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Nola's Notes
home : features : nola's notes
December 1, 2021

8/19/2021 4:34:00 PM
Nola's Notes


Tug-of-War  – Good or Bad?
The American Kennel Club recently tackled this quandary in their newsletter. Here’s what their experts say on the subject: Does your dog love playing tug-of-war? Maybe you’ve stopped this type of game after hearing the mistaken belief that it encourages problem behaviors? Speak to any top dog sports competitor or qualified trainer, and they will tell you that well-managed tug games have many benefits, and can confirm they don’t promote aggressive or dominant behaviors.
What are the benefits of playing tug of war with your dog? Promote impulse control, build confidence, and strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners. It’s an activity that taps into natural drives, making it a motivational, reinforcing, and high-value training tool. It is also a great way to burn off excess energy and keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated. By letting your dog “win” during a game of tug, you’re nurturing a solid rapport and teaching them that engaging with you is fun and rewarding. Allowing a dog to win means they can celebrate with their prize, but it also presents them with a wonderful opportunity: to choose to bring the toy back to you on their own!” Dianna L. Santos (KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI) says, “It sounds so simple, but this is a huge shift from most interactions between dogs and handlers. Instead of the handler nagging their dog for the toy or the dog hoarding it away from them, the dog chooses to bring it back to play some more. This is liberating to the dog and can take your relationship to the next level!”
It’s important to never chase after your dog if they run off with the toy or try to hoard or hide it. You are only teaching them not to listen to you, and they could become possessive of the toy. For dogs that struggle with impulse control, tug is a fantastic way to work on this. “Having a dog who will wait to go for the toy, or will drop it when asked, are crucial elements to the game and will transfer into a skill they need in day-to-day life as well.
Another key element with tug is making sure you are not playing too rough or too long, which could lead to injury. Try to keep the spine in a neutral alignment. I see a lot of people that will take the tug, and they are just yanking it up and down, the dog’s feet are coming off the ground, and the neck is all contorted and twisted.” Always be vigilant for the subtle signs of pain, get your dog checked out by a vet if you have any concerns, and, be extra careful and think “neutral spine, neutral spine.” Secondly, it is also recommended that you moderate the pressure based on the type of dog. There should only be light resistance when playing tug with young puppies or with senior dogs, and they should engage with the toy more than you do. Santos also points out that “choosing the right tug toy for your dog is key.” Pick something that has some length to it (should the dog need to re-grip, he will not get your hand by mistake) and made of a material that is easy on their teeth and gums.” Just remember,  that tug of war isn’t good for every dog, as some dogs aren’t motivated by this kind of game.
Here are some tips for appropriate tug games: Santos describes tug as being an art. “Each dog and handler team will need to develop their own approach and technique. Knowing how to present the toy and interact with it, and your dog, during the tug session itself are important mechanical skills to master.” When done correctly, tug sessions should be “kept relatively short (10-15 seconds), have impulse control built-in (dog should have a trained “OUT” or “DROP” behavior), and be something the dog is invited to do with you,” she says. “Strive for two to three tugs in a session (tug-trade-tug-win-tug-trade) and then cap it off by asking the dog to do a “thinking” exercise. Give them a treat and then put the tug toy away,” Santos refers to this as interval training. “We allow the dog to get high up into the clouds with excitement and then bring them back down to earth with some fun thinking stuff. Being able to cap off their excitement is a skill every dog needs!”

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