Tug: Dog Training

Tugging on a rope or toy can be a very rewarding game for you and your dog. Some people worry that if you teach your dog tug they will become aggressive, this is just not true. In fact, teaching your dog an interactive game such as tug can make him or her much better behaved. That being said, a good game of tug follows some basic rules. If the dog is not following them, the game is over. Like any other game we play with dogs, tug is a game that can teach your dog a lot. It is also so much fun that it can end up being the dog’s reward for other behaviors we like, such as, coming when called, walking politely on leash, etc.

Rules of the game:

  • There will be absolutely no tooth on human skin contact, even if it was accidental. We want the dog to be aware of his mouth at all times during play.
  • The game starts and ends when the human chooses. The pup should not assume that if there is something in the human’s hand he is allowed to just go for it.
  • The dog is allowed vocalization, but if there is teeth bearing or an intense growl the game is over.
  • Whenever the dog is asked to drop the toy he must comply. If he won’t drop the toy, the human just walks away.


For tug to reach its full fun potential, at the beginning you will need to be quite invested in the game. If you are having fun with it then the dog will be interested, if you are just holding a limp toy then odds are the dog will ignore it.

  1. Choose a toy that is at least a foot long so that you can safely hold on to both ends with the dog’s mouth a few inches away from the hands. If you have a very large dog then you might need more than 12 inches of toy.
  2. a) If the dog already plays with this toy and is comfortable with it in his mouth then skip to 3.
  3. b) Get the dog used to the toy. Toss it in the air, let him sniff it, wiggle it on the floor, etc.
  4. Get a small bag of yummy dog treats.
  5. The first part of the game of tug is “take it”, this is a wonderful trick that will prevent the dog from exhibiting poor manners and yanking toys, food and various objects out of the hand.
“Take It”:

Say, “take it” and offer the toy to the dog while keeping a good hold on it. The second the dog’s mouth goes around it mark it with a click (if the dog is clicker trained) or a “yes”. He should know by now that the marker means a treat will follow. He will instantly drop the toy so you can feed him the treat. Some dogs need to see the treat or smell the treat after you click to be sure they will get something yummy for relinquishing the object. Repeat this several times in a row until you are pretty sure that every time you offer the toy he will gladly take it.

  1. Now say, “take it”, when he does tell him good boy and start playing with the toy by shaking it gently so the dog will tug on it. After a few seconds hold the hands still and say, “drop”. Some dogs will automatically drop when they realize the toy is now static and therefore no fun, while others might need a little treat incentive to want to drop it. When he releases the toy “click”, feed him the treat and then offer the toy again. He will soon be relinquishing the toy on the “drop” cue.

Note: If you find that he is not dropping the toy consistently, try with tastier treats.

  1. At this point you can turn it into a game of tug. Ask the dog to “take it”. Then put some resistance in the toy and say “tug” as the dog pulls back on the toy. Move the hangs from side to side, back and forth, and (very gently) up and down. After playing for a bit, ask the dog to “drop”. When done, you will sometimes reward with a treat. Sometimes they’ll just get the toy back and  play some more.

Teaching the dog to play in a nice orderly fashion will ensure the game is safe and rewarding. You can play with different textured toys and even toys that squeak to make it even more amusing. Eventually, tug can be used as a reward for good behaviors. We love to incorporate tug in our repertoire of rewards as it is fat free and super fun!

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