By Amanda Harper
“Drop. Drop it. DROP! LET... GO!”
You’ve been there, right? He thinks you’re playing Tug of War–or worse, he isn’t playing around anymore and has a death grip on your favorite shoe while you’re ten minutes late. Understanding Tug of War and some basic ways to let your dog know that the game is over can help make living with your pooch much easier.
Tug of war is an instinctual game with canines. Young dogs will often practice the game with their littermates or parents. It prepares them to assert their dominance in a pack and to defend their food.
Since your dog isn’t running with a pack, Tug of War is usually just a playful game. But some protective or aggressive dogs have a hard time understanding that they don’t need to “play” Tug of War–their instincts tell them that they have to defend their property!
First, it’s a great idea to teach your dog a “Release” command. This is helpful for many games and situations, from Fetch to That Shoe Is Mine, Give It Back, Rover. This is easily taught by giving your dog his favorite ball or toy, then giving the command while holding a treat up to his nose. When he releases the toy, give him the treat. Keep practicing and over time, “Drop It” or “Release” will eventually have the desired effect.
Practicing Tug of War can help establish acceptable ground rules for when playing is appropriate. Have a designated Tug of War toy. This signals to your dog that you may only play Tug of War with this particular object. Purchase a toy that was designed specifically for Tug of War to ensure that your pet won’t be hurt while playing–and remember not to pull too hard!
Your dog may growl–that’s normal and fine, so long as she’s wagging her tail, signaling that this is playtime. If your dog becomes more aggressive, pulls excessively hard or their teeth come into contact with you at any point, it’s time for a break. To stop playing, use the “Release” command, take the toy and walk away for at least 30 seconds.
Tug of War is instinctually a training game for your dog. It’s important that you let her win sometimes to build her confidence and keep the game fun. Just let go of the toy, offer some praise, then continue to play. If she’s been an excellent sport, let her run off with the toy and chew it. If she hasn’t been such a nice player, you get to “win” by taking the toy and putting it away when you’re both tuckered out. Afterwards, go for a walk to unwind or let her run around in the yard to work off the last of her energy. If she generally plays well with another dog, feel free to let them play the game among themselves. If your dog doesn’t “get” the game, consider consulting an experienced trainer for help in making this game fun again!