Why Do Dogs Like Playing Tug-of-War?

by | Nov 2, 2022 | General Information

Casey and his dog, Luna, are engaged in a friendly game of tug-of-war. Luna loves pulling on a toy with her human pulling in the other direction. If she happens to rip it out of his hands, she ensures he gets ahold of it again so she can continue her favorite game!

Like many other dogs, Luna is an avid tug-of-war fan. But why is this so appealing to dogs? It sure looks like they are fighting over a limited resource when it’s actually quite the opposite. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? 

Let’s explore this little game and see if we can make some sense of it! 


Reasons Why Dogs Play Tug-of-War and Love It!


It Satisfies Predatory Instincts

Your dog is a meat-eating predator. They are descended from animals that had to hunt other animals for food. As a result, dogs are hardwired with a prey drive — the need to chase and catch their food — which is stronger in some breeds and individual dogs than in others. It’s the drive behind playing fetch and other games involving chasing and catching things that’s prominent.

While your dog’s food comes from you, and they don’t need to hone their hunting skills for survival, they still have that instinct. Tug-of-war gives them a chance to exercise that natural impulse. Your dog will pull on the toy enthusiastically, maybe giving it a hard shake, as if killing a small animal. In the wild, these animals often try to retreat to a burrow in the ground, which is why a dog would have to grab them and tug on them to force them out.


It Fosters Collaborative Behavior

Instead of competing for prey, your dog is collaborating during a tug game. A pack of dogs hunts and works together to pull their prey apart for good eating. When playing tug-of-war with your dog, you’re strengthening your bond with them and building trust.

Tug-of-war can be an excellent opportunity to teach your dog some valuable skills. For example, teach the ‘Drop it‘ command using the tug toy. In addition, you can teach your dog to control their bite, as it’s possible for your hand to get too close to the dog’s teeth and for them to bite by mistake. 


What are the Many Benefits of Playing Tug-of-War With My Dog?

A fun game of tug-of-war brings plenty of benefits:

  • It satisfies prey instincts.
  • It’s a great way for your dog to get some physical exercise and use excess energy, either inside or outside the house. 
  • The collaboration in the game helps build and support a good relationship with your dog. 
  • For some shy dogs, playing tug-of-war helps build confidence and trust in people
  • It’s a great way to provide the mental stimulation all dogs need for a healthy and happy life. 


Does Playing Tug-of-War Make a Dog Aggressive?

While it does mimic prey-drive behavior, playing tug-of-war will not push your dog into a snarling, lunging frenzy. Remember, it’s a collaborative game for your dog. Instead, aggressive behavior comes from a lack of socialization and poor socialization. 

One issue you may encounter is your dog associating the game with other things around the house, like your shoe, a dishtowel you just picked up, or your daughter’s stuffed bear. In this case, a little training session is in order. You have to communicate what is allowed and what is not. A “Leave it” command would be good to learn here.


Should I Let My Dog Win at Tug-of-War?

Some express concern that letting your dog initiate or win makes them dominant. If your dog has dominance issues, tug-of-war is not the problem, and you should consult a professional trainer.

Letting your dog win will support a good relationship between you and your canine companion and build their confidence.


How Long Should I Play Tug-of-War With My Dog?

There are no set rules for how long to play tug-of-war, just as there is no official limit for fetch or any other game. However, be careful not to get your dog overly excited or obsessed over this game. Keep your tug sessions to a reasonable (for you) amount of time, and make sure that your dog can transition out of playing the game without much fuss. Give them something else to do and put the toy away. 


How to Properly Play Tug-of-War With Your Dog


Choosing a Tug Toy

A toy must meet a few criteria to be suitable for tug-of-war. It should be:

  • Sturdy enough to withstand all the pulling and tugging from two ends
  • Long enough to keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth
  • The suitable tug toy for your dog’s size

Rope toys are especially good for this game.


Tips for a Great Game

Before you start playing, be mindful of safety. First, ensure the dog knows when you want to stop playing the game by using a “Drop it” release command. Next, designate an area with plenty of open space for you and the dog to move around without knocking things over. 

Some dogs will shake their heads as if shaking a small animal they’ve caught. You might do something similar — shake the toy a little to mimic the dog’s behavior. However, be extra careful to shake very gently! Remember that the force will shake the dog’s neck, jaws, and teeth. You don’t want to injure your dog! 

Pull with a force that matches your dog’s strength. Tug-of-war with a Chihuahua has to be gentler with a Mastiff that can drag you around the house. 

Any dog with injuries or health issues should probably not play this game until fully healed. 


Looking for a Certified Dog Trainer? Look No Further Than K9 Basics!

Our capable team at K9 Basics is ready and waiting to help you train your dog. We have the experience, expertise, and compassion to safely and effectively teach your dog essential skills and instruct you on how to become a powerful pack leader.

Give us a call at (866) 592-2742 or, if you’re from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or New York, visit us at 131 Kenilworth Road, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, to learn more about our dog training services. Also, browse our blog and social media for various topics about dogs and their lives with us!



  1. “Why Do Dogs like Tug of War? And Should I Let Him Win?” K9 of Mine, 7 Sept. 2022, www.k9ofmine.com/why-dogs-like-tug-of-war/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.

  2. Oelze, Patty. “Why Dogs like Tug of War.” Wag!, Wag!, 7 Feb. 2018, wagwalking.com/behavior/why-dogs-like-tug-of-war. Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.