To Play . . or Not to Play. . . Will Tug of War Make My Puppy Aggressive?

Australian Terrier Puppy
Australian Terrier Puppy

Tug is defined “to pull hard” by Webster’s online dictionary. People play tug with their dogs by pulling on an item the dog is holding in his or her mouth. To win at tug, you take the item away from your dog.

Many of my clients ask me, “Is it okay to play tug with my puppy?” Good question. I know why you ask.

Tug of war is one of those controversial topics.  Some people believe it’s okay to play tug if the human always wins.  Other state. “playing tug will increase unwanted aggressive behaviors”.  These people tell others to avoid the game of tug with their dogs. I’m not sure why. I suspect these people promote concepts like alpha and dominance. The stronger animal is the boss and the weaker animal submits, right?

If you have visited a few pages on this site, you already know my thoughts on alpha.

I do not coach my clients to compete with their dogs for anything. I do not believe alpha comes into play between people and dogs. Click here to read my controversial article “Forget About Alpha”.

Okay, here are my thoughts on playing tug with puppies and dogs. The simple answer is, ‘it depends”. Tug can be a wonderful teaching game and reward for some dogs. Tug can be a dangerous game with some dogs, without some guidelines to keep it safe and fun.

If your dog exhibits aggressive behaviors, directed at you, then tug is probably not a good game for you and your dog! Young children should not play tug with a puppy who does not know the rules. Play biting kids is a puppy’s favorite pastime. Please click this link about play biting and kids if you have children in the house.

Here are some ideas on teaching puppies and dogs about tug.

You do not want to play tug with your socks, especially when still attached to your feet. To prevent tug games with the wrong items, purchase 1 or 2 tug toys. Once your puppy knows the rules you can play tug with whatever you wish. Tug toys are made for tug and have easy grip handles. Longer rope toys with handles or knots make for good tugging! Keep the tug toys away from your dog, unless you are playing tug. That means the toys should not be in his or her toy box, for them to play with and chew. These toys only come out when you want to play tug!
Here’s one of the best, rope tug toys.

Click the words
Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large
to visit Sit Stay and shop for tug toys.

Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large

It’s normal for puppies and dogs to growl and snarl when playing tug. Look for other body posturing that indicate your puppy is playing, not fighting. If your puppy’s butt is in the air and his or her front legs are on the ground, that’s a play bow. Your puppy wants to play!

When your puppy “accidently” makes teeth on skin contact (and he or she will) the game should end. Tell your puppy something like , “oops, you blew it”, and then walk away. If possible, take the toy away. Wait a minute or so, until your puppy is less excited, and then resume play.

Teach your puppy a signal that ends the game. I use “Game Over, then ask for the Drop.

Drop is useful for many games and situations. If your puppy does not know drop, give or trade, tug is a good game to use for teaching. Click this sentence for instructions on teaching your puppy to drop.

Use common sense about playing with your puppy. Puppies do not know how to play with humans. Avoid games that include rough play with your hands, tumbling or roughing up the puppy. This will send your puppy the wrong signals and increase play biting as well as other inappropriate play behaviors.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

iPhone 3Gs Video ** Submissive Dog Behaviors are Not an Indication of Guilt

WilliamWallaceWinkieCommon submissive dog behaviors include lowering of head, tail, body, or rolling over and exposing the underside.

Many people believe they are teaching their dogs by scolding. They place items the dog destroyed into their outstretched hands, fuss at the dogs, and the dogs cower away.

The people support their misbeliefs by the phrase, “She knows what she did because she looked guilty when I held up the item.”

Say, I don’t know what your dog is thinking, nor do you. But I do know this.

Submissive behaviors are not an admission of guilt.  These behaviors are your dog’s way of saying, “Please discontinue your attack, I mean you no harm”.

If you do not believe me, try this. Show your dog an item, any item with no previous relevance to the dog, push it towards your dog and fuss. He or she will react with the same submissive behaviors you see when you are fussing about a naughty event. If the dog knows right and wrong, why did he or she exhibit submissive behaviors when you held an unfamiliar item and fussed?

Teaching by scolding is not very efficient.

