Can anybody talk to me about tug of war with a puppy?  Our new girl is coming home next Saturday, and I'm so excited!!!  But, in the material my breeder gave me she's really adamant about NOT playing tug of war with your puppy.  With the dogs we had growing up, we played as long as the dog was good, and we didn't do up and down tug to be careful of his/her back.  So, I guess I'm just confused - any words of wisdom?  


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Not sure what your breeder's reason, but I would not play tug with a young puppy for various reasons.   Tug of war is a dominance game.  One or the other has to win.  If the dog has any aggressive tendencies, this can escalate them.   Never play tug with an aggressive dog.  Conversely, if you have a submissive dog, it can make their confidence issuest worse.  However, you can build confidence, sometimes, by letting them win the game.  You have to balance this carefully though.   

There also may be health reasons you wouldn't want to play tug with a baby puppy - hard on their skeletal structure maybe?  Bad for forming teeth?  


If it is something you want to do in the future,  I would teach "give" first.  So that if you ever do eventually play tug of war, the puppy will give you the item the minute that you ask for it.  Play  the "Take It/Give" game.  Its a great game to teach your dog and they love it.  Play it with a soft toy.  Show the toy to the dog and say "Take It".  The minute he puts his mouth on it say good dog and give him a treat.  He will drop the toy to get the treat.  Then say "Take It" again.  Do this several times.  Then instead of giving him a treat right away, say "Give".  When he give you the toy, say good and give him a treat.  Keep going with it from there.  THis is a really valuable game for many reasons.  It establishes trust between you and your dog.  Your dog thinks he can give things up to you and you won't run away with them.  You even give him treats and give the item back.  You know your dog will give you anything you ask for and he won't fight you on it.  Someday, when he has something dangerous in his mouth, all you have to say is give and he will give it to you.  You don't give it back and he will just think silly human forgot to give my toy back.   Play this game a lot with young puppies.  Its great foundation work.   Then, if you think you want to play tug at some point, you have a stopping point that is fair and does not end with a dominance issue.  You end with the toy, he ends with a treat. 


Some ppl play tug with their dogs in training to rev them up for performance games, but they have done all the background work ahead of teaching the tug game.  They also usually put it on command.  After you have a solid 'give' foundation, ask the dog to tug.  When he pulls on the toy, click and treat.   The dog is allowed to play tug, but only when asked.  And the dog must stop when asked.  Use all positive reinforcement.  But stay away from the game if you have any dominance  or aggression issues with your pup. 

Personally, I think tug is a great game and a wonderful way to burn off energy.   Use a long tug rope (don't tug with just any old game), make sure you only bring out the toy for tug games, and use another toy or treat to teach "leave it" as part of the game. 

Agility people use tug as a reward all the time, even with very young dogs. 

By the way, my bossy boy doesn't really like tug (though he did as a pup) and will drop the toy instantly when asked.  My very submissive female won't give up on tug for love or money with people, but WILL give up the toy to Jack.  

I agree with you. I've always played tug with my dogs, even my Corgi. Per your point, not up and down and not too rough. We also started playing fetch at an early age and now she's a champion retriever. Our approach to our Nutmeg was to take advantage of the fact that she's a smart girl, spend time interacting with her and training her from the start, and now, at 9 months, people are amazed at what a good dog she is. (You can see her brilliance on the "Nutmeg Video" posted on this site where she puts her toys in her toy box on command).

Since the breeder is "adamant" about this rule, I would ask the breeder what's the reason. Maybe there's something about a characteristic in the parents that might show up through tug and the breeder is trying to minimize that risk? I know that on a recent visit to our breeder so she could see how Nutmeg is growing up, we had a conversation about how Nutmeg's parents produce really good tempered dogs with a traditional "corgi" appearance where with a couple of other breeding pairs they noticed a bit more contrary behavior in the pups.

Like the others have said, I would ask the breeder why she said "no" to playing tug-o-war. This is one of Noodles favorite things to do. He play growls the entire time with his nub going a mile a minute. If he wins, he comes over and gives you kisses and then he'll pick the toy back up for us to play. He is fine when we end it and sometimes he will end it as well. We've never had any agression worries while playing this game.

