Porky and Buddy Pet Health – Does Tug-of-War Make Dogs Too Aggressive?

Porky and Buddy

Dear Porky and Buddy,
My big happy black lab, Rufus, loves to play tug of war with me.

He has a lot of energy and it’s his favorite game. But the other day my next door neighbor was watching us play out in the back yard and he asked me later whether I was worried that I might be encouraging Rufus to be too aggressive toward me and other people.

That thought has never occurred to me. Sure, Rufus growls and carries on a bit when we play, but otherwise he is a total sweetheart. Is it really an issue?

Dear Jennifer,
Many people think it’s risky to play tug-of-war with a dog.

But tugging and shaking and growling and carrying on the way dogs do with tug toys is totally natural behavior.

The trick is to put it to good, productive and fun use.

When played well, tug-of-war is actually a great way to practice keeping control over Rufus when he’s excited.

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

1.  You should be the one to start a game, not Rufus.

2.   You should always be in control. Only play if you can get Rufus to release the tug and sit at any time. Do this at least once every 30 seconds. Also mix in short training breaks — ask for a sit, stand, down, another sit, then restart the game as a reward.

These rules should apply to anyone else playing tug-of-war with Rufus, too.

If Rufus isn’t good about releasing the tug when you say so, you should really teach him that now.

To do that, stop tugging and freeze for a moment.

Say, “Thank you,” and with your other hand, wiggle a treat in front of his nose.

When he releases the tug to sniff the treat, praise him and ask him to sit. When he sits, praise him again and give him the treat, then wiggle the tug and tell him, “Take it.”

Soon, you can ask Rufus to release the tug whenever you stop pulling it on your end (and saying thank you or leave it or whatever) without having a treat in your hand.

But keep rewarding him for letting go of the tug by immediately telling him, “Good boy, take it,” and giving him back the toy.

This exercise teaches Rufus that it’s not the end of the universe as he knows it if someone takes away his toy because he’ll probably get it back, or get something even better in its place.

And it doesn’t matter what words you decide to use when you want him to release the tug, as long as it’s the same word every time.

Once Rufus knows the rules of tug-of-war, it’s a great way to burn off energy and teach him to settle down, even when he’s very excited.

So go show off in front of your neighbor!

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