Dear Doctor: Tug of war quandary
Q. My puppy loves playing tug of war with a rope toy, but I’ve heard it can make dogs aggressive. Should I not give into her urge?
Atkinson, New Hampshire
Dear Mr. Athey,
A. It’s not surprising that your dog enjoys a good round of tug. Tugging is a natural behavior for dogs that you need to acknowledge and allow for. Puppies, in particular, may enjoy it for teething. There can be other benefits as well.
A meek, overly submissive dog can build confidence with a game of tug of war that you let her win. You can also teach a dog to hand over what’s in her mouth by playing tug games.
When she presents a toy to initiate a game, you can say, “What’ve you got?” The pup will proudly show you her booty and you can take it with a “Give it” cue, then return it to her mouth to start a game of tug. That teaches the dog that you’re the leader because it switches the commencement of the game from her to you once she relinquishes the object. She’s no longer faking you out; she’s sharing her toy with you because you’ve shown you’re “genuinely” curious. She’ll then generalize the lesson. If she takes something in her mouth that you don’t want her to, she will have already learned your cue that she should release it, and it will be easier for her to follow through.
Of course, if your dog ever becomes too aggressive or overwrought in a tug game, stop. It’s your responsibility to sense a reasonable limit — and then stick to it.