Dogs can find ways to entertain themselves with almost anything and will often go out of their way to find things to play with if they’re bored or don’t have enough toys, and most dogs enjoy playing with toys and games of a wide range of different types and textures.
A lot of dogs like to play fetch and carry things in their mouths, but another really popular type of toy that most dogs enjoy are tug toys – things like thick, soft ropes with a knot at either end that can be pulled and tugged as part of a game with another dog or person.
Tug toys aren’t a good fit for all dogs, and using them inappropriately or with a more dominant dog can lead to problems, which we’ll examine in more detail later on. But for many dogs, playing with tug toys is great fun and very rewarding; but have you ever wondered why?
In this article we will explain why dogs like tug toys and games, and what their behaviour with toys of this type means. Read on to learn more.
Like digging, chewing and chasing, most dogs have an instinctive desire to play with tug toys and interact with others, and this can be very rewarding for them. When dogs play with tug toys on their own, they tend to pull them and fling them about, drag them around, and often, hold them in their mouths and shake them from side to side.
This type of behaviour mimics the way dogs catch and kill prey in the wild, clamping their prey in their jaws and violently shaking them to finish them off ready to eat. Much as dogs often go mad trying to remove the squeaker from smaller toys as the squeak mimics the cries of prey animals, playing with tug toys helps dogs to express a natural behaviour within a safe environment, without risking harm to wildlife or smaller animals.
Many dogs enjoy playing with tug toys on their own, but other than dogs that are very protective over their toys and other resources and that don’t like to share with others, most dogs really love playing tug of war with other dogs.
All of the same canine behaviours that you see when your dog plays with a tug toy on their own are manifested in group play a well, but interactive tugging games with others is where most dogs really come into their own.
Dogs can be quite competitive and will often compete in a friendly way over resources such as a shared ball in the dog park, and tug toys are no different. Because of the shape and dimensions of tug toys, if one dog is playing with a toy of this type, others will often try to join in by grabbing the end of it and trying to make off with the toy, which usually results in a fun game of tug of war.
Dogs would compete over resources in the wild too, and so trying to take the prize from another dog is another natural behaviour. Additionally, any interactive game like tug of war between dogs helps the dogs to establish their relative positions to each other in the social hierarchy, and enables dogs to work through disagreements and get to know each other better. It also allows dogs to switch roles and experiment with the limits of their play and interactions with others.
Dogs enjoy playing games of tug with people as well as other dogs, and for much the same reasons. Playing tug with your dog can help you to bond with them, entertain them and teach them rules and limits – such as when to stop or drop the toy, or to back off when things are getting a little excitable and risk going too far.
It also provides a form of exercise and play for your dog of course, and provides them with an outlet for their natural behaviours.
Tug toy games aren’t a good fit for all dogs, and you should consider whether or not they might be appropriate for your own dog before you go out and buy a toy of this type.
If your dog tends to be dominant, stubborn or wilful, tug toy games can enhance these traits and make your dog harder to work with. The type of games that dogs play with tug toys with people are a form of controlled dominance struggle, and whilst this can be fun for the dog, they can also cause dogs that are overly confident or that see themselves as the boss of the household to get the wrong idea, and think that they are in charge.
Additionally, if your dog has a very strong prey drive or if you are working on their commands to leave things or drop things, tug games can cause conflict because the pulling aspect of the game makes the dog think that this type of behaviour is ok, and they may not be able to differentiate between the game and such behaviour within other situations.
You should also take care when playing tug games with your dog that you don’t yank too sharply or pull too hard, risking damage to your dog’s jaw or neck muscles.