Tug can be a great game for your dog - IF played by the rules. Tug is a good substitute for body-slam wrestling. It is also a good way to use up energy when you can't get the dog outside due to bad weather. Playing tug properly can teach self control and mouth manners.

Playing tug without rules can result in an out of control, over stimulated dog and can lead to trouble.

Rules for tug:

  • Human starts game. Tug toy is kept up out of reach of the dog and only brought out when you want to play. It is a special toy. It is okay to recognize when the dog is in a frisky mood and bring out the tug toy then.
  • Ask for a Sit before playing. If dog does not sit, walk away with the toy and try again in a few minutes.
  • Dog can only grab tug toy when invited. Use a word like "Grab it" or "Pull" as the cue to start the game. If dog tries to grab toy without invitation, whisk toy out of sight behind your back. If dog has already grabbed it and won't let go, drop the toy with disgust and stomp off in a huff. The toy won't be fun without you on the other end.*
  • Until dog learns "Give", trade a treat for the toy. Reward dog with the treat, ask for a sit, then start the game again.
  • If dog's teeth touch human skin, yelp "OUCH!" and stop playing. Walk away. The toy becomes 'dead' without you on the other end.* Try again in two or three minutes.
  • Every couple of minutes interrupt the game by asking for a sit or other behavior the dog knows. Then resume the game by saying your cue word ("Grab it" or 'Pull"). Any time the dog starts to get overly excited, it is time to interrupt the game.
  • Once the dog understands "Give", interrupt the game by saying Give, then start the game again. The dog will be much better at giving up the toy when he understands that it is not always the end of the game -- sometimes he gets to play again.
  • When the human decides to end the game, put the toy away again until next time.
  • If you can't control the dog while playing, just don't play the game.

Tug is not a good game for small children -- children usually squeal when playing, and usually can't recognize when or if the game is getting out of hand. 

*Tug is a game that requires two players. If you have to let go and walk away, it is negative punishment to the dog - a good thing going away. Contrary to what we used to believe, the dog does not "win" by getting possession of the toy.

Pat Scott is a CPDT "Certified Pet Dog Trainer" and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Pat first got interested in dog training back in 1985. Over the years she has been involved in several types of dog activities including den trials, lure coursing, tracking, training a service dog and a hearing dog.

Currently her main dog hobby has been training for and entering obedience trials. Her dogs have earned many titles, ribbons and awards. She also teaches classes focused toward pet owners. Her goals in teaching are to solve or prevent behavior problems, and to help build a strong mutually respectful relationship between owner and dog, using dog-friendly methods. She does not teach competition classes but she can refer interested people. 

Pat can be contacted vie e-mail at

You may also visit her web site.

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