Top 5 Mistakes When Playing Tug of War with Dogs

Tug of war is a classic game that many dog owners enjoy playing with their pets. It’s fun, and interactive, and can be a great way to bond with your dog while providing them with exercise and mental stimulation. However, there are common mistakes that owners can make while playing this game. Avoiding these errors can ensure that tug of war is a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog. Here are the top five mistakes to watch out for.

1. Using Inappropriate Toys

One of the most common mistakes is using the wrong type of toy for tug of war. The toy should be sturdy enough to withstand strong pulls and long enough to keep your hands away from your dog’s teeth.

Avoid using small toys that your dog could accidentally swallow or toys that are too hard, which could damage your dog’s teeth. Soft, flexible, and durable toys designed specifically for tug of war are the best choices.

2. Not Establishing Rules

Another mistake is not setting rules for the game. It’s crucial to teach your dog when to start and stop playing. Commands like “take it” to start the game and “drop it” to release the toy are essential.

These commands not only keep the game under control but also help in training your dog. Without rules, your dog might not learn to release the toy or could become too aggressive during play.

3. Encouraging Aggressive Behavior

Sometimes, in the heat of the game, owners unintentionally encourage aggressive behavior. Growling and tugging hard can be part of healthy play, but it’s important to recognize the line between playfulness and aggression.

If your dog starts showing signs of real aggression, such as snarling or snapping beyond the playful tug, it’s time to stop the game. Consistently allowing or encouraging overly aggressive play can lead to behavioral issues.

4. Not Letting Your Dog Win Occasionally

Many owners believe they must always win at tug of war to maintain a dominant position. However, this is a misconception. Allowing your dog to win sometimes can be beneficial for their confidence and enjoyment of the game.

It’s a balance – sometimes you win, and sometimes your dog wins. This balance keeps the game fun and engaging for your dog and reinforces the idea that it’s just a game.

5. Ignoring Your Dog’s Physical Limitations

It’s essential to consider your dog’s size, age, and physical health when playing tug of war. For example, playing too roughly with a small dog or a puppy can cause injuries. Similarly, if your dog is older or has joint issues, a gentler approach is necessary. Always play in a way that is safe and comfortable for your dog.

Bonus Tip: Monitoring the Game Closely

While not a mistake per se, an important aspect often overlooked is closely monitoring the game. You should always be attentive to your dog’s reactions and body language.

If they seem tired, stressed, or not interested, it’s best to stop playing. Also, always supervise children who are playing tug of war with dogs to ensure the game stays safe and controlled.


Playing tug of war with your dog can be a fantastic way to spend quality time together, but it’s important to play it right. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can make sure that tug of war is a positive and enriching activity for your dog.

Remember, the key is to keep the game fun, safe, and controlled, with a focus on building a stronger bond with your furry friend.