Will tug of war make my dog dominant?

tug of war dogI regularly hear that a dog should not be allowed to play tug of war. If he did he would become dominant and aggressive. A variation on this urban legend is that only stronger breeds such as Staffords, Rottweilers and Bull Terriers should not play a tug game. A story that is often told is that a dog should never start the game and never win the toy. By winning as an owner you would emphasize your position as a pack leader or the higher rank.

Nonsense
Today it is known that this is all nonsense. Dogs do not become aggressive or dominant by playing tug, it creates a better bond between dog and owner. You can use a tug of war game as a reward. That way you have an alternative to rewarding with food plus your dog makes contact with you in this interactive game. The tug toy becomes something rewarding you can use for all kinds of exercises. Whether a dog wins or loses the game does not say anything about a higher of lower ranking or dominance. Playing together is fun. So let your dog also ‘win the tug game. It’s not about the winning it’s about the fun you have together.

Growling
But what if your dog growls when playing tug of war? When playing this is almost always playfull growling, and has nothing to do with aggression. What you hear is a dog who enjoys the game and the growling is part of his play style. The body language is also different from a dog that growls aggressively.

Game rules
A game also has rules. Establish which rules are important in your household. The most common rules are:

  • Teach the dog the command ‘out’ or ‘drop it’. Swap the toy for another toy or a tasty treat. Never just pull it out of its mouth.

  • Don’t play too long. This can overstimulate and cause unwanted behaviour.

  • Keep the toy low so that your dog does not jump up. Move it away from your dog and not in his face. If it moves away from him, it is much more interesting.

  • Give the toy more value by storing it after playing. When the toy appears again you get more enthusiasm.

  • If your dog invites you to play, feel free to play if you feel like it. If you don’t have the time or desire, just tell him and play another time.

What kind of toy?
The toy you use depends on your dog’s preference. A fleece rope is very nice to play with because it yields when pulled and is soft in the mouth. But also think of a ball on a rope or a simple old teddybear on a rope.

In this online course you learn how to make five fun DIY toys for your dog.

Tom Rosens