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Should Gundogs Play Tug? The Experts Weigh In...

One of the most common questions we get is about whether it’s OK for gundogs to play tug and whether it ruins their soft mouth.  

At Tug-E-Nuff, we’re big believers that every owner should do their own research and do what they feel is right for their dog. 

However, it’s also worth stating that the viewpoint that playing tug is bad for working gundogs - or that it ruins a soft mouth - is now widely considered to be outdated and inaccurate. 

We believe every breed can safely enjoy a game of tug of war - and all the benefits it brings - with the right motivational tug toys and technique (including moving the toy side-to-side rather than up and down). 

[pic credit: @Tyler_maya_tales]

It's also worth mentioning that if your gundog breed is a pet rather than a working dog, then there's absolutely no no need to worry about playing tug. 

But we felt it was important not to just share our own viewpoint on this. So we asked three top dog trainers what their view is on whether you should play tug with spaniels, pointers, retrievers and other gundog breeds. 

Here’s what they had to say: 

Should gundogs play tug? Absolutely! What I love about the Tug-E-Nuff toys is that they can enrich the predation sequence for dogs, by providing them with the part of the sequence that they find most enriching.

‘For some bullies, for example, the tug is super enriching, but if you watch a gundog playing with one, they just melt at the opportunity to parade it around once they've won the game of tug. For me, it's just a way to build up the anticipation for the behaviour that is so intrinsically motivating for them.

‘Their mouths are made for performing different behaviours, and they know it. A beautiful soft mouth can also crunch bones if fed raw. They know the difference there, so why would a toy be any different?’

  • - Louise Feaheny, Doctor Loulittle Dog Training 

  • ‘Unfortunately there is still a big stigma in the gundog world about whether a dog should play tug, or even play with a tennis ball. An old belief is that it will ruin the soft mouths gundogs are known for. In my experience, tugging is a great way to motivate and reward gundogs. You can teach them what is play and what is work.

    ‘For example: a student of mine, Mason - a young Golden Retriever (pictured), has been playing tug his whole life. He loves to play tug and, to him, playing tug is a greater reward than any food reward could ever be! He still has a soft mouth when retrieving game. This year was his first year at the Dutch gundog trials, he was entered in 3 trials and managed to increase his score every time.

    ‘He is a very high drive type of dog and some in the dog world would discourage playing an arousing game of tug with him- but he is the perfect example of why gundogs can and should be playing games of tug-o-war!’

  • - Nicole Kuik, Context Canine

  • ‘Lots of people avoid playing tug with gundogs because they worry about them developing a ‘hard mouth’. However, in my experience as a trainer, they learn to differentiate between playing tug of war and applying pressure to prey, just as they do between retrieving game and crushing up some lamb ribs for dinner! So many important gundog skills can be taught with a tug toy - including a rapid drop!’

  • - Fran Kavanagh, Pawsitive Pursuit (@pawsitivepursuit / @khaleesi_thedobe)


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