Tug of War: Why Dogs Like to Tug, Benefits and Risks, and How to Play | Pupford
October 23rd, 2023
Filed under Training
There are some things that our dogs do that would seem pretty ridiculous if we tried to do ourselves (like roll around in a questionable smell in the grass, while on a walk). But some things are actually quite fun for us as well, like a game of tug of war (at least grade school me would think so).
But our reasons for playing this game are a little different than our canine friends.
So what’s the deal with dogs and their instinct to tug? We’ll break it down for you today, answering questions like:
- Why do dogs like to tug?
- What are the benefits and risks of your dog tugging?
- How to play tug of war with your dog?
- Should you let your dog win when tugging?
- Does tug of war make your dog more aggressive?
You can use that table of contents to navigate through the article, or start from the beginning to learn about all things tug of war!
TUG OF WAR OVERVIEW, BENEFITS AND COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Before we dive into all things tug, it's important to remember that every dog is different!
Some pups will love to tug, while others may be indifferent. So, try it out and see how your pup responds.
WHY DO DOGS LIKE TO TUG?
While we don’t know for sure why your dog is so into tug of war, with what we know about dog behavior, we can make a pretty good guess. Here are three science-based explanations for why dogs like to tug:
- It’s a way to strengthen bonds - Dogs use collaborative play to establish relationships and build trust. Tug of war can be played between two dogs or a dog and a person, so it’s a great bonding activity.
- It plays into their - Tugging lets dogs practice capturing their prey and keeping it away from other predators trying to steal their prize. It’s a functional game, meaning that although your dog knows they’re playing and having fun, they’re practicing skills.
- Dogs enjoy pulling things apart and chewing - your dog is just playing based on instincts. Tugging is a good way for dogs to redirect biting into a fun game that lets them grasp and pull.
Whether it’s one of these reasons or all three, there’s no denying that for most dogs, tug of war is a fan favorite.
🐶 Snag the popular Fire Hose Tug Toy for your pup, ! 🧑🚒
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TUG OR CAN TUG OF WAR BE BAD FOR DOGS?
With that in mind, you may be wondering if you should let your dog tug as much as they want or not. To do that, you should weigh the benefits and any potential risks. Generally speaking, the benefits outweigh the risks but it's all about doing it correctly.
Let's look at the benefits vs risks. 👇
BENEFITS OF TUG OF WAR
- Exercise - This is a great way to , making it an excellent exercise option for bad weather.
- Relationship building - It’s a great way to bond, either between two dogs or a dog and person. (Related Reading: )
- Engagement of instincts - Any activity that allows dogs to satisfy their instincts is very engaging and can decrease unwanted behaviors at other times.
- Confidence - come out of their shell and even learn to better socialize with other dogs and people.
- Training - If you know your dog loves tug of war, you can use it as a reward during training or even use it for training behaviors like “drop.”
- - We left this one for last because there’s not a ton of scientific evidence to support it, but some tug toys do offer dental benefits.
ARE THERE RISKS TO TUG OF WAR?
Some people are hesitant to play tug of war with their dogs because they fear risks that they’ve heard through the grapevine, including:
- It will make your dog think they are dominant
- It establishes your dog as the “alpha”
- If your dog ever wins, they think they are the leader of the pack and won’t listen to cues
The good news is that dominance, pack, and alpha theories are not well supported by science, according to the . The time and time again, so there’s no need to stress about playing tug of war with your dog, especially if you do it right. ⤵️
HOW TO PLAY TUG OF WAR WITH YOUR DOG
We want to help you set your dog, and yourself, up for success for your next game of tug of war -- here’s how to approach the game:
- Teach a release cue - This is an often overlooked, but important, prerequisite for tug of war. Teaching your dog a cue like “drop it” will help you maintain focus and control throughout the play session, as well as use the game for training. You can learn more about teaching skills like “drop it” in .
- Choose the right toy - You want to be sure you pick a toy that’s designed for tugging. It’s important to choose a tug toy that’s so you can keep your hand away from your dog’s mouth. We designed the with tug of war in mind - it’s made from heavy-duty material (fire hose!) that’s flexible when bitten with strong handles.
- Pick a good spot - You’ll want to play in an area that’s free from distractions and hazards so you have plenty of space to move with your dog as the game progresses.
- Watch for - Know the signs that the game is getting out of hand and needs to end. Growling is normal, and usually isn’t a concern especially if your dog’s tail is still wagging. However, if at any point your dog’s teeth come in contact with you, growling gets intense, or tugging is directed at anything other than the toy, say your release cue and stop the game immediately. Take a break, move on to something new, or give some different cues to refocus your dog before continuing.
Following these steps will ensure a fun -- and safe -- game of tug of war.
SHOULD YOU LET YOUR DOG WIN WHEN TUGGING?
Going back to the concern about risks we discussed before, there really is no evidence that suggests you should let your dog win tug of war, or never let them win for that matter.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be in control over the game. Remember to utilize the drop cue and stop the game if it’s getting . Follow those guidelines and it doesn’t matter who “wins,” as long as everyone’s having fun!
DOES TUG OF WAR MAKE YOUR DOG MORE “AGGRESSIVE?”
No. Claims that tug of war makes dogs more aggressive have been largely debunked by veterinarians and dog behavior specialists.
RECAP OF TUG OF WAR WITH DOGS
Tug of war is a great way to bond with your dog, help them release energy, and just have fun!
And remember, a great game starts with having the right toy to play it with. So if you’re looking to incorporate tug of war into your dog’s routine, get started with the and be sure to let us know how your dog likes it!