It’s been decided, that the launch of this blog will start with a series of articles relating to a topic near and dear to my own heart: PLAY, as in human-to-dog play and why playing with your dog is important. For the sake of these articles, when I refer to PLAY, I am going to talk mainly about Tug-of-War as well as building Tug into a Retrieve.
The majority of students that come into my classes seem to put a heavy emphasis on dog to dog play, but have not built play as a game including themselves engaging with their dog. It seems that there may be many reasons for this – some of the reasons being a fear that playing tug-of-war with their dogs will cause the dog to become “dominant” and that if tug is ever played with a dog; the dog must never win.
Without getting into a drawn-out conversation about winning or dominance; let me approach the subject from another point of view: what playing with your dog can do FOR you and how it can actually enhance the dog-human bond.
Every dog has an innate predatory instinct in them. It’s there to some degree in all dogs. Teaching your dog to tug (with rules!) is a great outlet for the innate desire to “chase, grab and
bitel”! It puts structure on something the dog instinctively has a desire to do.
In a class full of students I usually get to about this part, when someone inevitable interrupts with a question: “So, are you not making your dog more predatory by playing tug with him then?”
And the answer is no: playing tug is not going to make your dog a predator. He already is one. Teaching him tug (with appropriate rules) will simply channel this energy and give the predatory game structure and allow him an outlet for what he already is.
The fact is, that by playing tug with your dog, you are linking a lot of reinforcement and rewards to You. You are the one playing with your dog, deciding upon and enforcing the rules, and You are the one in charge of the toy. Think of how powerful (not to mention FUN!) that can be – when your dog will choose to stay with you for the opportunity to play with you – rather than take the first opportunity to run away looking for fun elsewhere…
So, before starting, it must again be stressed that Tug-of-War can be and is a wonderful way to play with your dog – BUT, it *must* have rules and structure. Without rules and structure – yes, you might very well be looking at chaos and an unpleasant outcome. There are a few simple rules for you to follow, which I will get into later – but before getting to rules – we need to have a good TOY that we can use for play. Next time I will be back with some thoughts on what to consider when looking for a good tug toy.
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Comments ( 3 )

  • infoJan 19, 2011

    Nice explanation. Does breed make any difference or is it about training to give the toy to the human the only real issue. I have heard owners of large working breed say that they had to win every game of tug so the dog did not "take over".

  • WandaJan 19, 2011

    Great blog Annette. It's one of the best things I've learned as a dog training tool that transfers into absolutely blissful fun!

  • Annette YoungJan 20, 2011

    @ info: a lot of people ask that question, and I think it is a great one! I don't think it is as much about breed, as it is about the individual dog. What I think makes sense when teaching rules is that we need to take into account the individual dog and his play-style, and adjust what we teach depending on how the dog plays. I will get back to that later – but basically if the dog is really keen on tugging and has a great grip – it will be more important to teach a good verbal release of the toy and get control of the "give". So, if the dog has a great and strong grip & tug: ask the dog to release the toy to you more often. Play in shorter spurts.
    If, on the other hand, the dog is not tugging as keenly and not (yet) holding the toy very firmly – you don;t need to work on the release: you need to work on a stronger grip! Is that making sense… to see the "win" or releasing of toy in that light, rather than as a breed specific question?
    More on this topic later….

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