How to Tug
Playing tug, done well, can be incredibly useful in positive dog training.
It can be
It can be
- a powerful reward, particularly for a recall,
- a tool to teach impulse control via "Take It" and "Give", and
- a way to teach dogs to be careful with their mouths.
The Dangers of Tugging
Tugging is an amazing tool, as you can see, I would never raise a puppy without tug games but used incorrectly tugging can not only be detrimental to your dog training (due to the misplacement of great reinforcement) but more importantly dangerous to your dog. The key to tugging is to mimic the dog. Watch one dog tug with another it is more or less a game of hold on and sink your weight back into your haunches. Occasionally there may be a head shake from side to side, but the game is a far more passive between two dogs then most humans make it.
Take a look at the video [below]. Look for the similarities between how my two dogs tug and how I tug with one dog alone. See if you can list the many ways each dog is using his or her body during the game of tug.
Try to mimic a dog when you tug . . . there is no need for you to spin, stir, shake, whip or bounce the dog around on the end of your toy when you are tugging. Doing so just adds an unnecessary risk of injury. For example if you shake a dog up and down on a toy you are hyper-extending that dog’s neck a little with each shake. Our dog’s necks are built to have tremendous power from side to side, but not up and down. When dogs tug with other dogs you will never see one bounce the other up and down! If you are going to move the tug during your tug sessions with your dogs do it gently from side to side rather than “snapping” or jerking the dog abruptly. Likewise I have seen people “spinning” their dogs by the toy and often I have heard a dog yelp and drop the toy during this kind of interaction. This leaves me to assume assume the dog’s weight was on his front end when his owner decided to spin the dog by the toy and twister or jarred the dog’s shoulder in the process.
That is not playing like a dog!
My primary interaction during tug comes from me chattering when I like what the dog is doing and by me using my free hand to engage with the dog through touch. I play a game I call “Smack da baby.” The game starts with gentle strokes all over the dog’s body gradually growing that into smacking the dog. Another way to make tugging safer is to use toys that are attached to a bungee. Bungee tug toys give and take with every tug, they are friendly to your joints and your dog’s neck.
Tugging is an amazing tool, that everyone should have available when training their dog. If you can remember to “play like a dog” you will always get it right!