How to Teach an Unwilling Dog to Play Tug of War

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You want your pup to interact with you during play -- he’s part of your family, after all. But some dogs just don't seem to get tug-of-war, or otherwise refuse it. Sometimes you have to teach the game. Other times, a little bribing can help get the tug-of-warring started.

Get Him to Grab

Ask your pooch to sit. Show him the new toy when he has your full attention. Shake it, wave it in front of him or drag it on the ground to get him focused on it. As soon as he sniffs it or nibbles on the tug toy, say "Grab it" or "Take," whatever your verbal cue may be. Show excitement, pat him on the head and let him know he’s a good boy. He needs to see that when he puts his mouth on that toy, you’re thrilled.

Being Stubborn

Some canines are just stubborn and would rather play with you than pick up that new toy. It’s okay to bribe your furry pal. Add a spread of peanut butter, yogurt, canned pumpkin or wet dog food to the middle of the tug toy. That way you’re making the toy more enticing and you're teaching him to grab it from the middle, the ideal spot for him to start pulling from during a head-to-head tugging war.

The Tug

Start out with a gentle pull when he has the tug toy in his mouth. If you start tugging right away, you may rip it out of his snout. When Rusty gets a solid grasp on the toy, praise him and move it up and down and side to side for several seconds, praising the whole time. Once he’s mastered the concept of holding on to the toy, start working on the rules of the game.

Enforcing Rules

You have to consistently enforce the basic rules of tug-of-war with your pooch. The game can start only when you initiate it, meaning if Rusty scurries over and grabs the other end of the tug toy before you invite him to play, the game ends right there. During the game, any time he nips at you or catches your clothes -- even if it’s by accident -- you need to stop the tug-of-war session. It's a form of time-out, or negative reinforcement: He loses his fun when he does something wrong. Last rule: Your canine pal must release the toy when you tell him to. If he doesn’t, let go and walk away. He has to realize that you play tug-of-war only on your terms, not his.

Tugging Between Dogs

You can work with both of your furry buddies to teach them to play tug of war together. Train each of them one-on-one until they each know how the game works and all the rules. Invite both of your dogs over and have them sit or lie down. Allow Rusty to grab the toy; once he has it in his mouth, use your cue word -- “Take!” -- to encourage Oscar to grab the other end. If they’re hesitant in the beginning, use a bit of moist food on each end of the toy to make it smell delicious to each pooch. You’ll just have to enforce the same rules as you would when you’re involved in the tugging game. Teach them to drop the toy on command or lose the privilege otherwise.

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