Why do dogs like tug of war?

How many times does your lovely canine approach you during the day with a rope in its muzzle? 

Very often you work from home and sit at your desk trying to solve a complicated problem and suddenly something presses your leg. It is your dog looking at you with hopeful eyes and a wagging tail. 

It is time to play tug of war? But, why do dogs like tug of war? Have you ever thought about it?

Why do dogs like tug of war?

Dogs like tug of war because they inherited biting and tugging genetic behaviour from their ancestral wolves. The tug imitates prey ripping and pulling.

But it is not everything. Let’s see all possible reasons to answer why do dogs like tug of war?


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#1 Predatory instinct

When we talk about different dog’s behaviour, their ancestry is always one of the possible explanations.

Read how dogs’ ancestry is important in answering why do dogs eat grass.

When you watch national geographic and see wild wolves hunting for prey and later eating it, it becomes almost obvious why dogs try to imitate this behaviour.

After wolves get their prey down, they tear it up, shake, pull and tug the carcass together. With dogs, tugging on a rope is like shaking and killing prey

It is not as brutal as in the wild because dogs are domestic animals and don’t have to fight for prey, but it is in their genetics to have such behaviour.

#2 Dogs like it because it is fun!

Dogs are playful animals and they like it if something is going on. It depends on the dog breed but normally most dogs like tug and war as it involves biting and pulling which are too instinctive dogs’ features.

It is a great way to build a good relationship with your dog as your dog will perceive you as a source of fun.

Capri, like most Border Collies, is very active and she does not like to be bored. Many times during the day she brings his ball or toy or tug of war to play with us. 

Honestly, it is so difficult to deny her, as she normally presses the rope on my leg and looking at me with her beautiful, sad eyes. How can I say ‘no’!

Why do dogs like tug of war? – Capri loves it a lot!

What are the benefits of play tug of war?

There are many benefits of playing the tug of war game, so let’s list them below.

Teeth Cleaning

A tug of war can be as simple as a rope with a knot. However, there are ‘tug of war’ toys designed in a way to help your dog floss its teeth while playing with them. 

As there is no scientific proof these toys fully satisfy dog teeth cleaning needs, there are definitely helpful, so it is worth checking.

Why do dogs like tug of war - playing with the owner

Good training exercise

Tug of war is a good exercise for your dog, but also it can be used in training different commands. 

The most useful one could be ‘Leave it’ or ‘Drop’ when you are in the middle of playing. It could be difficult for a dog to obey this command in the beginning but it is worth trying it to make your dog more obedient.

An alternative way of using a ‘tug of war’ is to only play it as a reward after your dog completed a training exercise.

Read more about how you can make your dog more obedient.

It builds a strong bond

Like any other exercised tugging can help you build a strong relationship with your dog. It is always better if you play the game with your pet (instead of the dog playing by himself) as it is a great way to mentally and physically exercise your dog.

Often trainers encourage tug instead of fetch as a better bonding exercise.

Release of Prey Driven Behaviour

Tug of war is an imitation of dogs’ instinctive behaviour. Instead of ripping their food apart, dogs tug an artificial rope to fill the natural gap in urging for hunting prey and tossing it around.

Increase confidence

Many dogs are shy, especially in the beginning when they are adopted. Playing this interactive game can really help your dog come out of its natural cocoon, build some confidence and be more open to people.

It may take a while to encourage them, especially if you have a ‘lazy’ breed, but once they developed some interest you will have a consistent partner in a tugging game of war.

Tag of War – important rules to remember

You initiate Tug of War – as I mentioned, the best way to utilize this game is by rewarding your dog after a successfully completed trick.

That does not mean you cannot have an ad-hoc game from time to time. What you want to avoid is your dog chasing you around the house with a tug in its muzzle asking you to play. You really don’t want to be dominated by your dog.

Why do dogs like tug of war - puppies

Teach your dog to get good things only after a successful trick or good behaviour.

Your dog can never bite you – if during the game your dog’s teeth touched you or you got a small bite, the game is over. The goal is to teach your dog that if it bites you, there is no more playing.

If that happens, you can apply negative punishment by taking away someting your dog likes (tug game), but also use positive encouragment by giving a dog something good, that normally they don’t get to cheer up their good behaviour.

Don’t play with an aggressive dog – if your dog has a tendency to gather resources and be possessive about it, then it is not a good idea to play a tug game. This can be easily observed as the dog stiffens, growls and is aggressive when you want to take the toy away.

Don’t play with teeth-week dogs – this can apply to puppies as they still have baby teeth, but also to older dogs or those with dental problems.

Don’t play with sick dogs – this is obvious, but especially when dogs has issues with neck, shoulder, or back, are not qualify for any physically demanding games

Why do dogs like tug of war? – Summary

It is instinctive and natural to play a tug of war game with your dog. Dogs love it and you as the owner should enjoy it too. 

Dogs benefit a lot from it as they get more confident, they put out their preying instincts, and most important you build a strong bond with your canine.

It is important to remember some tugging rules and keep it always safe for you and your dog.

Do you play a tugging game with your dog? What are your findings? Please leave a comment below.


Brain Training for Dogs

Brain Training for Dogs was developed by CPDT-KA certified dog trainer Adrianne Farricelli. CPDT-KA stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed.

Adrienne lives in Arizona with her husband and two amazing Rottweilers and she is passionate about dogs. She was featured in USA Today and Every Dog magazine and also contributed to eHow and All Experts.

Her Brain Training for Dogs program helped thousands of struggling dog owners all over the world.

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