Should I play Tug-O-War with my dog? And how to use a Flirt Pole to turn Tug into doggy enrichment.
Tug-o-war is a favorite game for many dogs out there! "Tugging" is a natural instinct from their predatory behaviors deep within them, allowing them to chew and wrestle like they naturally would do with their puppy siblings! But have you heard people say that dogs can become aggressive if you play Tug with them? So it leaves you to wonder if you should ever play Tug with your dog even if it's something they enjoy...
The answer isn't a simple yes or no, as many things in life.
Today I wanted to discuss the Do's and Don'ts of playing tug-o-war with your dog, and how you can use a tool called a FLIRT POLE to tire out your dog, enjoy tug-o-war, and train positive behaviors all at the same time!
AGGRESSION AND TUG: WHAT'S THE TRUTH?
The reality is that HOW you play Tug with your dog makes a huge difference.
Allowing your dog to Tug whenever they want, however they want, and as intensely as they want can result in the (accidental) reinforcement of negative/aggressive behaviors. These behaviors might look like baring of teeth, snapping at other people/dogs, and resource guarding (which some people might call "protecting things" and "not sharing").
With that being said, playing Tug with your dog can be an all around positive experience and can result in the formation of GOOD behaviors!
Creating rules and boundaries during the game of Tug as well as ensuring YOU are starting the game of Tug is what makes all the difference.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that dogs who played Tug did not show more aggression than any other dogs generally, but dogs who started the game of Tug with their owners were more likely to exhibit signs of aggression than those who participated in a Tug game initiated by their owner with rules in place. Dogs who play tug and fetch also showed better interactions with humans than dogs who did not.
WHAT DOES "GOOD" TUG-O-WAR LOOK LIKE?
The HUMAN should be starting the game of Tug-O-War.
Your dog should be given a cue, and the act of TUGGING IS THE REWARD. Cues you could use are "place," "sit," "down," "sit pretty," "spin," etc. Make sure your dog is paying attention to YOU, not the toy or treats (do not use these items to bribe them into compliance). The game of Tug is the REWARD just like you would use a treat.
When you give your dog the toy to tug, use a cue that let's your dog know it is okay to start tugging. You might use "tug" or "get it." It helps if you use an excited voice!
Play tug for 10 seconds, and then give them the cue to "drop-it." Once your dog drops the toy, reward with a small treat.
If your dog does not know "drop-it," this is a great time to teach them this skill! Give your dog the "drop-it" cue and wait 10-15 seconds to see if they drop the toy. DO NOT tug on the toy at this time. You can release the toy all together so there is no tugging. If they drop the toy, even if it's by accident, immediate reward them with a treat, and give praise such as "yes," "good job," or using a clicker if your dog is clicker trained.
If your dog still does not drop it yet, you can repeat "drop-it" after 10-15 seconds and use a high-value treat to trade for the toy by placing it in front of their nose. Make sure to verbally/clicker reward your dog also when they drop the toy for the treat also.
Continue with steps 2-4 for 15 minutes!
PRO-TIP #1: Do not repeat the word "drop-it" over and over again. You need to give your dog time to process what they are supposed to do, so make sure to give them that 10-15 seconds before saying "drop-it" again.
PRO-TIP #2: Give the tug toy as a reward ONLY when the dog is waiting patiently. If your dog is demand barking, snapping at the toy, or any other "annoying" behaviors, giving the tug toy as a reward will only exacerbate those issues. Patience is a virtue when it comes to rewarding the CORRECT behaviors.
A SUPER HELPFUL TOOL: THE FLIRT POLE
I highly recommend using a flirt pole for dogs who enjoy chasing toys, playing fetch, and playing tug-o-war. We just added one to our arsenal of enrichment tools here at our daycare!
A flirt pole is a long pole with a rope attached to the end and a toy attached to the end of the rope. You can always replace the rope and the toy at the end.
If you want to order one, I recommend NOT buying a bungee cord version -- it can be dangerous when it flings back at you or your dog, and it does not allow you to tug with tension. Make sure it is a thick pole so that it does not break! They can run about $20-$80! Some have longer poles than others, and some are extendable. Here is an example of one.
The flirt pole is GREAT for small spaces because you wave it around in circles or figure-8s (much like playing with a cat and a wand toy!). It is perfect for a small yard, a public park with your dog on a long lead, or even inside if you move your furniture out of the way!
Use the flirt pole following the same steps above.
Playing tug-o-war WITH rules helps you bond with your dog, reinforce positive behaviors, and exercises your dog's natural prey-drive! Use tug time for training, not for your dog to rip your shoulder out of it's socket.
The TUGGING is the reward!
Using a flirt pole can be a great addition to your training tools if used properly.
I hope you found this information helpful! Let us know if you would like to try this out yourself or if your dog would like to do this during our structured daycare! You can always tag us on Instagram and Facebook with photos of your dogs playing tug the right way! Our handle is @themindfulmuttboston