The “Push-Pull” of Tug

“Tug” was originally printed in the first press run of the Ultimate Puppy Toolkit. For “Throw-Back” Thursdays, here are the original retro photos and the still current “How-To” for this most excellent of games. “Tug” is a wonderful way to relieve puppy tension and excess energy. It also has two great benefits for you – it will leave your pup tuckered out and happy and it is a good way to practice “Drop-It” and “Take it, Leave it”. Be sure to get the knack of “Drop-it” and “Take it, Leave it” before you try Tug.

Tug: The Benefits

Tug is a wonderful tension reliever for dogs, to them, when they play this game, they are ripping and tearing at their prey, a natural instinct. Some of us would rather not think about this aspect of a dog’s character, but the reality is, they are dogs and this is normal for them. We can not ignore this most basic need in a dog’s behavior.

  • The desire to Tug will not go away. Instead, if left unaddressed, it is likely that the dog will find another less acceptable outlet for this behavior.
  • Playing Tug will help reduce the chances of your dog grabbing at your clothing and ripping and shredding things that are off limits.
  • You can easily play this game in the house on rainy days.
  • This game gives you an indication of the amount of control that you have over your puppy. You should be able to go from a wild and vigorous game of Tug to complete control, which would be the dog dropping the tug toy and sitting. If you can’t, there are elements of the relationship between you and your dog which need examining.
  • When played properly this game relieves stress in your dog. It’s very therapeutic.

Tug: the Rules

Tug is not a game we recommend a child play with the puppy.

If at any point during the game of tug the puppy does not follow the rules, the game is over. Put the toy away and ignore the puppy. This is crucial.

If you see the puppy start to wane at any point in the sequence, take the time to polish up his skills. For example his sit starts to get sloppy or his drop it gets slower, isolate the problem and work on that stage of the game until it is smooth again.

Jumping up to grab the toy, pulling at your skin or clothing, or clawing at your hands are all grounds to stop the game immediately.

Be sure you have mastered the “drop it” cue.

Here’s How to play Tug

Therapeutic game to play with puppy

Excite the puppy to take the toy in his mouth, some puppies will do this readily, others will take a little more coaxing. If the puppy is not interested, put the toy on the ground and pull it along the floor and wiggle it, talk in an excited voice, saying things like “ya wanna get it!?”. If the puppy is still not interested, read the section “How to Get an Uninterested Puppy Playing With Toys” on


help develop a health behavior in your puppy

Once the puppy has taken the toy in his mouth and has pulled on it for just a second of two, ask him to Drop it. At this stage we are just teaching the Drop so don’t expect that he knows what you are talking about, you need to teach him what the words mean.


As a 9 week old puppy holds a tug toy in his mouth a young woman lowers a piece if food to the pups nose

As you ask for the Drop it, put a tiny piece of food against the puppy’s nose. As he hears the cue, he scents the food and should let go of the tug toy. After he has let go, lure him into a sit as you ask him to sit. Once he is sitting, praise and reward him with the treat.


A young woman kneels while a puppy sits in front of her while receiving a treat

We teach the puppy to sit after we ask for the “drop it” to prevent him from jumping up to grab the tug toy. This is a very important step, do not omit it.
Next you introduce the cue Take it. This happens once the puppy has dropped the toy and done his sit. You start the game again by offering the toy back. The sequence goes like this; Take it – Tug – Drop it – Sit – Take it. Rinse and repeat!
You should proceed this way until you see that the puppy is readily dropping the toy when you ask. Start to fade out the treat to the nose but continue to reward the Sit with a treat for a few days and then more randomly, and then not at all.
Once the puppy is completely reliable with the drop it, you are ready to play a more vigorous and extended game of Tug.

Finding the Balance on Leash

finding the balance on leash when walking a dog

woman scanning the horizon (for leash balance) while her dog sits at her feet

Four thousand three hundred and eighty hours. These are the number of hours you and your dog will spend together on leash if you were to spend approximately one hour a day on leash for twelve years, give or take a little. Of course I’m pulling these numbers out of a hat. Some dogs will hardly ever be on leash and some dogs will not see much free time. Not everyone is going to have a dog for twelve years either. But you get the point. There may be a significant amount of time connected together. So if you are going to be on leash together, why not do the best you can to ensure that these hours are going to be pleasant for both the dog and you.

A healthy approach to the journey begins with the intention of finding a nice balance while walking through life together. This can be challenging for some new puppy people because walking on leash is not necessarily something that will come easily for a new pup.

