Your dog loves playing tug-of-war with you, holding onto their favourite toy with all their might while you tug on the other end. If your dog starts to growl while they play, or just gets too into the game, you might wonder if this seemingly harmless activity could increase their chance of developing aggression.
The truth is, playing tug of war does not lead to aggression in most cases. Quite the opposite. This high-impact activity is a great way to tire out your dog even in small, indoor spaces, and it can provide the stimulation and entertainment they need to stay happy and well-rounded.
How Tug-Of-War Becomes A Full-Body Exercise
When your dog plays tug-of-war with you, it’s an intense workout for their jaw, neck, and shoulders. That’s why it only takes a few minutes of play to tire your dog out, with the exception of some high-energy breeds. Mix it up with other activities, and it can be a great part of your dog’s daily exercise routine.
Just make sure to keep your dog’s paws on the ground while they play. Your dog could sustain jaw or tooth injuries if they support their body weight with their mouth. Soft plush, rope, or leather toys work best and should not create wear and tear on your dog’s teeth.
Making A Good Game Even Better
Did you know that a game of tug can teach your pup many valuable skills?
Teach your pup the cue “take it” when they reach for the toy. Down the line, you can use this cue to teach them to hold signs, pull a string to turn on a light, or put their toys in their toy box.
Teach your pup the cue “drop it” when they lose their grip. You can also prompt them to let go of the toy by holding a treat in front of their nose or by simply letting the toy go slack, so it becomes “dead” and boring. You can use the “drop it” cue anytime they get ahold of something they shouldn’t.
If your dog really, really loves tug, you can sometimes use a quick game as a reward when training other skills instead of always offering a treat for a job well done. Some dogs find a game of tug even more motivating than a bite of food.
Some dogs, especially puppies and high-energy breeds, can get overstimulated during a game of tug of war. They may nip at your hands or start to grab your clothes. Stop the game when your dog acts inappropriately. Teach self-control by taking breaks and working on the “take it” and “drop it” cues.
Playing tug brings out your dog’s predatory instincts. They may growl, grunt, and shake their head as though they’re killing a prey animal. These behaviours are all normal and not indicative of aggression.