Dog Tug of War – setting the basic rules

Dog Tug of War – setting the basic rules

Jerry Shep - German Shepherd and dog play expert

Playing tug of war with dogs

Many of you humans wonder if tug of war is a safe game to play with us dogs. Will it hurt our mouth or break our teeth? Will it make us bad angry dogs? Well, it’s true that, if the game is out of control, we can be hurt and that’s not good. But played safely with the right rules it’s a good thing for us dogs and you humans can enjoy a game too. It’s good exercise for our teeth and muscles.

We love being tug of war dogsDog Tug of War - setting the basic rules

Most of us dogs love to play tug of war it takes us back to the days when we used to be pack hunters. Humans who think it’s a bad idea to play tug of war with us must know most of us love it and if you teach us the proper rules (just as we were taught the rules in our pack hunting days) Dog tug of war keeps our brain active and gives us some great fun exercise.

In our far-gone hunting days, tugging and pulling with our brothers and sisters and others in the pack, was also a way of enjoying play together and getting to know each other better. Now we can play a game with our humans that brings us closer together – as long as we dogs and you humans know the rules!

When not to play tug of war with a dog

  • Sometimes you should never play tug of war with a dog because it is a danger to us. Nearly all dogs love a game of “pull” but don’t play if:-

  • the dog has bad gums, bad teeth or loose teeth. Always be careful not to pull too hard on any dog’s teeth as it can injure us but if we have a teeth and gum problem, just give the game a miss.

  • The dog is getting older and has some pretty common doggy problems like arthritis or sore hips and joints. It’s not always just older dogs that have these problems but any dog that is not fully fit or has recovered from a disc or joint problem is best to leave this game out. 

  • the dog is already a very bossy dog which is sometimes angry or aggressive towards humans. A dog that likes to be the boss and is angry and aggressive, sees tug of war as a chance to show-off even more his/her dominance with humans. These dogs should not play tug-of-war with humans and they might even bite to show who is the real boss. A good tug of war can make them even more aggressive.

It’s pretty bad if you have not trained your dog well enough to be friendly and playful and like most people but if you do have a dog like this, talk to the vet about the behaviour or ask a dog training expert how to handle this. Just don’t play tug of war!

Dog Tug of War - setting the basic rules -   Tug of war with puppy

Just don’t play tug of war with a puppy. When a dog is very young or a puppy and they are still forming their adult teeth, its not a good idea to play dog tug. While our teeth and jaws are still growing, tugging too much can cause jaw or teeth problems later on.

What are the basic rules of safe dog tug of war?

  • While we love the game, we don’t ever start it. You humans are the ones who always start. You bring us the toy to start the game and you take the toy away when we finish the game. We soon learn its a special ‘treat’ toy that is used for tug of war only.
  • Always tug from side to side, not up and down. Up and down can injury to our necks
  • Don’t let your young human pups play tug with us, they just don’t understand us enough
    The human is always in control.

How to play dog tug of war    

Little Malt with her favorite tug toy Little Malt with her favorite no stuffing dog toy for tug game – No Stuffing rope toy at Amazon

  • Ask us to “let go” or “stop” (pulling).  The human keeps a strong hold on the toy and gently takes a firm hold on our collar……. just wait patiently and we’ll get fed up waiting and open our mouth and let go. As soon as we let go, ask us to grab the toy again. I’m real smart and after my human did this a couple of times, I got the hang of the game. I let go and then we start the game again … simple! ….. But only after I get permission to start again, He just stops playing altogether if I grab without permission.
  • Even a not so smart dog gets the idea after you do this a few times. I know if my collar is touched, the game finishes but then starts over. Every so often he will also ask me to sit (easy, I learned this as a tiny puppy). I do this just to please him. It makes my human feel good that he is in control and he rewards me by playing all over again. I’ve got him well-trained.
  •  If this doesn’t work for you (but it should) then if you give a dog a treat every time you ask him to “let go” or “Stop” and he does, he’ll soon learn that letting go is a good thing!

When to stop playing dog tug

  • If we touch you at all anywhere with our teeth, even by accident, you shout “stop” and the game stops at once. Let us know that you are unhappy and don’t start again for at least half a minute.  Don’t start tug of war again until we take the toy and let go a few times, then start. We’ll soon learn that we must keep our teeth out of the game. By the way, make sure you are using a tug toy that is long enough so it doesn’t happen too often by complete accident.
  • If we dogs try to grab the toy and start the game before you humans are ready, stop the game altogether and get us to sit; give it a short break before coming back to let you humans start.
  • If we are just too excited and try to start the game before you humans are ready 3 times in a row, just put the toy away and try another time and we’ll learn from our big disappointment!

Should you allow a dog to win at dog tug of war Dog Tug of War - setting the basic rules -

I think you should let us dogs win a game now and then but some of you human ‘dog experts’ seem to think that we dogs should not be allowed to win. Me? I think letting me win just sometimes makes me trust you more and that brings us closer together. 

Keep the rules of dog tug the same

Last point is that there is no point in you trying to teach us some rules for tug of war if your human buddy comes along and decides to play by another set of rules – that’s just confusing so if a friend or someone else in our pack wants to play, then make sure they know the rules we’ve agreed on.

Interactive tough non-toxic squeeky toyPet squeak tug toy set
Tug of war toys natural ropeNatural Rope tug of war from Amazon



“What do dogs do on their day off? Can’t lie around – that’s their job.” –

George Carlin (comedian)




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