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Canine Library: General

To Tug or Not To Tug

Tug-of-wars can be fun, but the owner must maintain control.

The game of tug-of-war is good, doggy fun. However, there are rules to the game.

1. Aggressive dogs should not participate. If you suspect your dog is aggressive, consult an animal behaviorist as soon as possible.

2. The dog should never control the game. You decide when to begin and when to quit. Never let the dog win the game.

3. The person should always be standing upright; never should he or she bend or kneel to match the dog's eye level. This is necessary in maintaining control of the game.

4. Because the game involves teeth. this is not a game for small children to play with any dog, or for unsupervised kids to play with a large or strong dog, or for anyone young or old to engage in with an unknown or untrustworthy dog.

5. Trust is a key word. Do not play this game if your instincts tell you your dog is not trustworthy.

Knotted ropes made for the purpose are best for tugging. Old socks, t-shirts or other discarded clothes are not. There isn't a dog alive that knows cashmere from cotton, or designer from Kmart.

Most dogs prefer a rope toy that's at least two sizes bigger than their owners expect. The knots on a larger toy will protect your hands from an unintentional grab. Keep the tug-of-war toy at ground level or just above, never higher than the dog's chest level. This is not a game to test jaw strength by lifting the dog off the ground.

It is a natural behavior for a dog to grab, pull and shake a toy as it would prey or an adversary in the wild, and the sounds that accompany these antics may be alarming if you've never heard anything more than a whine or a yip from your puppy. The throaty growls (normal, remember) will serve to remind you that it's up to you to maintain tug-of-war as play. You start by encouraging the dog to take the other end. You control it by not being too rough or too strong with a pup and by not letting the dog get carried away. End the game, substitute another toy or a small treat, and walk away with the tug-of-war rope.

If you fear your dog, or your dog does not trust you, stay with tossing a ball or stick. But do yourself a big favor: Work to develop trust. Trust is the glue that bonds a perfect partnership.

Author(s): McLennan, Bardi
Publication: Dog Fancy
Issue Date: February 1993

Canine Library: General