By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a dog insurance and cat insurance agency.
To tug or not to tug? That question unleashes lots of debate among professional dog trainers and plenty of puzzlement among dog owners, especially ones with energetic canines.
Somehow, one of the favorite canine games on the planet – tug-of-war – has received a bad rap. My advice: don’t quickly dismiss this test-of-wills interactive game based on the mistaken assumption that it will encourage your dog to be aggressive.
On the contrary, with the right ground rules in place, tug-of-war can elevate your status as benevolent leader and magnify your dog’s trust in you. This activity gives rowdy dogs the opportunity to unleash some pent-up energy and hone their natural prey skills in a constructive manner.
Face it, dogs need and deserve to play with a purpose. That’s why I’m an advocate of staging regular tug-of-war games with your dog. Set the both of you up for sweaty success by heeding these basic eight rules:
1. You and only you get the right to initiate tug play. Don’t let your dog “demand” tug time by putting the tug toy in your lap and pawing at you.
2. Pick a suitable tug toy that is durable and offers good grips for your hands and your dog’s jaws.
3. Make sure your dog is a whiz at complying with the “drop it’ cue – you may need to reinforce at first with quality treats.
4. Let your dog “win” the first couple rounds to keep him excited to participate.
5. Be in an upbeat mood, smile and heap on the praise to make this a fun activity. No scowling or growling! Your dog tunes into your energy and your mood.
6. Win the tug game the majority of the time – say 80 to 90 percent in order to firmly establish your dual doggy roles as respected coach and leader of your household pack.
7. End the game before your dog wants to quit and with you holding the tug toy. Come up with a phrase, such as “game over” to signal the conclusion.
8. Congratulate your dog on his tugging prowess. Heap on the praise and dole out a healthy treat or two. Be sure to stash away the tug toy out of paw’s reach – and sight — until the next session.
By following these rules, you can teach your dog the right – and fun – way to play one of the most coveted canine activities as well as bolster the bond between the two of you. Game on!
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