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 Dog Behavior Library

Dog Tug of War Game

This game has more significance that other games, because it involves simulated aggression. The dog is using it teeth and body and often growling. Although fun for both dog and owner, this game can lead to trouble in some dogs, and must either be discontinued, or played by very strict rules. The cardinal sign of a dog who needs to stop or play by the rules, is a dog who threatens aggression toward members of the household, or who is disobedient. Both of these profiles suggest a dog who is either untrained, or beginning to act in a dominant way.

The test for tug-of-war games is whether or not the dog will "sit" and "give" the toy upon request.  If not, no more tug-of-war games!

Recommended rules for tug of war

1) Person starts the game
Because many canines REALLY love to play this game, they may bring the toy to the persona and indicate a desire to play. If the owner begins to play, the dog can begun by controlling the situation. The dog told the person what to do. This gives a subordinate message that the dog can control the person.

WHAT TO DO: To play by the rules, when the dog brings the toy, instruct the dog to drop the toy and SIT. Require a sit-stay for at least 5 seconds. (If the dog cannot do this, go to basic obedience school.) After 5 seconds (to separate incidents in the dog's mind) pick up the toy and then release the dog. If the dog jumps for the toy prematurely, reinstate the sit-stay to reinforce that you are in charge.

2) Canine teeth to not touch human skin or clothes
During the tug of war game, if the dog accidentally (or intentionally) touches your skin or clothes with teeth, take the toy away and stop the game for at least 30 seconds. Act bored and ignore the dog to indicate this is not part of the game. Withhold both play and attention while the dog settles down. Then restart the game, and stop every time teeth touch skin or clothes. Try to give a verbal reprimand just at the instant of contact to further clue the dog as to why the game stops.

3) Dog must "Give" at least once during the game.
At any point during the game, the person should Instruction, "GIVE" (or other Instruction the dog already knows) to instruct the dog to let go or drop the toy. Once the toy is released, instruct the dog to "SIT." By giving up the toy and sitting on Instruction, the dog is confirming an understanding of who is in charge during this game.

4) The person always "wins" at the end.
If the person tires of the game, and the dog runs off with the prize, the dog has won, and in some cases, this contributes to a dog who mistakenly thinks they rank above humans in at least some categories on some days. This is the beginning of a problem dog who might be disobedient, or aggressive, or anxious.

The dogs that want to play the most, are the dogs who need the rules the most. For some dogs, tug of war it their most favorite thing in the world. If this is the case, use it as a reward after a short training session, where you ask for SIT, then DOWN, then COME and repeat. Any Instruction that is followed communicates that the dog recognizes the person as a leader, and this is the basis for a satisfying and loving relationship.

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