What makes a good tug toy?
Let’s start with the very obvious thing to look for: the toy needs to allow both you and the dog to hold on to it at the same time. Thus, a regular ball is not a good choice – but a ball-on-a-rope would meet that criteria. Further, a good tug toy is made of a material that the dog is really keen to grab! For a puppy, new tugger or an older dog who is just learning – the type of material the toy is made of can really make a difference. Faux-fur or sheepskin will often do the trick and trigger instant interest.
The third thing to consider when looking for a great toy is that some elastic give between you and the dog will remove sudden jolts and hard whiplash. Look for bungee cord, something a bit elastic, flexible, stretchy… Some dogs (and people!) are put off by the game if they get a rough jolt from tugging because there is no “give” anywhere. A good tug toy has some kind of elastic cord built into the toy. Or, sometimes you can modify a favorite toy by attaching a “bungee” to it.
If your dog is not a super keen tugger (yet!), a soft material is likely more attractive. Again: think sheepskin type or soft fleecy braid rather than a really solid and hard material (like a hard braided rope or a toy with a plastic feel). If your dog is a natural tugger and wild about most toys – it probably won’t matter what you choose. DO consider yourself very lucky, though! The reality is that many dogs, especially if you didn’t start this when your dog was a puppy, need to be taught – and really encouraged to play. It is for those dogs, that the material and choice of toy will likely really matter. Experiment – and if your dog does not show interest with one particular kind of toy – don’t give up! Try some other materials – and also: pay attention to what your dog is likely to pick up when on “his own time”. Those materials will give you a good clue as to what your dog likes to have in his mouth. And just as a side note: if that includes shoes or other out-of-bounds items…you may want to consider ways of managing your dog so that you limit his access to those! This is NOT about making your wardrobe into your dog’s toy library: but finding one or more suitable, appropriate toys that you can develop this fantastic game with.
The very first thing after you have identified this special tug toy is to treat it in a special way. This toy is never left out for the dog to play with or chew on his own. It gets taken out for your short play sessions, and then gets put away – out of the dog’s reach. The fun of playing with it should be linked to you right from the start. Play for a short time – and then put the toy away!
Next time, I will talk about things you can do to really encourage your dog to WANT to play, and then we will get into the rules for appropriate play.