By Jarrett Gilpin
Last Updated August 17, 2021

Playing tug of war with a dog can be an energetic activity that is perfect to add to their daily playtime. This fun game usually involves rope toys, but there are plenty of other dog tug toys on the market that are suitable for playing tug with your pup. Dogs play tug of war for a number of reasons, and it is those benefits that we will explore in this guide.

But first, let us answer the burning question on the minds of dog owners: Why do dogs like tug of war?

Why Do Dogs Like to Play Tug of War?

Playing tug of war can be a great way for your dog to release some excess energy during the day. Tug of war does not make dogs aggressive, though it may look like they become more aggressive when they are involved in this particular form of play.

Dog’s teeth often seem sharper and more menacing when they’re bared, but we can assure you that most dogs see this form of physical exercise as a fun game to play and little more.

That said, there are many benefits to playing tug of war with your dog, or having two dogs play this game together. Dogs love to play games that rely on their instincts, and tug of war is certainly a game that requires the use of their strength.

Reasons Dogs Like Playing Tug

As we’ve mentioned, playing tug with a tug toy can be a stimulating game for dogs to play, and there’s plenty of reasons hidden in dog psychology and inherent behavior that make it so.

The Game Requires Teamwork

Tug games like tug of war require that dogs work together to play. When one dog doesn’t wait for the other, they may pull the toy away too soon. This will usually cause the second dog to chase after the first or to become confused. To properly play tug, they must learn to collaborate with one another and figure out how the other acts and thinks.

That may sound like we’re reading into a tug toy game too much, but think about what tug of war requires for two pups to play together. They need to trust each other to wait until both parties are ready before they begin playing.

Your Dog Can Practice Hunting Prey

As well as allowing dogs to build trust, when a dog has a few minutes to play tug, they can harness their own hunting abilities. All dogs are hunters in one form or another – some are bred as hunting dogs, others just retain some of their wild instincts from their ancestors. No matter the reason behind it, today’s domestic dogs love to tear into their chew toys and shake rope toys from side to side.

These are all behaviors that hunting dogs and wild dogs exhibit when killing their prey. It’s not negative behavior for a dog to have; unless they’re using their hunting instincts on your couch cushions.

Wild Instincts Come Out to Play

Those same hunting instincts come into the third reason that having your dog play tug of war isn’t a bad idea. Consider tug of war a game that is used to help dogs tear up prey that they’ve hunted. We know that’s a little morbid, but the actions that dogs take when playing with a rope or a bone show very similar characteristics to the things they do after hunting down prey.

Actions like shaking the rope would be the way a hunting dog catches and shakes their prey. There are other similarities, but we’ll leave this section there to avoid going into that part of a dog’s hunting life for the purposes of this piece.

It’s Fun

The most basic reason that any dog does anything is that they find it interesting and fun. They play fetch because they enjoy chasing after objects that their human has thrown for them, they love tug of war because it allows them to get into a play fight with others without using the rest of their body.

Owners often let their dog win during these kinds of games, which reinforces the game as something fun that you can both play together. Next time your dog grabs a rope toy and walks over to you, spend a few minutes tussling with them.

The Benefits of Playing Tug of War

Tug of war can be a great tool to help with dog impulse control and their training in that area. Playing with rope means that the dog in question will be using their mouth and teeth in a game with you.

A rope toy and a game like this can be employed as a learning tool to teach dogs when they can and can’t use their hunting skills. Having rope to play with should keep your dog away from blankets and cushions that would otherwise fall victim to your puppy’s urges.

Beyond being another training tool, letting your dog love tug of war can be very beneficial to their health.

Exercise and Play

Dogs should have a minimum of 30 minutes of active time per day that isn’t just messing around at home with their own playthings. Depending on the type of breed and the size of your dog, the time for activities can be raised up to two hours.

Active play is encouraged as a part of your dog’s daily exercise and other dog sports that they may be involved in. This includes playing a good game of tug of war, playing fetch, and watching as your dog completes obstacle courses that you’ve set up for them.

Get your dog’s tail wagging and be involved in their daily exercise beyond taking them for a walk in the evening.

Dental Hygiene

Did you know that having a game of tug can help clean your dog’s mouth? Some tug objects are designed to clean and/or floss your dog’s teeth while they are using them.

When considering this kind of product, make sure that you’re looking at tug toys that target dental care. They will be titled “Dental rope” or something similar, rather than just being marketed as a tug of war toy.

Take a look at our article on the Best Dental Chews for Dogs.

Puppy Teething

Another reason to buy a tug of war toy is that there are many on the market available to help with puppies who are teething.

Teething puppies need a lot of impulse control work and having a toy that they can safely chew on will keep them from mouthing at your clothes or other soft furnishings around your home. Puppy baby teeth are very sensitive, too, and they won’t be able to handle the rough texture of the standard rope that is used in adult dog toys.

When playing a game of tug of war with a puppy, be sure to reel in your own strength. Small dogs and puppies can’t handle a lot of force and you don’t want to accidentally hurt them when you’re playing a game of war with your dog.

Read here our review of the Best Toys for Teething Puppies.

Build Your Dog’s Confidence

Regularly playing a tug game with your dog can help increase their confidence because they tap into natural instincts when they get the hang of the game. The more you play tug of war together, the more your dog will come to trust you. Eventually, you’ll have your shy dog playing a game of tug with other dogs!

Turn playtime into a training session to build a healthy relationship with your dog and help them avoid using your human skin as a chew toy when they’re nervous or excited.

