International Tug-Of-War Day: Is It Bad For Dogs To Play Tug-Of-War?

Staffordshire bull terrier black dog pulling a rope, playing tug of war, on wooden decking.

(Picture Credit: CBCK-Christine/Getty Images)

February 19th is International Tug-Of-War Day! It’s a great day to play tug-of-war with your dog. Of course, any day is a good day to play with your dog. However, many people wonder if it’s even a safe game to play with their pooches. Will it hurt their dogs’ teeth? Will it make them more aggressive?

Many people think it’s risky to play tug-of-war with a dog. And it’s true that, if the game goes too far, it can result in injury or an out of control canine. That said, when played intelligently, tug-of-war is actually a great way to practice keeping control over your dog when they’re excited. It’s also good for their teeth and muscles. Dogs get a great workout and lots of stimulation from playing this game.

To play tug-of-war safely, always follow these rules:

  • You should be the one to initiate a game, not your dog.
  • Always be in control. Only play if you can get your dog to release the tug toy and sit at any time. Do this at least once every 30 seconds. Also mix in short training breaks. Ask for a sit, down, stand, down, another sit, then restart the game as a reward.

These rules should apply to anyone playing tug-of-war with your dog. If a friend or family member wants to pick up a game with your pooch, then make sure they know the rules.

Teach Your Pup To Play The Right Way

To teach your dog to let go of the tug toy, stop tugging and freeze for a moment. Say, “Thank you,” and with your other hand, waggle a food treat in front of their nose. When they release the toy to sniff the treat, praise your dog and ask them to sit. When they sit, praise them again and give them the treat, then waggle the toy and tell them, “Take it.”

Soon, you can ask your pup to release the toy without a treat in your hand. But keep rewarding them for letting go of the toy by immediately telling them, “Good dog, take it,” and giving them back the toy.

This exercise teaches the dog that it’s not the end of the world if someone takes away their toy because they’ll probably get it back—or get something of equal or greater value in its place. Once your dog figures this out, they’ll be less likely to develop a guarding problem.

When Your Pup Breaks The Rules

Two Jack Russell Terriers playing tug of war

(Picture Credit: alexei_tm/Getty Images)

If your dog ever puts their teeth on you:

  • Immediately yelp and freeze for a moment.
  • Take the toy and stalk away from the dog for a 30-second time-out.
  • Then go back and ask them to sit, and practice taking and giving back the toy a few times before resuming play.

If your dog tries to take the toy before you tell them to:

  • Give them a 30-second time-out.
  • Then go back, ask them to sit, and offer the toy again.

If your dog makes the same mistake three times in a row:

  • End the game—no exceptions.

Once your dog knows the rules of tug-of-war, it’s a great way to burn off energy and teach them to settle down quickly, even when they’re very excited.

Do you play tug of war with your dog? Are you going to play an extra game for International Tug-Of-War Day? Let us know in the comments below!

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