Tug games with your dog can be one of the most reward­ing games for dogs, most just love it!  It’s a great way to reward after a job well done, as many work­ing and agili­ty han­dlers do, or to use as a dis­trac­tion in an excit­ing situation.

However, I do have con­cerns on teach­ing it to the very young pup­py who is still learn­ing what is know as bite inhi­bi­tion — the abil­i­ty to con­trol the pres­sure of their bite.    This cru­cial skill must be learned before they are 4 months of age, because it is near­ly impos­si­ble to learn after that time.  The best way is through social­iz­ing with oth­er pups, as in a Puppy Kindergarten.  There they learn that if in play they bite down too hard — the oth­er pup squeals and won’t play any longer.  Humans can pro­vide the exact same feed­back — high pitched “ouch!” when the pup mouths your inap­pro­pri­ate­ly and on a sec­ond occur­rence, you stop play­ing and leave.

Many young pups that engage in tug with rope or cloth toys have a prob­lem dis­tin­guish­ing this joy of the hard grab and bite in the tug game, from doing the same to your shirt or pants.  I only teach tug after I have a total­ly sol­id “out” com­mand with any type of toy and when I’m cer­tain that my pup has enough self con­trol to lis­ten when he’s all revved up.   This is a great way to teach self con­trol — but they need to demon­strate the “out” with toys first, before I intro­duce tug.

This is spe­cial­ly true when there are chil­dren in the house­hold. I want to be absolute­ly sure that the pup­py under­stands the rules, because a pup­py play­ing tug with a child’s pant leg can be a very fright­en­ing thing!  Because of chil­dren’s quick­er move­ments, high­er voic­es and gen­er­al prox­im­i­ty — pups often feel that they are just anoth­er play­mate for them and might engage too enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly for a small child to be com­fort­able with.  Those very sharp teeth can be unin­ten­tion­al­ly dangerous!

Tug is a great game and won­der­ful skill to teach — but be sure to intro­duce it prop­er­ly, so that it does­n’t lead to behav­ioral issues down the road!

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