Dog beagle Pulls strap toy and Tug-of-War Game in garden outdoors summer day fun

What Tug Toy is Best for Your Dog

With so many toys available for dogs, we know it’s going to be difficult for you to choose a quality toy to give your dog a great game of tug of war.

Like anything that you buy online, always check the reviews and be aware of the various types of playthings available for dogs in this category. A tug rope is a fun way to introduce new games to your dog. You can play indoors with a rope toy with the same rules that you play outdoors with one – the only real differences are the amount of space and the terrain!

Finding the best toy that will allow your dog to keep chewing away after they’ve played tug means looking at a few variables.

Consider the size of your dog and their age. These should be the first two factors on your mind when you’re looking for a suitable toy for your dog. Toys can be a fun way for your dog to let out a little stress, but if you buy a huge toy for a tiny dog, they won’t be having any fun at all. Look for size suitability in the key features of the toy.

Other Things to Consider When Shopping for a Tug Toy:

  • Smaller dogs need smaller toys.
  • Toys should be able to stand up to your dog’s rough treatment.
  • The product should be kid-friendly.
  • The product should not be a choking hazard – no small parts!
  • Choose a product that has some length to it – otherwise, you’ll end up with bitten fingers when playing with puppies that don’t have bite inhibition yet.
  • Ignore any items that have holes or areas for you to wrap it around your fingers. These can be dangerous if your dog becomes overly excited and you can’t let go.

Check out some of our dog toys guides, such as dog puzzle toys, indestructible dog toys, interactive dog toys, and toys for blind dogs.

Why You Should Consider a Non-Rope Tug Toy

When we think of playing tug of war with our dogs, we picture a rope as the ultimate pet-friendly product for our pups to play tug with. Though ropes can be good for a vigorous game of tug of war, the toy can show some of its own unwanted behavior if it’s of bad quality.

Rope Can be Damaged Easily

Rope does fray over time, no matter the quality of the product. There’s simply no way for an item that is being chewed on every day to survive very long.

When rope frays and a dog continues to play with the toy, they could be ingesting pieces of the rope without realizing it. This is dangerous and can lead to health hazards.

To avoid this, if you do use a rope toy, never let your dog play with it unattended. Untrained dogs with little self-control won’t stop playing when you ask and they won’t be happy if you try to take their toy away, even if it’s for their safety.

Rope Can Get Stuck

Once a rope starts parting away from its original shape, your dog will need to be extra careful to avoid getting their teeth caught in the smaller pieces of the rope. Cheaper quality ropes will fray quickly – be sure to teach your dog the release command so that you can get them to stop their game of tug if the rope becomes too damaged.

In the event you see the rope get caught on your dog’s teeth, have them stop immediately and assist them in removing it.

Rope Burn

It makes sense to play tug of war with a rope, but there’s going to be a huge difference between your dog’s mouth and your hands soon after you start playing together. The more you pull the rope, the more your skin will slide across the surface, creating friction burns. Rope isn’t exactly a painless material to tug on for extended periods of time.

Why Playtime is Important for Dogs

Playtime can be a rewarding experience for any dog. The time that you spend playing with your pup will help them build confidence levels up, even while you teach them about the rules of your home on the sly.

What do we mean, you ask? Well, think about it like this:

Your dog is new to your home, untrained, and doesn’t know many of the rules yet. The reason that you’ve decided to invest in a dog tug of war rope is to get them to avoid using items in your home as hunting practice.

By redirecting their hunting energy towards a toy that can take the abuse, you’re telling your dog that they need to obey the rules of the house and only use their toys to play with. You’re disassociating the soft furnishings of your home with your dog’s idea of what they are allowed to hunt.

Doing this can help you reap the main benefits of impulse control training; though it’d be even better if you could teach your dog impulse control alongside showing them what they’re allowed to sink their teeth into.

Playtime also provides your dog with great mental health exercise, as well as the obvious physical exercise. We’ve spoken about tug of war being a game of trust because it is – your dog needs to trust you to want to play this hunting game with you.

Playing with your dog can also be an excellent form of positive reinforcement, allowing your dog to understand that they will be rewarded with something fun if they follow the basic rules that you’ve laid out for them.

Best Rules for Playing Tug of War with Your Dog

We do have a few more tips for you before you start playing tug of war with your dog.

  1. Don’t let your dog initiate a game or they’ll become demanding.
  2. Teach your dog the drop command before playing tug together.
  3. Always stop playing if your dog refuses to drop the toy when asked.
  4. Have one command to pause the game and another to stop it completely.
  5. Always stop the game if your dog’s teeth make contain with your skin.
  6. Don’t let your dog play with people they aren’t used to or don’t trust.

Doghandler and small dog play together with a toy.

FAQs:

Q: Why doesn’t my dog like playing tug of war?

A: There are a few reasons that your dog may not want to play tug of war with you. These include a lack of confidence in themselves, a lack of trust in you, and disinterest in the game. Though many dogs consider tug of war to be plain fun, some don’t enjoy it and prefer other games and toys.

Q: What should I do if my dog growls when playing tug of war?

A: Learn the difference between your dog’s growls. If they’re growling playfully and their body language is normal, there’s no reason to be alarmed. But if your dog is showing signs of aggression or growling at you when you touch the tug toy, stop the game and walk away immediately.

Q: How do I get my dog to drop his toy?

A: You’ll need to teach your dog the drop command to get them to let go of their possessions. A good way to teach the drop command is to use positive reinforcement and reward your dog with food or other treats every time they complete the command.

You may also like our guide on the Best Dog Treats.

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