This is a topic that you may be reading with some skepticism. If you find yourself asking “Do I really want to encourage this behavior?”, “My dog is strong, I might get hurt!”, “Tugging could encourage my dog to play rough with other dogs.” or maybe you read online that dogs can get hurt playing tug with a human. These are all valid concerns and in some cases you may choose not to tug with your dog … it’s a choice and without question you should think it through to an informed decision.
That’s the point of this post, to help bring information. No secrets hidden here, the consensus among Rock Solid Dogs trainers and participants is pro-tugging and we have found that it’s an excellent activity for the vast majority of dogs who train here to play in the sport of agility. “To tug or not to tug” is a conclusion you must come to on your own, be comfortable with, and nobody is going to judge your choice. With recent rule changes at NADAC allowing tugging in the ring at the end of a run, I think it all the more important that we address this topic.
Can a dog get injured or can tugging encourage unwanted behavior in a dog? Yes, in very isolated cases. You should consult with your vet and with your training coach to be sure they agree with the choice to tug. If done safely, however, we have found this to be one of the most rewarding activities you dog will enjoy and one of the best bonding tools you can use for connecting with your pup and getting them appropriately “amped up”. That certainly is the case with ‘Rita … when we tug, I am very deliberate to look her in the eyes while doing so. We’re in close proximity to each other, engaged, and bonding in a way that nothing else can provide.
So how to / when to / and why would this be a good idea for you? Well “reinventing the wheel” is never a productive use of one’s time … instead I’m going to connect you with one of the best resources I have ever read on the topic, authored by Susan Garrett, world renowned agility handler and training adviser.
I will reinforce one more time the value of this activity. One of the most challenging dogs to ever lay paws on the sand in our training barn spent the better part of his first session in a 20 x 20 fenced area because he just wouldn’t “stay with mom”. He ate stones and obsessed over digging holes in particular places. With the use of a tug and within a matter of months, he has become one of the most focused and capable dogs ever to train here. Yeah, I’d say tugging is a pretty effective bonding tool.
If you choose to give it a try and those you trust with your dog’s well-being agree, be sure to download the free guide to “All things Tugging” from the button following this article!