Safely play tug with your dog

There are a lot of misconceptions about playing tug with your dog. In my experience, (and lots of other trainers I respect) as long as you teach your dog some ground rules, tug is a great way to condition your dog to have a soft mouth as well as providing your dog exercise.

The rules of tug are as follows:

  1. Your dog should never take the tug toy out of your hand without you first saying, "take it". This will prevent your dog from grabbing items out of your hand that are not intended for tug.
  2. Your dog should not put teeth on your skin. Even if you feel the slightest bit of teeth on your skin, say, "Ouch!" and remove the toy for 3-5 seconds and then start again. It is important to do this even if your dog doesn't hurt you. The key is to make sure your dog practices being gentle.
  3. Your dog should drop on cue. Keep in mind that is more difficult to teach your dog to drop if there is a lot of tension on the tug toy because there is more pressure on his teeth. You might try letting go of the object before you ask for drop.



  1. If your dog seems to get too excited or seems aggressive, give him a break and walk away when he reaches this level. If you are consistent, he can learn to moderate his level of excitement.
  2. Vocalization or growling doesn't always mean aggression. Some dogs are just vocal when they play tug. As long as your dog is exercising self-control, is not touching your skin with his teeth, and drops on cue, the vocalization is ok.
  3. If your dog doesn't know how to drop, say, "drop" one time, pause for a moment and then put a treat under his nose. As soon as he opens his mouth, say, "yes" or Click and give a treat.

Eventually during the pause, your dog will open his mouth. If your dog touches your skin with his teeth multiple times, say, "timeout" and put the toy away for a few minutes as a punishment. After a while, he will realize that the way to keep playing is to be gentler.

Latest Blog Posts

Let's talk about corrections in dog training

While working with a private client recently, we ran into another local Chicago trainer. It was interesting, because we were both teaching our clients the exact same lesson, using different...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-20 19:37:38
  • Hits 11259

Teach emergency stop

On Friday I met a client for the first session and met his wonderful 1.5 year old Labrador Retriever named Riley. Our session ended after some fantastic leash work, placement cues and some work on...

  • jeff-millman
  • 2010-12-21 03:50:21
  • Hits 8434

Do not ask an aggressive dog to sit

I work with dog-dog aggression a lot. I get lots of practice in the congested city of Chicago, and I use techniques that work. As with any training topic, there are many competing strategies out...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-28 21:32:17
  • Hits 49833

Don't repeat cues and other dog training tips

Just some quick thoughts to make your life as a dog trainer much easier. After training thousands of dogs, it still amazes me how the little suggestions can make the biggest difference.
  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-30 19:22:30
  • Hits 27912

Dog training myths

There are so many dog training myths perpetuated by old school techniques, bad trainers, or trainers that do not give their clients the benefit of the doubt and "dumb down" everything into simple...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-29 19:37:00
  • Hits 10737

Tips to train your dog to come

I realized that I never taught my dogs what "Come on guys let's go for a walk" meant. That was many years ago, and since then I have taught them that, but it reminded me of the importance of...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-30 21:35:06
  • Hits 10513

Find time for dog training in your busy schedule

Everyone is busy. My wife and I have a wonderful new baby boy and it is challenging to find time to work with my dogs, satisfy all of my client's expectations and have time to breathe. I am sure you...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-31 22:14:00
  • Hits 15310

Summer dog training tips

As we approach summer, it is important to think about keeping your pooch safe. I live in Chicago where I have some unique things to worry about (such as dogs getting stolen out of cars), but...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-04-06 12:19:00
  • Hits 26922

Choke chains can increase dog aggression

I got a sad call from a new client recently. She said her dog was showing signs of dog-dog aggression and, from the advice of someone in the dog park, she hired a trainer that uses choke chains. She...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-01-01 18:49:00
  • Hits 14208

What to do if your dog growls at you

It is so important to gently handle your dog throughout his or her life. I received a typical call a while ago from a client that is afraid because her dog growls when she puts on his harness.
  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-01-02 23:07:00
  • Hits 61916