of the body, yell a loud “Ouch!” and re-direct him to the tug. If he continues and starts getting a bit too mouthy and not focused on the tug, end the game and put the tug away. After he calms down, try it again.
3rd Try to make your dog do something in order to play the tug game. For example, to get a fast reaction to the down command, say “down”, and as soon as his elbows hit the ground, give him a release cue (Free Dog), whip out the tug and start playing. Pretty soon he will drop on a dime when you command “down”.
4th Always supervise children playing tug with their dog. Some dogs are just too powerful to play this game with children and even the elderly.
(Original Article posted on CanineMaster.com blog)