Why Does My Dog Like to Play Tug? 6 Reasons Why They Do It

Dog, Pit Bull Terrier, Playing, Pet Owner, Pulling
© iStock.com/Ksenia Raykova

Written by Sharon Parry

Published: April 30, 2024

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One minute you are picking up a sock from the floor and the next you find yourself participating in an intense game of tug that you had not planned! This is a reality for many dog owners and it can tell us a lot about dog behavior. Here, we’ll unpack exactly what is going on in this game, tell you how to do it safely, and examine why your dog likes to play tug so much!

Is Playing Tug With Dogs Safe?

There has been some controversy about this canine game and you may come across people who advise against it. However, there is scientific evidence that shows that it does not promote dominant and aggressive behaviors as was once feared. According to the American Kennel Club, there are plenty of benefits associated with playing tug with your dog as long as it is done in the right way. That said, not all dogs like to play tug. It is generally a favorite pastime of the higher energy breeds with strong work ethics. In general, terriers, collies, bully breeds, and Belgian Malinois love it!

How to Play Tug With Dogs Safely

Tired sad dog jack russell terrier lying on carpet next red toy. Pets care concept.

Play gently with pups and senior dogs.


There are a few ground rules that should be applied to make sure that tug games do not spill over into problematic behavior and unsafe situations.

  1. Keep the tug session short – each session should have just two or three ‘tugs’ of 10-15 seconds with the dog releasing the toy between them.
  2. Keep your hands well away from the part of the toy that the dog is biting. They may not distinguish a human hand from the toy!
  3. Don’t yank the toy around. This can cause neck and spinal injuries to the dog. Try to keep the dog’s spine in a neutral alignment. They should have all four feet on the ground.
  4. Take extra care not to play rough games with senior dogs or young pups. Keep it gentle.

What Are the Benefits of Playing Tug Games With Dogs?

Naughty dog home alone - yellow labrador retriever destroyed the plush toy and made a mess in the apartment

Playing tug can curb unwanted behavior.

©Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

You can use the game as a training session. Introduce impulse control and release commands and praise with treats if needed. It also cements the bond between you and your dog. They learn that engaging with you is fun – and that makes them more likely to obey your commands. It can also be used to build confidence in new environments that they are not sure of.

It’s also great exercise and can help your dog to burn off calories. It strengthens their muscles and helps with coordination.

Should You Let Your Dog Win the Tug Game?

Yes, sometimes, but that should be the end of the game. Do not chase after them. They should learn that once they have the toy, the game is over. The only way to restart it is to give the toy back to you. Your dog may not get the hang of it straight away but they soon will. You should be the fun part of this game and not the toy.

What Are the Best Dog Tug Toys?

The best dog tug toys keep your hand a safe distance away from your dog’s teeth! So, it needs to be long and strong so it does not come apart. It’s best if it is made of material that your pooch can grip firmly with their teeth.

Why Does Your Dog Like to Play Tug?

Newfoundland playing tug with owner

Tugging on things is instinctual for dogs.

©Roman Zaiets/Shutterstock.com

Let’s take a closer look at why so many dogs love the tug game above all else.

They Can Practice Their Instincts

Domestic dogs descended from hunters and the instinct to catch and kill food can still be powerful. Wild dogs have to tug at carcasses to get at the meat. Playing tug allows them to express this instinctive behavior and this can help to avoid unwanted behavior such as chewing.

Dogs Love Bonding With Their Owners

Our dogs love to be with us and engage with us. When you are playing tug with your dog, you are probably giving them your undivided attention and this is exactly how they like it! It strengthens their bond with you and makes them feel safe.

It Allows Them to Bite

Biting is a part of dog’s natural behavior but we try to curb it a lot of the time. We would prefer it if they did not tear apart our belongings! A tug game is one of the few opportunities they get to bite down on something and they enjoy it.

The Game Is on Equal Terms

In most interactions between humans and dogs, the human is in charge. With a tug game, however, you are playing on equal terms. The dog even gets to ‘win’ sometimes and that relieves frustration.

It’s a Lot of Fun

Dogs don’t like to take life too seriously and if they find an activity they enjoy, they will do it! Dogs simply love the game because it makes them feel good. You can’t argue with that!

It Helps Them to Relax

It may not look very peaceful to you, but when your dog is playing tug they are not feeling anxious. The dog is lost in the moment and can forget about things in the environment that are upsetting or stressful.

Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Like to Play Tug

German shepherds playing tug

Playing tug with boundaries is important.


Dogs play tug because it is their instinct to pull on things, they like to engage with their owner, and because it is fun. If done properly, it can help with curbing unwanted behavior and engagement. Just make sure that there are boundaries and keep your hands out of the way!

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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