Raising Your Paws - Your Pet Parent Resource

How To Play Tug-Of-War with Your Dog. (Blog #104)

Published: 10/21/2021
Dog and person playing tug of war with rope toy

In this week’s episode of Raising Your Paws (ep. 104) I explained the reasons that the game ofWTug of war is considered to be the best game to play with your dog. Listen below to segment three at timestamp, 25:58 to find out why. Alot of it has to do with satisfying your dog’s wolf like instincts. 

two wolves competing for food.

Just like all great games, to play them properly and get the best results, there are rules to follow. In the podcast I give the reasons behind the rules. To  make it easy for you to remember them, here are the 7 rules for you and your dog to play Tug of War written out.

(These paraphrased rules are from the book, “30 Days to A Well-Mannered Dog by Tamar Geller.)


Rules for Tug-of-War.

  1. You will initiate the game – invite your dog to play.


  1. You will win 90 % of the time. Your Dog wins 10% of the time. Winning means you wind up with the tug toy at the end of the game.


  1. Repeat a word while playing that will become associated with the game. Tamar Geller uses “play, play, play.”


  1. Have your dog drop the toy periodically throughout the game. It’s like the coach calling time out.

puppy playing tug of war.

While you and your pooch are having a grand time tugging, you will have been repeating your word, play, play, play, in a happy voice with a smiling face. When you want your dog to drop the toy, stop moving your hands from side to side, stop smiling and use a neutral tone of voice to say “drop.”  Give your dog a few seconds to think about it, then tell him to “drop” again. Once they do drop the toy, have them “sit” while you pick up the toy and then right away say “take it” as you extend one end of the toy to grab with their mouth so you both can begin another round of tugging.

If your dog does not know how to drop you’ll want to teach them within this game. You can hear how to do this in segment three – timestamp: 25:58.


  1. When ending the game, you should have the toy.


  1. End the game before your dog wants to quit.man playing tug with dog


  1. Use a word and/or hand gesture to let your dog know the game is over.


Regarding rule number, 4, about dropping the toy, if the technique described in the podcast where you use a treat to teach them to drop, does not work and you’ve tried it a number of times, and the dog still  hangs on to the toy, here is the “bridge method” that Tamar Geller suggests.


What to do if your dog won’t drop the toy at all.

If your dog is completely ignoring you and won’t drop even to make room for a treat, it could be that she is  having so much fun that she wants to keep going and may even increase her  energy and enthusiasm.  This is normal. But, if the dog still refuses to drop the toy, you do want to have her follow the rule.

The bridge method is where you will be touching your dog in a non- painful, non- punishing way to encourage him to open his mouth and drop it.  Using your thumb and middle finger to create a bridge over your dog’s muzzle, apply gentle pressure against the skin on the sides of his upper teeth and the little space between his upper and lower teeth and pull down.   You may already be familiar with this if you ever have to open your dog’s mouth to get some garbage out of their mouth or to give them a pill. The discomfort of this causes him to lighten his grip and his mouth will open. Gently remove the toy, enthusiastically, but seriously, say “drop”, then immediately say “take it” when you offer the toy again with a big smile.  When your dog gets the hang of it you’ll be able to just ask the dog to drop, sit and then take it.  Note: If you do have a very aggressive dog that resource guards, playing tug of war and especially using the bridge method to get a resource away is NOT recommended.  You’ll want to seek out a behavior consultant to work with the issue of resource guarding.

The point of the bridge method, is not to punish or hurt the dog, but to teach him that dropping the toy isn’t the worst thing in the world and that following the cue, allows the tugging to continue. Usually it will take a few times to get the point across.