The game of Tug has an undeserved bad rap in some training circles, while others, most notably the Agility world, have fully embraced it as an excellent activity to create focus and high arousal. Those two extremes aside, it’s a great game just because it’s fun, many dogs adore it, it’s the perfect play activity for human family members who might otherwise want to get in appropriately physical with the dog and it’s a terrific energy-burner.
One of the most commonly-heard myths about playing Tug is that it makes the dog “dominant.” There’s so much misinformation passed around about hierarchy in dogs – this is just another log on the fire. If you are concerned about what Tug might do to your relationship with your dog, just remember that the definition of leader is “the one who controls the good stuff,” and orchestrate your Tug-play accordingly.
I’m solidly in the pro-Tug camp. I strongly recommend setting rules for canine and human players of the game to protect against the possibility of reinforcing unwanted behaviors, but with those in place, you and your dog can Tug to your hearts’ content. The rules are general guidelines for making Tug a positive training/relationship experience. The calmer and better-behaved your dog is, the less necessary it is to follow them strictly. The more rowdy and out of control your dog, the more closely you will want to adhere to them. By the way, don’t be alarmed by your dog’s growls during tug – it’s all part of the game. As long as his other behaviors are appropriate, let him growl his heart out!
For more ideas and advice on the best ways to play with your dog and the benefits to both you and your dog, purchase Pat Miller’s book, Play With Your Dog from Your Dog.