Like Susan, I am not a fan of tug of war, for the same reasons and with the exceptions she makes.  This applies to the people-dog game.  I have never played it with any of my dogs, nor allowed anyone else to do so.

Some dogs like to play this game with each other and I have no problem with that, as long as "the vibes" are good.  Dogs can be growly and vocal, one of mine will play like that, and still are just playing, other get angry... so you need to read your dog correctly if they play that way to  judge if it's appropriate or not...

As Beth says, some people use tug of war as part of their Agility or other form of training ( I've seen it used in Shutzhund as well ) but this is outside the scope of your question.  Basically, I agree with your breeder.

The dog listener, Jan Fennell, suggests that we humans create behaviour problems in our dogs when we don't assume clear leadership roles. If we , the humans don't assume leadership with confidence & clarity, we force our dogs to assume leaadership roles that we misinterpret as poor behaviour. She is quite clear as to why she does not allow tugging games.

1. It allows the dog to dictate the game

2. Such games may allow the dog to sense its physical superiority over its owner. If the dog feels physically stronger, it may decide it should be the leader.

Ref: "The Dog Listener" pub Harper Collins 2000

Her point of view did not offend me as "tug of war" is not a game that I ever played with my dogs, so I did not have to omit something familiar from my routine. However, a practice of hers that I did adopt, which was completely counter-intuitive to me, was to ignore my dogs for 5 minutes every-time I re-entered their sphere, eg returning from work. What I found was that my dogs relaxed much more as if I had removed some burden of responsibility from them. Hers is a very kind approach to dogs and a step away from the anthropomorphism that expects them to behave other than as pack members.

Many people who compete in agility use the game both to create drive and as a reward for a job well done.  I've never seen a problem with it.  Watch just about any agility training video and you'll see happy dogs tugging away.

I think dog owners who participate in agility have a better understanding of their dogs' psychology and are less likely to encounter the misbehaviour that less experienced dog owners may encounter when issues of dominance are unresolved. Unwittingly, a lot of dog owners exacerbate misbehaviour by sending out mixed signals to their dog i.e. While the owners are clear in human terms what their expectations of their dog may be, they do not always communicate this in a way that their dog can understand in canine terms. A lot of dogs end up homeless because they get treated like mini humans but when they assert themselves, they are labelled as problematic.

I would add something else here.  When someone buys a puppy from a reputable breeder, one of the advantages of this is to have the breeder as someone to guide you with regards to that breed and that puppy.  If one cannot trust to do so, one should have chosen another breeder.  A good breeder has a lot of knowledge of the  breed in general, of his/her own lines in particular and of situations that have worked or not worked with people the previous pups have gone to.  A good breeder is also always more than happy to explain why they have come to certain conclusions or recommendations, which will in turn foster understanding and trust from the new owner.  Too many cooks can spoil the broth..... especially in that important puppy  phase.

I see the website ate my comment.  I had simply added that generations of my family have played tug with generations of dogs of all sorts with no issues.  I'm not saying issues DON'T occur, but issues can occur with anything.   My father says he was always told never to play tug with retrievers or they get a hard mouth, and we always tugged with our retrievers too and they were all great working hunting dogs with no hard mouths.  They never tried to tug with a bird.  They knew the difference.  The only rule was we never played tug with training dummies.  

I could not have survived Jack's puppyhood without playing tug.  He was very rough-and-tumble and it was one of the few games that would tire him out and keep his mouth off me.  

There are those who say you can't play tug because it's a dominance thing.  There are also those who say if your dog goes in front of you through doorways they'll think they are in charge.  I've never found either to be true.

I am one of those in the "humans go through the door first" camp but I don't think it is mandatory. For me it works as a reminder that she needs to follow my lead when we go out. It seems to set the tone and help her remember not to walk ahead of me. I never played tug with her because I found the dynamics of the game are fine for many dogs but I didn't want to take even a small risk of confusing or upsetting a dog that I adopted who arrived with minimal socialization and a history of abuse. As others have noted, every dog is different. When other dogs go out the main doors ahead of their owners I certainly don't think any less of their pet care skills; it's just a tactic that has worked out for me and my dog.


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