Dog Training

3 Tips on Playing Tug with Your Dog

playing tug with your dog

Playing tug is instinctual for many dogs.

Playing tug with your dog or pup burns off some of their energy and helps with bonding. Proper play includes keeping the tug fun and exciting and keeping both you and your dog safe.

A small percentage of dogs have no interest in engaging in a good game of tug. These dogs may have little to no prey drive or may avoid play that requires close contact to humans due to a lack of confidence or previous past experiences.

When choosing a tug toy, make sure it’s good quality and size appropriate for your dog. Smaller dogs have smaller mouths.

3 Tips on Playing Tug

1. Targeting

Where your dog bites the tug is important. Most dogs will instinctively bite a tug toy on the straps or rope, at the end, or where your hands are. Instead, you want to teach your dog targeting.

Place your hands at each end of the tug. If your tug has a rope or handles, hide them by placing them against the tug’s body and covering them with your hands.

Next, you want to tease and excite your dog with the tug. Teasing will frustrate your dog and make them want it even more, which builds drive.

Holding the tug away from your side, move it around to get your dog’s attention. When your dog jumps for the tug, pull it towards you making them miss. Do this several times.

When you are ready to let your dog have the tug, you will force them to target the center of the tug. By holding the tug on both ends, your dog has no other option but to bite the center or the “sweet spot.”

As your dog is jumping for the tug, don’t shove the tug into your dog’s mouth, but it’s okay to move the tug to help them target the center.

Starting out, you can place your hands as far apart as possible to give your dog more of the tug to target and bite.

Repetition will teach your dog where you want them to bite the tug, and they will become better at honing in on the sweet spot.

Placing your hands on both sides of the tug teaches targeting, but it also gives you a good firm hold on the tug so you can play.

2. How to Get Your Dog to Bring Back the Tug 

german shepherds with tug

One of the most important things to remember when playing with your dog is to let them win. If you consistently take their toys away from them, the game stops, and they will be less motivated to bring you their toys and want to play.

When playing tug with your dog, pull back and forth several times, and then let go. Let your dog have the tug and give verbal praise such as, “good boy or good girl.”

Physiologically, you are bigger and stronger than they are, yet they just took their tug away from you. This builds your dog or pup’s confidence.

The next problem is getting your dog to bring the tug back to you. This is resolved by placing a leash or long-line on a flat collar or harness before you begin to play.

After you let go of the tug and let your dog win, you will step on the long-line to prevent them from getting very far away from you.

Next, you will encourage your dog to come back to you. Use your dog’s name, your here command, and back-up if necessary.

When your dog comes back to you, immediately engage in playing and pulling the tug, and then again, let go and let your dog win.

By letting your dog regularly win, your dog views you as fun. Before you know it, your dog will be bringing toys to you whether you want to play or not.

3. How to Get Your Dog to Out the Tug 

playing tug


Playtime is over, and it’s time to take the tug away from your dog and put it in a safe place.

To do this, you need to teach your dog an out or release command.

Holding the tug, pull it up against your body, and keep it still. Give your release command. Initially, your dog will pull on the tug to try to win it or get you to engage. Hold your position and repeat your release command.

Another method is to hold the tug with one hand, place your other hand at the back of your dog’s head and push their head into the tug. This technique restricts your dog’s airway, gagging them and forcing them to release the tug.

When teaching the release command, you need to reward your dog.

When your dog releases the tug, using either method, immediately take a few steps back and hold out the tug, encouraging them to re-engage.

Play tug, let your dog win, give your release command, reward the release with immediate play.

The immediate reward of more play teaches your dog that giving up something they want can still be a good thing.

When it comes time to put the tug away for good, reward your dog verbal praise and a treat for releasing their tug.

Playing tug is an interactive game that you can play with your dog just about anywhere, including indoors during inclement weather.

Because playing tug takes two, don’t leave your dog’s tug toy available for your dog to access and potentially turn into a chew toy.

Keep the tug toy up. Your dog only gets to play with it with you. This will make the tug more valuable to your dog, and you can make your dog earn playing tug through desired behaviors and commands.

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