It’s like allowing your 3 year old child to run into the street so you can spank him or her. Everyone can agree. That would be ridiculous. Parents of a 3 year old child focus on preventing their 3 year old child from running into the street. They know that one day, the child will be old enough to cross the street without an adult. But now, the kid is too young and “untrained” to be near the street unattended. One day, the parents will teach the child the skills needed to cross the busy street. Until then, the child is closely supervised.

Happy Training!

The dog in the picture is William Wallace Winkie. CLICK HERE to watch a video of Winkie playing outside!

You can adopt this guy from Collierville Animal Services in Collierville TN.

Reactive Dog Seminars

How’s Bentley Memphis TN

How to Teach your Dog to Drop or Give

Australia Terrier Bentley
Australian Terrier Bentley


The dog releases an item from his or her mouth.


Final step in “Fetch”, or anytime you want the dog to release an item from his or her mouth. When teaching fetch, teach give or drop first, and the other steps like carrying the ball and finding the ball will naturally fall into place.

Before you begin training your dog, you’ll need to learn a bit about communication and motivation. Please visit the Dog Training Start Here Category. There you will learn about markers and rewards, two excellent topics for communicating and motivating! A prerequisite for “stay” is “Attention on Cue”. It doesn’t hurt if your dog already knows “Sit” too!

Considerations / Prerequisites:

Where do you want to dog to place the item? –  on the floor, on the table, in your lap, in your hand, in a basket, in another’s hand, in another room?  Do you want to dog to sit or lie down before the drop?

Some dogs quit “holding” items after 2 or 3 trials. You may need to teach “Hold”, “Sit”, “Place”, Down”, “Leave-It”, or, try again later.

The balance between the value of the item and the value of the treat is important.  If your dog is not dropping the item before you open your fist by trial 5, reconsider your item and treat choices. Begin practicing with a tennis ball or other fetch toy and use high value treats. When your dog “catches on”, use other items that do not belong to the dog and lesser value treats!

Your task is to mark (or click) the instant the dog releases the item. When following the instructions, be ready to click regardless of where in the sequence the dog releases the item. Many dogs will release before you finish the sequence of steps.

These instructions are a sort of guide. You can adapt the instructions to fit you and your dog. You may not need all the steps. The goal of this post is to teach a concept. The general concept is:

  1. Get the Behavior to Occur
  2. Mark the Instant it Occurs
  3. Deliver some sort of reward

Visual Cue: Handler holds his or her right fist directly in front of right shoulder.

Audible Cue: Handler speaks, “Drop” or “Give”.

Teach Drop

Trial 1:

  • Say “Drop”, pause 1 second.
  • Present fist with treat (visual cue), pause 1 second.
  • Push your fist forward (palm down) until your fist is directly in front of the dog’s nose, pause 1 second.
  • Rotate your fist until it is palm up, pause 1 second.
  • Open fist to reveal treat. Mark the instant the dog releases the item. Give treat.
  • Pick up item and give it back to the dog.

Trial 2:

  • Say “Drop”, pause 2 seconds.
  • Present fist with treat (visual cue), pause 2 seconds.
  • Push your fist forward (palm down) until your fist is directly in front of the dog’s nose, pause 2 seconds.
  • Rotate your fist until it is palm up, pause 2 seconds.
  • Open fist to reveal treat. Mark the instant the dog releases the item. Give treat.
  • Pick up item and give it back to the dog.

Trial 3:

  • Say “Drop”, pause 3 seconds.
  • Present fist with treat (visual cue), pause 3 seconds.
  • Push your fist forward (palm down) until your fist is directly in front of the dog’s nose, pause 3 seconds.
  • Rotate your fist until it is palm up, pause 3 seconds.
  • Open fist to reveal treat. Mark the instant the dog releases the item. Give treat.
  • Pick up item and give it back to the dog.

Trial 4 -xx:

Follow the same sequence, but omit the treat in your fist on trials 4 and above.  Add 1 second to the sequence of pauses.  Most dogs learn this very quickly, and will drop when you say “drop” within 2-3 trials. That’s okay if your dog doesn’t, just add 1 second every new trial. For example, if you make it to Trial 7, you will have 7 second pauses in the trial.

Once your dog learns to Drop or Give on command, practice with items and toys of all shapes and sizes. You can discontinue the marker and food treat reward. The reward is you throwing the ball again!
Happy Training
Alan J Turner – How’s Bentley Memphis
Private Dog Trainer, Group Dog Obedience in Collierville and Downtown Memphis