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5 Tips to help you play TUG like a Pro

Playing tug is an art form, sure you can just let your dog swing off something you are holding but if you want to truly master this motivational game, read my top 5 tips to help you learn how to reward your dog at the highest level.

First a look at what playing tug is, and what it isn’t.

  • Playing tug can satisfy a dogs natural prey drive
  • Playing Tug can help you build a strong bond with your dog
  • Playing tug can form a huge reward value to your dog and this can be used to motivate and reward your dog in training
  • Playing tug can be a huge amount of fun for both you and your dog
  • Playing tug will not make your dog aggressive!
  • Playing tug with your dog will not make your dog dominant
  • Playing tug with your dog is not about pack structure or rank, it is a motivational game!
Venom 8 weeks-1
Venom carries the tug proudly

Tip # 1 The Toy

Choose a tug toy that will suit the size of your dogs mouth and one that your dog can grip. I recommend avoiding squeakers and animal furs where you can, replicating a small noisy animal in distress and building a high energy game of attacking it may not pan out the way you think it will.

Professionals don’t use tugs that look like animals. Have a read of my article, How to Choose a Tug Toy, here.

K9Pro Leather Tug-1
K9Pro Leather Tug

Tip # 2 Control the Game

You can whip out a tug and move it around fast, a prey driven dog will be after it in no time, but what happens when you can’t start the game by showing the dog the tug toy or moving it? Using a Trigger Cue or Predictor Cue before you produce the toy will give you power over the dogs prediction, and when this game will start.

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Tip # 3 The Out

The out, release, give or hand over of the tug is the most important part of the game, it shouldn’t mean that the dog is about to feel pain or pressure, it shouldn’t mean that your dog needs to give you back your toy or else.

The out is something your dog should want to do, and if you train in drive properly your dog will out the tug willingly with a high amount of motivation no matter how much drive your dog has.

Using pressure, corrections, threats or intimidation isn’t the way to get a great out.

Tip # 4 Creating pro active drive in your dog

Most dogs with high prey drive will also be movement stimulated, if your trying to get your dog to chase a tug and whipping that tug around fast, that probably is working to your benefit, but if your trying to get your dog to focus you may find it is your enemy. My tug games centre around me producing the tug and the dog striking it.

I don’t reward the dog for reacting to tug movement, but instead reward the dog for pro actively generating movement in the tug.

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Tip # 5 Self Control

A high drive dog that has a high value for the tug can be dangerous if you don’t teach your dog that the tug game isn’t available until you say so. A release to strike the tug protects me from a high drive dog snatching at a tug I am carrying.

The release cue also enables me to capture the behaviour I am trying to reward, which brings super accuracy into my training.

You can see the shear enjoyment that dogs have playing this game, to the right is Lottie, the Aussie Shepherd!


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Training in Drive is the method of training I like the most, it is fast, accurate and provides great motivation and control over driven dogs. Dogs that perform at the highest levels in our Police, Military, Rescue, Obedience Competitions and more all train in drive in some method or another. I believe my program is structured and easy for my clients to follow, well as easy as a high performance professional dog training program can be.

At the end of the day, Training in Drive is a very instinctual program aimed at making the most out of your dogs drive’s. I have tried to design my program to suit more than just the highest level dogs, but of course the highest level drive dogs as well.

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Some dogs will not thrive in this program, some that are too nervous, frightened, old or inactive may not benefit, whilst some handlers may also struggle, which is totally fine, we have methods of training which are still motivational that will suit these dogs.

Training is about what works best for you and your dog, not about trying to force a method on your dog that doesn’t suit its temperament…

Venom Tug return
Venom brings the tug to me

If you would like to know more about Training in Drive, we offer private classes, workshops, seminars and correspondence courses on this topic!

Email us on info@k9pro.com.au to find out more!

Steve and Venom!

About Stevek9pro

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13 comments

  1. David Washbrook

    Steve, do you have any tips on teaching The Out? We have a 10 year old GSD who we got as a rescue about 2 years ago. He loves tug and seek activities but it is a lot of effort for us to get him to release the tug.

  2. Steve for some reason the video’s are not available You Tube state the account has been discontinued? Would love to seen them as I do a lot of tug work with my dogs and I am sure I could improve on my own technique.

  3. We went to a puppy school and the first thing they said to us is NOT to play tug with our Doberman. Not only did he fail puppy school, and we trained him twice a day as they advised, we ended up going to see Steve. We NOW have his attention, but I will have to read the article on how to teach the “out”

    • Puppy classes should not teach any out of control behaviours, so they often feel tug is one, when when played correctly it is not.

      Many seem to let the pups all play out of control with each other though 😉

      • I agree, the trouble is many puppy classes today are held in clinics and run by vet nurses who are not accredited trainers. There are more social problems created by uncontrolled play in these environments. I run structured puppy training classes and encourage correct play interaction between owners and pups but you are right many owners resist due to their understanding that tug creates dominance in dogs. On the other end of the stick there are those that play roughly with no control and then wonder why their dog bites. Sometimes it is very hard to get that middle road but we just have to keep trying. 🙂

  4. How do you recommend people
    teach the “out” ?

  5. Steve’s Training in Drive program is so much more then just a game of tug, it can help make dreams become reality.

    It helped give my nervy timid Border Collie a life back and has given her the confidence to cope a little better with whatever challenges life has thrown at her whether in the performance arena or in every day life.

    I can only imagine what life would be like for her if we hadn’t.

  6. Your training in drive correspondence course is back?

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