Hello everyone, I hope you're having an excellent Monday!
I've been thinking lately about playing with dogs and how humans and dogs can have a good time together. I'm sure at some point in your pet parenthood you've heard someone say you shouldn't play a particular game with you dog.. *cough* tug of war... *coughcough*
When I first became aware of my surroundings and my place in the dog world, I had heard DO NOT play tug of war with your dog over and over again! I heard that tug of war teaches or allows your dog to be dominant over you, and that you should never let him win. Therefore, if you must play tug, you have to win every time to keep your dog in his place in the pack, obviously below hooman.
For those of you who have high-drive, playful dogs I have good news for you: you can play any game you want with your dog! ... As long as you have established rules that you enforce. For example with tug of war: 1) have a good, reliable 'drop it'; 2) keep your dogs emotions in check; and 3) start or end the game when you want.
1) To teach a reliable 'drop it' command make sure it stays positive and show the dog that you will give the toy/object back when they drop it. i.e. "If you drop the ball I'll throw it for you" . This way, the dog will want to give the toy back because it means that the game is likely to continue. To teach 'drop it' with a tug rope, start playing and getting your dog interested in the toy. When you are ready to take a break (before they get too excited), stop pulling and make the toy as boring and still as possible. Maybe ignore the dog and talk to someone close to you or thumb through TV channels. The SECOND the dog lets go say good dog and give the toy back immediately and begin playing again. Once the dog learns that a still toy means let go, add the command you want to use. Pair the action with the command several times and the dog should learn the vocal cue to release the toy.
2) Keeping your dog's emotions in check will ensure the game stays safe. Dogs can become easily over stimulated and accidentally grab too high up on the tug toy and get your finger, or could be so excited about the game the suddenly lose all hearing capability. When first establishing the rules of tug I like to play in short increments. Get the dog interested in the toy, tug for 30 seconds to a minute, then ask the dog to drop it and sit. If the dog doesn't respond to your request, then the dog doesn't have a good grasp on their level of excitement and take a step back and play for shorter time periods. To mix things up I also like to ask for a drop it, sit, and then I'll throw the toy for the dog to bring back. This wears them out in the long run and gives them a break to keep them from getting too escalated.
3) I like to end the game before the dog does. Any game. I make sure to drain most of their energy, but I want to keep interest in the toy. The tug rope only comes out when I want to play a game of tug. It's fine if the dog wants to play with it by themselves but I don't want to be constantly pestered to play. Unless you're in to that kinda thing, put the toy away when you're done.
You can play any game you want with your dog as long as good rules are established. This will help you stay in control of your dog's emotions and create a playful bond. Let me know what your favorite tug toys are in the comments. I personally love long rope toys that don't have knots in them, the longer the better! Maybe I'll make a demo video about this in the future.