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How To Teach Your Dog To Play Tug Of War Safely: A 7-Step Guide

Experts all agree that playing tug is beneficial for your dog. It boosts the all-important bond you share. It acts as the ultimate reward during training. And, best of all, it’s fun!

But lots of our first-time customers find themselves nervous about playing tug of war with their dog, worried about ‘doing it wrong’.

At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, we believe every dog, of any breed and any age, can safely enjoy playing tug - and that any owner can learn how to harness it as a training tool. 

So here’s our 7-step guide to teaching your dog to play tug of war correctly:

Step 1. Think like prey

Start with playing with your dog and your Tug-E-Nuff toy in an environment with little or no distraction. Wiggle the tug toy on the floor using a variation of speed that mimics prey; slow, fast, slow.

Step 2. Praise and encourage

Be sure to teach tug positively (find out why positive reinforcement is so important here). When your dog grabs the bite area, make sure to use lots of praise so they know they are doing the right thing. With our sheepskin products, which are particularly fluffy and irresistible, encourage your dog to bite the entire area.

Some newbie tuggers may hold onto the wispier bits of sheepskin which may lead to the sheep wool becoming detached. If your dog does have a tendency to do this, ask them to leave and then offer the bite area to them again. Offer praise when they grip it more fully.

Step 3. Get the tension right

Once your dog has hold of the bite area, only use slight tension on the toy. Try to avoid tugging firmly until they are more confident. The tension should be enough that it falls away from them if they let go and they aren’t able to ‘re-grip’ on the toy.

tough tug toy for dogs

This is important for dogs that like to re-grip and work their way up to the handle. If you have a particularly determined handle-grabber, try our Sheepskin Bungee Ring. You can learn how to stop your dog biting the handle of your tuggy here. 

Step 4. Match your dog’s effort and enthusiasm. 

When in a litter of puppies, it is common for dogs to play with a littermate that is a similar size and strength to them. It’s no fun losing all the time and, likewise, neither is being able to win without a challenge. To build confidence, let your dog ‘win’ the game of tug every now and again, especially at the start.

Step 5. Up the resistance

As your dog gets the hang of tugging, you can pull back on the tug toy more. Our bungee options are great for this. The stretch from the real bungee shock cord is popular because it reduces any jarring and protects your dog's neck, spine, and body during play.

rabbit fur tuggy with tough rubber ball

Step 6. Use the correct motion

Use a back and forth or side to side motion, rather than up and down. This will mean you can tug confidently without worrying about hurting the dogs neck (or your own shoulder).

Again, if this is a concern then choose a tug toy with a bungee handle. Some dogs enjoy physical contact whilst playing to get them super excited, but only do this once they are confident. 

Step 7. Teach start and stop cues

Establishing a reliable start and release cue is a good thing to consider to ensure the dog knows when to tug and when to stop.

Learn how to teach your dog a reliable 'leave it' cue here. 


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