Tug-of-War: Does It Make Dogs Aggressive?
Tug-of-war, does it create aggression? Make your dog more likely to bite? If so, then how are we supposed to play with dogs that enjoy rough housing?!
This is a topic of fierce debate!
Below we will go over these common questions when it comes to playing tug with your dog.
Misconception #1: Playing tug makes your dog aggressive
Let's start by stating that tug-of-war does NOT make dogs more aggressive
This would be like arguing that if a child punches a punching bag they will be more aggressive...unlikely.
This very common misconception probably came about because some dogs growl when they are playing rough (including playing tug): Tug = growling, growling = aggression
But this isn't the case...
The 'growling' is simply excitement being expressed vocally whilst your dogs mouth is closed. I would argue that for dogs that enjoy rough play, tug-of-war is the best way to play rough without promoting bad habits
Now I'll admit, I don't recommend 'play fighting' with your dog because it encourages them to put their teeth on us (not a good idea with kids around). The play fighting doesn't make them aggressive, that's not the problem here, the problem is using their teeth for play. If a child reports that your dog bit them, you MUST take it seriously.
Even if your dog is just playing, you only get so many chances with children around before your family doesn't want you to bring your dog to Christmas gatherings anymore...
Tug-of-war is the solution :)
Playing tug allows the dogs to grip a toy hard and wrestle full out, without promoting bad habits of putting teeth on skin. It's actually incredible exercise for these rough players (and us too!).
This brings me into misconception # 2:
"You should never let them win"
You should let them win most of the time
The more you let your dog shake the toy out of your hand and bring it back for more tugging, the less possessive they get over the toy. Think about it... they have no need to get possessive if they think they are going to get the toy back anyways. So let the dogs 'win' as much as you want, provided you can get the toy back once you're finished playing. People often overcomplicate dog training, but really there are only 3 rules for playing tug:
1) Your dog should let go when you ask
2) Your dog should bring the toy back when they 'win'
3) No putting teeth on skin
So if you can take care of the 3 rules above, feel free to play tug as often as you like, provided your dog enjoys it. In our Board & Train programs, we use tug to relieve tension, improve memory and for exercise of course. Starting in 2024, we will also be offering group classes that focus on playing tug-of-war in a fun and healthy way with our pups!
If you have any questions on playing tug, please shoot me an email any time to discuss.