Lots of pups may offer up a tidy sit, give chase after us or love to play tug. Not as many seem to naturally trot along happily matching our pace and staying tuned in to us while on a leash. This is where the challenge can begin. How do we motivate and teach our puppy to walk ‘with’ us?

Let’s dub this sweet spot on the leash with our dog as ‘the zone’. It’s the place where the dog is ‘with you’ both emotionally and physically. Picture it the same as our moon and planet earth and the gravitational pull between the two. Our job is to give the puppy a reason to want to stay in that zone with us. This is no easy feat considering all of the other places and directions a puppy might want to go.

Some puppies pull, some lag behind, some just sit and not want to walk at all. Some want to eat everything on the ground while some want to chase and pounce on every leaf that rustles. Environmental factors can cause distractions too, the noise in a city, movement of traffic and hustle and bustle, the weather and even the temperature outside.

Beside a game plan for teaching loose leash walking, realistic goals and expectations are important. As are patience and a sense of humor! Rome wasn’t built in a day! The good connection that you build with your puppy will take time too.

There are some tried and tested motivational strategies that can be implemented with a new puppy to teach him you are worth paying attention to. Reinforcing the puppy for checking in and looking your way is potent. Any time your puppy happens a glance your way he should be met with big fan fare, a treat and/or a round of a favorite game. The glance at you by your puppy is often an under reinforced behavior. Try not to miss the opportunity to reward it.

Luring the puppy along with high value treats, reinforcing plenty for him sticking close by and stopping when the pup starts to pull, waiting for him to notice you then rewarding and off you go again are two other puppy friendly methods to practice.  Running away from the puppy enticing him to chase and then playing a game of tug when he catches up is another worthwhile effort on leash.

There is a time to tune in and pay attention and there is a time to mosey along and smell the flowers and all the other interesting smells your puppy will want to investigate. Practice makes perfect. Keep on working with your puppy while he’s on leash with you. With some patience and perseverance along with your training you will find the balance on leash.

puppy training on leash

Reinforcement Ready!

Positive reinforcement training a puppy

Reinforcement when training a puppy

What’s in your treat pouch?

What! No treat pouch??!!

This is an essential tool for the job you have on your plate.

Okay good! You’ve got your treat pouch. Nice work!

Now let’s load it up.

Soft, yummy treats so the puppy doesn’t get distracted with too much crunch. Smelly is always good too.

Have a minimum of 4 different types of treats in there including ‘high value’ for those more challenging moments.

What you have in your treat pouch will depend on what your puppy loves. Some experimenting and getting to know your pup’s preferences should naturally occur.

The treat pouch is not just for when you are out. Have it on whenever and wherever you are with your puppy.

Now you’re reinforcement ready.

Cue the Puppy!

Cue the Puppy! A workable program for you and your puppy.

Cue the Puppy! A workable program for you and your puppy.

Life isn’t choreographed; think how boring that would be. Instead life is often unpredictable, random and sometimes hard and messy. This is part of what makes our lives rich and thrilling.

Let’s prepare our puppies for the variety of situations they will encounter. This will require training in different environments.

Are you are going to expect your puppy to be polite when the doorbell rings or when friends come over? When you are out and about, in the city or the county?  When you are in the car or on the bus or out in your boat?

Each setting offers unique situations and challenges. Look forward and imagine all of the situations and places you are going to expect your dog to perform. Where will you want him to be relaxed and pay attention to you and listen?  Nail the basics at home and then branch out and take it all on the road.


With or Without You

There is no distinction in your puppy’s mind between when you’re training and when you’re not. Your puppy is learning and developing habits with or without your input. This is why it is so important to make every moment count.

This need not be unwelcome news. It doesn’t mean that everything must be rigid and structured. On the contrary! There must always be plenty of fun and games. A seamless flow occurs when you become aware of the unique opportunity each particular moment offers in regards to your puppy’s education.

There will be obvious lessons and sometimes the not so obvious. I remember when my 8-week-old border collie Earl plunged down a few feet off a bank into a lake. Horrified I ran to rescue him only to find him happily paddling along. I laughed at my relief and was amazed at the speed he adapted to the water and how well he swam. As the saying goes, sink or swim.

Strive to always be prepared with treats and toys for teaching and reinforcing new behaviours. Pay attention and distract and redirect your puppy from unwanted behaviours. Refocus them on what’s appropriate. Set your puppy up to succeed. Be an advocate for their successes. Keep them safe.

Young pups are sponges soaking up everything. Be a well-educated, dedicated partner in your puppy’s early education.