The Benefits of Tug
Some of the richest moments I have shared with dogs have been moments of tug.
For this reason I was immediately drawn to Bobbie Bhambree’s fantastic online article entitled “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about tug of war,” which I highly recommend (https://positively.com/contributors/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-tugging/)
Bobbie Bhambree, a long time dog/agility trainer and behavior consultant, reveals the benefits of tug as she experienced with her own dog Tricky, and how she was able to reignite Tricky’s tug drive. Her article can be found on Victoria Stillwell’s website http://www.positively.com.
When Tricky was a puppy her tug drive was strong. Tricky lost her tug drive as an older dog, and at the age of five Bhambree was able to bring it back. The return of Tricky’s tug drive it seems, contributed positively not only to Bhambree’s relationship with Tricky but to Tricky’s training, in this case specifically agility training.
According to Bhambree, tug drive unleashes numerous positive qualities in dogs. During a good game of tug, Bhambree asserts, “distractions fall into the background,” dogs are so fully engaged they become “in the zone,” “fully present,” with their “mind and body working in sync…” With full presence and engagement, dogs are more likely to pay attention to and feel connected with their human companion.
Igniting Tug Drive
In order to reignite Tricky’s tug drive, Bhambree used a variety of strategies to make “the toy come alive,” igniting Tricky’s instinct to treat the toy as if it were prey, at the same time building “passion” in Tricky for the toy. As a human participant, Bhambree stresses the importance of staying “fully engaged while playing with your dog,” “getting low to the ground,” and keeping “your eye on your dog” As Bhambree explains, “your dog knows when you are there with him in the moment,” increasing their engagement and drive for the tug toy.
In order to keep Tricky interested, Bhambree varied their tug games. Like many dogs Tricky became especially motivated for toys she could “chase and tug.” For this reason, when playing tug Bhambree would tease Tricky with the toy. She would “drag” it, “smack it against the ground,” “make it dance,” motivate Tricky to chase it and jump for it before allowing her to grab it, increasing Tricky’s engagement, Tricky’s motivation to play and in the process Bhambree’s bond with Tricky.
The numerous benefits of tug (exercise, redirection tool, positive reward, bonding experience) make it a deeply worthwhile and meaningful activity. Here are a few suggestions for effective, safe, and enjoyable tugging:
1. Vary Tug Games
Playing tug of war in a variety of ways, as Bobbie Bhambree illustrates clearly in her article, will make the game more interesting for your dog and you. Using longer chase toys, and making your dog run after and jump for the toy before and between moments of tug for example, will increase their motivation and engagement.
2. Immerse yourself in the game
Your ongoing eye contact, undivided attention and full presence throughout tug games will intensify your dog’s attention on you, maintain your dog’s interest, increase their drive, and in the process enhance their bond with you.
3. Keep Good Boundaries
Have fun but stop play before it becomes too rough. As Victoria Stillwell advises in her article entitled “Dog Games,” (https://positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/dog-games/),
during tug of war it is important to teach your dog to “take it” and “drop it” so that you can retrieve the tug toy when necessary, and of course never chase your dog for a toy. Also, be ready to stop the game if tug moments develop into “rowdy play, over arousal, or mouthing.”
4. . Use Tug of War to Redirect or Grasp your Dog’s Attention
Moments of tug can be used in the same way treats are used, as a positive reinforcement reward. Initiating tug can effectively gain your dog’s attention, prompt them to follow your lead when necessary, and redirect your dog to more positive desirable behavior.
5. Initiate Play Between Dogs with Tug
Occasionally dogs need some coaxing to begin play with one another. Make them chase a tug toy then throw it or start tugging with one dog and then place your end in another dog’s mouth. Do this a couple of times if necessary until the two (or more) dogs begin play with one another.
6. Have Fun!
Without a doubt, an in synch, passionate, energized game of tug is a total blast. Never forget to have some fun!
Photo 1: Jack Photo 2: Bodie Photo 3: Betty Photo 4: Betty Photo 5: Rose
Photo 6: Jackson and Monte