Is it OK to play tug with my dog? I like using a tug toy with her on a walk, but someone said it could make her aggressive. I think that sounds ridiculous, but I would like your opinion.
Danise Price advises…
Some dreadful people who engage in dog fighting as a ‘sport’ do use such games to increase their dogs’ persistence for biting and holding, so that’s possibly why tug gets a bad press. The way most normal people play tug, however, is absolutely fine. Provided your dog isn’t already struggling with aggression issues and doesn’t mouth or bite you in play, there’s no reason to change what you do. Using toys and play is an excellent way of reinforcing a dog. Some dogs aren’t particularly food motivated, especially on a walk when there are much more interesting things going on. For example, if your dog likes playing tug, you could use it as a great reward for a recall. When your dog returns to you, he’s already excited and highly aroused, as he’s been running around. So, rewarding him with high energy play is a well-matched reward – give him a good play with it, and he will want to come back to you all the more because it’s a continuation of the fun.
What I would suggest is that you also teach your dog to calm down quickly – you can do this by gradually slowing down your movement in the game and train a nice ‘out’ cue. The other old wives’ tale is that you should never let a dog win a toy. If you are using a tug game as a reward for recall, you might want to pop your dog on a lead before you let him keep his prize. However, never winning a game will lead to frustration and de-value the game, as would always winning a game – a dead-cert would be a boring game! Keep a balance, so it’s always worth the dog giving it a go.