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Does Playing Tug Make a Dog Aggressive? Pro Trainer Answer | Pupford

July 28th, 2023

Filed under Training

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You may have heard this little myth that tug of war can cause aggression in dogs. But is there proof to back that up? Should we be playing tug of war with dogs?

In this video, Emily Fitzpatrick VSA-CDT, owner of Misunderstood Mutt, takes the time to break down that myth, and also (spoiler alert) how to play the game with your dog.


No! That is not a fact. Playing tug does not make a dog aggressive.

As the pet parent of a pit bull who experiences reactivity, Emily has actually found that tug has been one of the best tools that have gotten her pup through her fears of other dogs and have helped them bond.

But, is there any situation where tug could result in aggression in dogs? Let’s break down the definition of aggression to find out.

🐶 Don't miss out on this super durable toy for playing tug. Shop the Fire Hose Tug Toy here! 🧑‍🚒


Here are different definitions of aggression around the web.

“Aggressive behavior is behavior directed toward the elimination of competition from an opponent by injuring it, inflicting it pain, or giving it a reliable warning of such impending consequences if it takes no evasive action.”

-Roger Abrantes

According to this definition, if your dog becomes worried that the toy will be taken away from them, they could have “aggressive type behavior” towards the removal of the toy because they are resource guarding. But if you put some rules in play, that doesn’t have to become a problem.

“Behavior which was produced or was intended to produce physical injury or pain in another person.”

-Randy Nelson of the Oxford University Press

In this case ^, we will substitute “person” with dogs.

“Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors, that usually begins with a warning and can culminate in an attack.”

-ASPCA Website

“Clinically, aggression is described as one or more distance increasing behaviors, expressed in an agonistic way as the dog asserted itself at the expense of someone else as a threat of harmful behavior directed toward an individual.”

-Bonnie V Beaver BS, DVM, MS, Dipl, ACVB

If your dog truly enjoys tugging, and they are playing in a safe way, tug won’t cause aggression.

Related Reading: The Canine Ladder of Aggression


There are a number of things that can result in “aggressive” behavior in dogs. Things like,

  1. Medical issues
  2. Stress or anxiety
  3. Changes in your dog’s environment or routine
  4. Higher levels of arousal (which can come into play with your tug game)
  5. Resource guarding

The last two things, resource guarding and higher levels of arousal are the things that you want to be on the lookout for so you can make sure that you put proper rules in place to help decrease the likelihood of any of those behaviors happening.


dog tugging on fire hose tug toy from pupford | Pupford

The rules will look different for every single dog, however, the number one rule should be:

If the game seems like it’s going too far, make it stop.

🐶 Don't miss out on this super durable toy for playing tug. Shop the Fire Hose Tug Toy here! 🧑‍🚒


You’ll need:

  • A tug toy
  • A dog to play with
  • When it comes to your toy, you want to make sure that it is made with sturdier material and has handles. The handles will help you be able to hold on to the toy as needed.

Check out our durable fire hose tug toy here!


Make sure you are using the handles

Put some close-toed shoes, so that when/if they step on your toes it doesn't hurt.

To play:

  1. Start out by asking your dog for a stationary behavior, like “sit” or “down”
  2. Then have your dog wait for an “okay” before starting the game
    1. This keeps you both safe and works on impulse control
  3. If stationary behaviors are hard for your dog, make sure they are heavily reinforced with a really fun game of tug for about one minute after that
  4. Work on a release word so that your dog will give up the toy when you ask

If your dog has a hard time giving up the toy, try these tips.

  1. Lower intensity
  2. Become a statue
  3. And wait for your dog to drop

When your pup drops it, make sure you begin rewarding them immediately!


a non aggressive dog playing tug of war | Pupford

You can start working on other training between tug sessions to take the mental exercise up a notch. This is a great way to reinforce your dog’s favorite tricks without the need for treats.

And to recap, playing tug with a dog does not make them aggressive!

We hope you enjoyed these tips. If you have any other questions about tug, please let us know in the comments.

If you need a new tug toy for your next tug session, grab a Fire Hose Tug Toy today!

🐶 Don't miss out on this super durable toy for playing tug. Shop the Fire Hose Tug Toy here! 🧑‍🚒


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