Happy Thanksgiving from Applause Your Paws Dog and Puppy trainers in Miami, Florida.

This post is long overdue! Several months ago a facebook friend in our dog loving and animal welfare community asked us what we thought about playing tug with dogs. Our answer? We LOVE tug-o-war with our dogs! Here’s why:

Dogs use their mouths. With 42 teeth, and strong jaws at that, dogs use their mouths to explore, play, and hunt. Although biting, shaking and ripping flesh doesn’t have an appropriate place in our households, that doesn’t mean that our dog’s DNA forgets that it’s programmed to go through the bite, hold, shake and tear action patterns. If we’re not providing a constructive outlet for our dogs to do what they are meant to do then to a certain extent we’re suppressing a very natural and needed part of their canine existence. It’s my opinion that dogs who aren’t allowed to engage in games of tug-o-war are frustrated. The same holds true for dogs who aren’t allowed to dig, explore, sniff things that we think are yucky (they think it’s great!), and roll in dirt or mud.

With that said, there is a right and a wrong way to play tug with your dog. Playing a constructive game of tug means that your dog will learn to play so that he shows good bite inhibition, meaning that if he catches your hand by accident he will quickly disengage in the game. This is an important skill so that we are safe during tug play with our dogs. A constructive game of tug also includes your dog knowing verbal cues for “take it” and “drop it” so that you can turn on and off the game at any time. It’s important that dogs who are allowed to engage in a game of tug-o-war aren’t allowed to lunge, jump or yank a toy from your hands without permission. When you’re playing tug, you should make sure you are actively communicating with your dog during the game so that he knows when you are enjoying the game and wanting him to play, vs when you no longer want to play.

You can expect a certain amount of growling from your dog during play. This is normal and nothing to be worried about. If you’d like to increase the level of play growling, usually touching your dog with your other hand (the one that isn’t holding the toy) during tug will do the trick. We love a healthy play growl! But if play growling makes you nervous than you need to teach your dog that you will not play if he continues to growl during play. That is completely up to you.

Just about every type of dog loves to play tug, yet we feel it’s extremely important and essential to teach bully breeds how to play a productive and controlled game of tug. Bully breeds (those who were actually bred to bite and hold other animals during sporting events) could go to the dog park and run for hours and hours, yet come home and still have energy. Why? Because biting, holding and TUGGING is the primary way in which this breed of dog fulfills what it was bred to do. You can exhaust a hunting dog by letting it run around, but to exhaust a bully breed you need tugging games.

Finally, a few other tips for playing tug with your dog:

1. Select a toy which allows you to safely grip the toy on two sides without the risk of your hands getting accidentally chewed. We recommend fleecy tug toys from genuine dog gear. 

2. Always push the toy into your dogs mouth when you are ready to tug. Never allow your dog to lunge or jump for the toy. You are solely in charge of initiating the game by putting the toy into your dogs mouth and telling your dog “take it”

3. When you are ready to have your dog “drop” the toy, get a good grip on the toy…hold your ground and hold the toy completely still. You are trying to teach your dog that when the toy stops moving it is now boring and they should move on. When your dog is first learning this skill they will likely try their hardest to continue to get you to keep playing. Stand your ground. They will eventually let go if you continue to hold completely still. If you keep moving they will think you are wanting to continue to play so do not move! As soon as your dog lets go praise them with a big excited “yes!!” and then IMMEDIATELY put the toy back in their mouth and say “take it.” Your dog will quickly learn the rule of the game…. the quicker I let it go, the quicker I can get back to playing.

A productive and healthy game of tug-o-war with your dog is all about control. Have fun playing tug!

Need help with your dog or puppy in Miami Florida? Call us at 786-529-RUFF or visit us online at www.applauseyourpaws.com. We are dog and puppy experts in Miami Florida. Follow us on twitter at @DoggieDeeva.

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