Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If there’s a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.
Q: We’ve just got a new puppy and while he’s got all the rough-around-the-edges things that go along with being a puppy he does one thing that’s driving us crazy: everything becomes a game of tug. If he grabs a pillow off the couch – tug. If he grabs a towel in the bathroom – tug. If he grabs our pants – tug. How can we stop him?
A: First things first: tug is an innate behavior but you can shape and give it rules.
Just what is it tug? In short, you’re seeing a social manifestation of millions of years of their evolution.
As canids evolved and their hunting techniques developed to allow the hunting of larger prey. As a result, tug offered a solution to new issues:
- Bigger prey require a collective effort to take them down
- And, larger prey need to be divided up by the group
At some point one canine grabbed one end of a kill and another canine grabbed the other end and tug was born. What started as a solution to communal hunting and eating became what we see today in dogs as the game of tug.
Teaching your puppy how to tug appropriately is a great foundation skill that addresses:
- Drop-it and leave-it skills
- Self control skills
- Trust and focus
- Practice following rules and boundaries
The Rules of Tug
- Ask your dog for a sit or down
- Engage the game with a cue like “tug” or “take it”.
- Use a toy large enough so that your hands will be clear of the dog’s mouth. I just love the Tennis Tug!
- I like to use only one or two designated tug toys because this reduces confusion and focuses their tug energies on their Super Special Tug Toy.
- When the dog pulls or shakes side-to-side,
- You can relax your resistance or drop the toy completely.
- You can continue the game this way if your back and arm joints are strong enough but – if you’re like me – stick with the straight-on tug.
- When the dog pulls front-to-back or straight-on
- Keep your resistance on the toy and play the game.
- If the dog’s teeth hit your hand or clothing at any point
- Drop the toy, fold your arms, and look or even walk away from the dog.
- If the dog’s paws briefly land on you
- You can choose to do the same look or walk away. If they are using you as a lever with the paws up against your body, drop the toy and look or walk away.
- The dog will probably come back to you with the toy after something like this.
- When they do, ask for a sit and restart the game using the cue you’ve chosen.
- If the dog begins tugging any article of clothing
- Disengage from the dog and give them a time-out from you and the game.
If your dog is a tugger, you will be shocked to see how quickly he/she will learn the rules. Tug is of such high value to most dogs that the game itself becomes a reward for other great behaviors.
Good luck, let me know how it goes, and stay positive!