Years ago experts recommended that dog owners not play tug games. One of the theories was that it taught dogs to fight their owner. As we’ve learned more about canine behavior, that recommendation has thankfully changed. However, we’re still trying to figure out why exactly dogs tug. These are a few ideas.
Dogs Are Predators
All dogs at one point were descended from predators who hunted for survival. Although few dogs today need to hunt to eat, most retain the instincts to chase moving objects, whether it’s a bird flying overhead or a lizard dashing across the patio.
Shaking a tug toy from side to side, growling, and tugging does provide your dog with a feeling of catching and fighting with a prey animal. Perhaps those long-buried instincts come to the surface while your dog plays, no matter what breed he is or what his ancestral job was.
Just as a shepherd dog who doesn’t live with sheep still has those herding instincts, any dog who doesn’t have to hunt will most likely love tugging.
That Feel Good Chemical
People who enjoy running will feel a “runner’s high” after exercise. As the body produces endorphins, those endorphins react with receptors in the brain which will then create that “runner’s high”, or a feeling of happiness.
Dogs can also produce endorphins, and a vigorous game of tug is enough for many dogs to produce those endorphins. For your dog, if the game itself is fun, then his brain will also create a feeling of happiness. No wonder tug is a favorite game!
You Play Tug, Too
A rope tied to a tree branch can be a fun tug toy for some dogs. The dog can grab the rope, pull hard on it, swing from it even, and have a good time. He may even play hard enough to produce endorphins.
For most dogs, though, the best tug games are played with you. The relationship with you, the time spent playing the game, and the interaction between the two of you is actually the best part of the game. Some dogs will even play tug with a rope from a tree branch only while you’re watching and cheering, making it quite clear that you’re the reason he’s playing.
The best games are when you hold one end of a toy and your dog grabs the other. As your dog grabs the toy, pulls on it, growls, and wags his tail wildly, he’s also watching you. As you hold the other end of the toy and pull back, and as you cheer him on with a big smile, your dog is bursting with joy!
If you’re having a tough time letting your dog know that tug time is over, trading a treat is the perfect way to end the game. Just grab a high value treat and trade it with your dog as they drop the toy. Put the toy in a safe space where it will be ready for the next game!