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Healthy Dogs

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Teaching Your Dog to Play Tug-of-War

ASPCA logoPlaying tug with your dog can provide a wonderful outlet for her natural canine urges to grab and pull on things with her mouth. You can also use this game to exercise your dog and teach her important lessons, such as how to listen to you when she’s excited.

First Things First: Get a Good Tug Toy

Many dogs will play tug with any type of toy, but most people prefer something soft and comfortable to hold. Try a tug toy made of fleece or soft rope that’s one to three feet long. Toys made of bungee material make great tugs, too. They’re easy on the hands and put less stress on you and your dog. Some people like using tug toys with handles, but beware: dogs also like those handles and might try to grab them!

Basic Tug Rules

Once you find a tug toy that suits you and your dog, it’s important to make a few rules:

  1. Your dog can’t grab the tug toy before you give her permission to do so. She must sit or lie down and then wait for you to invite her to play. You can invite your dog to grab the toy by using a special word or phrase, like “Take it!” or “Get it!” to initiate a game of tug.
  2. Your dog must let go of the toy whenever you ask her to do so. Teach your dog that when you say “Drop it” or “Give,” she should release the toy. We’ll explain how below.
  3. Your dog can’t put her mouth on human skin or clothing while playing tug—even if she does so accidentally. “Missing” and grabbing anything except the tug toy should immediately result in the end of the game.

How to Play

Now you’re ready to start teaching your dog how to play tug.

Step One: Get Your Dog to Grab the Tug

  1. Grasp the toy with one hand at each end. Ask your dog to sit.
  2. When she does, say “Get it!” and wave the toy in front of her face or drag it along the ground in front of her. Try to get your dog to grab the middle part of the toy so that she avoids your hands. When she grasps the toy, verbally encourage her to play. While you and your dog are hanging on to the toy, move it back and forth, and up and down. Allow the tug session to continue for 10 to 20 seconds.
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