Tug Games

If your dog enjoys grabbing stuff and tugging on it, you've got a great energy burner at your fingertips (literally!). Here's the rules and how to train your dog to play tug politely.


The rules

  1. Your dog can't grab the toy until he is invited with a cue. Use something like “get it!”
  2. Your dog must let go when you ask him to (“out please”).
  3. Your dog (after training) shouldn't put his teeth on skin or clothing.
  4. This one is a rule for you: feel free to use tug as a special reward for practising obedience behaviours, like sit, down, and stay. Before and during the game, ask your dog to sit (or lie down, or whatever trick they know). After the dog performs on cue, you can start the tug game as a reward. Dogs who enjoy tug find it to be a great paycheque for practising stuff like this, and in dog training (as in life) practice makes perfect. You will also make the start of a new tug game (i.e. "get it!") dependent on your dog dropping ("out please"). See more below.


If your dog injures you accidentally when you play this game, do not play tug. Also, please do not play tug in front of children young enough to get hurt by the dog being simply playful. Kids, unlike dogs, are excellent imitators and we don't want anyone getting hurt by playing like the grown-ups do.



If, at any point, your dog puts his teeth on your skin or clothes (even gently), say "ouch", drop the tug toy and walk away for ten minutes.


Teaching your dog to play tug

Step one

Preparations: buy a special tug toy that's just for tug games, and hide it behind your back. Put a bowl of delicious food nearby but also out of sight.

Say "Get it!" and offer your dog the tug toy. When he takes it, play a gentle game of tug. We'll get more rambunctious later. After 30 seconds or so, say "out please" and hold the tug toy firmly between your knees or against your body. Try not to let it move at all. As your dog re-positions his mouth on the tug toy, choke up until he has no room. Eventually, he'll let go. Hide the tug toy behind your back as you praise and congratulate your dog, and give your dog a treat from the bowl. Then repeat. Play this way until your dog will immediately release when you say "out please" even if it's the first game of the day. This may take a few sessions.

Step two

As with step one, have the tug toy hidden behind your back. Do not say "get it" - not yet. Ask your dog to sit, and then slowly bring it around your body towards your dog, watching him carefully. If he makes a move for it and stands up out of his sit, say "oopsadaisy" and hide the tug toy behind your back again, and then ask him to sit again.

Repeat this step until he stays sitting while the tug toy comes out between you two. Then say "Get it!" and prompt him to grab. This is very hard work for dogs, so congratulate him on his success with a nice long game. Then (you guessed it) - ask him to "out please". Repeat.

If he zooms in for the tug toy before the cue and manages to get it, drop it and walk away for a minute. A dropped tug toy is boring, so this is a potent consequence.

Keep on this step for a few more sessions, until your dog is doing things perfectly well (no grabbing until you say "get it", and dropping immediately upon hearing "out please", at least ten times in a row).

Step three

Add fun tricks or obedience behaviours now. After you ask for an "out please", ask for a sit, shake a paw, 30 second down-stay, whatever it is that your dog knows. Once they've done it, pull out the toy and say "get it". The tug game is the reinforcement here, so treats are no longer needed. Bring your tug toy out on hikes if you need speedy recalls from your dog. Many dogs will come charging if they think a 30 second game of tug is waiting for them.