Is It Bad to Play Tug of War With My Puppy?

Tug-of-war engages your pup's prey drive.
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Many young pups enjoy playing a good game of tug-of-war, but it's not appropriate for all pooches. When teaching your pup to play this exciting game, you need to keep control of the toy and the situation, never allowing Rover to dominate either you or the toy. If your little pup shows overt signs of aggression while playing tug-of-war, another activity may be a better choice to engage his attention.


There are certain advantages to playing tug-of-war with your pooch. It provides you with a way to exercise your pup and reinforce the teaching of basic commands like "sit," "take it" and "drop it" while he's excited, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You can use the game to redirect destructive chewing behaviors by teething puppies into an acceptable activity as well. In addition, tug-of-war gives your rambunctious little pooch a way to bond with you, build up his confidence and roughhouse, all while reinforcing your position as a leader -- if the game is played correctly, according to the Whole Dog Journal.


In some cases, playing tug-of-war with your puppy can accidentally reinforce aggressive behaviors, especially if he's predisposed to having a high prey drive or tends to be dominant, according to "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others." Dog trainer Cesar Millan recommends against playing tug-of-war with a puppy, especially if your pup is a large, powerful breed, according to "How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond." According to Milllan, tug-of-war can encourage inappropriate obsessive behaviors, making him a hard-to-control adult. Dr. John Stump of Purdue University also warns that puppies who play tug-of-war may end up learning that it's OK to bite objects around the home or even people, reports the New York Times.

Proper Way to Play

Use a toy that is long enough to avoid an accidental bite and thin enough for your little pup's mouth to fit around. While he's sitting calmly, hold one end of the toy and offer Rover the other, wiggling it in front of his face. Once your pup bites down on the other end of the toy, gently pull back on it a bit, wiggling it from side to side. Every 10 to 20 seconds, order Rover to "drop it" and offer him a treat. If he drops the toy, reward him with the treat and resume play after a few seconds. Always keep control of the toy and stop the game immediately if he won't listen to you or if he accidentally bites you.


Watch your pup for signs of aggression during a game of tug-of-war, including snarling, raised fur or a stiff body and tail, the ASPCA recommends. If you see such signs, simply stop the game, drop the toy and walk away to give Rover a "time out" of a few minutes. Engage a pup who continues to show signs of aggression with something other than tug-of-war, like a game of fetch or simply a brisk walk. While aggressive behavior isn't such as issue with a puppy, when Rover grows up, this could cause serious issues, especially if he attempts to bite you or someone else as a powerful adult.