Mythbuster – Tug of War Leads to Aggression

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bustamythWe’ve probably all heard it said, or been warned by a dog trainer that dogs playing tug of war leads to aggression and should be avoided. Makes no difference if they are playing with you or with another dog, the act of tug and the associated victory of possession creates jealousy and possessiveness in the dog.

Not true, say studies in dog aggression. In a study by Rooney and Bradshaw. An Experimental Study on the Effects of Play upon the Dog-Human Relationship, they found “there was no effect on the human-dog relationship caused by playing this game.” Another study by O’Heare, in Aggressive Behavior In Dogs (2007) found: “The relationship between tug-of-war and dominance aggression appears to be a myth.”


The idea that it can lead to aggression may seem logical – there can be a lot of growling and snarling and the twisting and shaking of the head involved may be similar to the killing of prey. But with some basic ground rules, tug of war can be a fun and invigorating exercise for your pup.
Some things to be aware of if you choose to play tug with your dog:

  1. If your dog has a previous history of aggression, you need to be extra observant of their behavior and break off the game if they seem to be getting over excited.
  2. If your dog has any dental issues be careful of pulling too hard as it may damage their teeth or gums.
  3. It’s imperative that your dog knows the “drop it” or “leave it” command so that you can break off the game whenever is needed.
  4. To help keep control over the excitement and possibly aggressiveness, allow them to play tug only with permission.
  5. Make sure that if your dog accidentally injures you with their teeth that you make them aware – even signaling with a YELP and immediately stop the game so they learn that is unacceptable behavior.

Following these guidelines, apply some basic common sense and you should be able to enjoy a good friendly game of tug with your dog.
Additional Readings:
Playing Tug With Your Dog Won’t Make Him Aggressive
Tug Of War
Does Tug-of-War Teach Aggression?

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  1. That aggression/tug of war thing is like so many myths that just get repeated without any foundation. I wish people would stop doing that.
    jan recently posted…Chihuahua lands on wrong side of law under a police carMy Profile

  2. Without common sense, I suspect any dog can become aggressive in any scenario. Thank you for exposing the myth!

  3. Tug of war, using those rules, is a great training game. It really helps the pups learn how to listen, even when riled up.

  4. it’s important that “stop” works… otherwise the tug of wear leads to the chiropractor :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MO(A)NDAYMy Profile

  5. Interesting…… I notice with my boy, if he plays with another dog, he drops it if he hears any vocal sound from another dog. He is a gentleman!

  6. Katie was a huge tug a war fan until about two years ago. It’s good exercise too! She used to pull Mom around the house in her wheeled office chair when she was a puppy. She also taught Bailie how to play. Bailie still likes to play with Mom. I’ve never been a big fan of it.
    Emma recently posted…MIU PET Deshedding Tool For Dogs And CatsMy Profile

  7. Pierre loves to play tug o war and he is the least aggressive dog that I know. I’ve never heard this myth before but we believe it is a bust too!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB NETWoof Dog News March 14, 2016My Profile

  8. I remember that myth, from my early days of dog training. Then, I trained a Search and Rescue dog, and tugging was her primary reward for finding a victim. I don’t do SAR anymore but now I use tug as my reward for our most important training (recalls). It’s actually taken quite a while to teach Shyla, my underconfident dog, to tug enthusiastically. I’ve done it by pairing tugging with her meals. She has to tug (hard and with enthusiasm) for me to put the bowl down for her. It’s really worked!

    What an important myth to bust!
    KB recently posted…On the UpswingMy Profile

  9. I never believed that myth. I do believe that in any playing you need to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. These are great tips for keeping play under control.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
    Cathy Armato recently posted…Black & White Sunday: Wild AlaskaMy Profile

  10. I remember hearing that myth when the pups had just arrived in my life at 8 weeks of age. Thankfully I didn’t just trust one source but did a fair amount of research. Turns out that by following some simple rules such as teaching the “leave it” command and applying it when playing tug, it is a fun exercise that burns energy!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Comment on Busted Mini-Series: Raw Food Myths |Part 5| “Your Dog Is Going To Die” by K9sOverCoffeeMy Profile

  11. We think this is an important topic; thank you for writing about it.
    Nose nudges,
    CEO Olivia
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  12. what I found with playing tug o war with my gang is that when I have a toy in my hand they will jump at it to try and grab it because they can’t wait for me to throw it or play with them. Drives me nuts.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Green Beer AnyoneMy Profile

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