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Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Playing Tug with Your Dog Q&A

Playing Tug with Your Dog Q&A

Playing Tug with Your Dog Q&A

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  1. I have a 2 year old GSD that I started tugging with and she loves it.  The only problem is that she wants to put her paws up on my arms while she is tugging. How can I correct this?

  2. My dogs like to play tug but they prefer other toys. Should I put away all the other toys and make their fun revolve around tugs until the game is more firmly established?

  3. My puppy is in training for agility and only likes to tug on my sweatshirt arms while I'm wearing it. Should I get a puppy sleeve and let her continue to tug on my arm?

  4. If you get to the point where you say "yes" and they aren't that interested, does that mean you "outplayed them" with it? Meaning, I should have stopped the game much sooner?

  5. I try to play with and train my dog every day, but he won’t OUT for me. Every time, it is a struggle to get whatever we are training with out of his mouth!  Can you tell me anything about this, and perhaps give me a pointer?

  6. My female pup, 6 months old, has crazy ball drive. After watching the video, I tried to train with tugs, as advised by Michael. I'm having some problems with this, could you please advise?

1. Question:

I just finished with the new Tug DVD, which by the way is terrific.  I have a 2 year old GSD that I started tugging with and she loves it.  The only problem is that she wants to put her paws up on my arms while she is tugging.  She puts a lot of force behind it, so it can be quite painful, plus takes some of the fun away from it.  How can I correct this?



Hi Melissa,

My friend had this issue with her dog and this is what we tried. 

1) You can keep a leash on the dog (on a flat collar) and step on the leash fairly short while the dog is tugging.  This will block the dog from jumping up, and you can mark it with a NO when she tries to jump up and reinforce her with GOOD when she stays in proper position.

2) You can tug lower with her, keeping all 4 of her feet on the floor.

3) Make sure when you are playing with the dog that you are tugging from side to side instead of always centered directly in front of your body.

4) Keep your tug sessions short between OUTS, so she doesn’t have time to get her feet up.

I hope this helps! Cindy

2. Question:

Hi Cindy,

I have a semi-stupid question for you. I can also ask next week but it is really bothering me. It has to do with the power of playing tug. I am a little stuck. 

Both my dogs like to play tug but they like other toys a little better. I know I can manipulate what they play with. On a normal day I will do a couple marker training session for behaviors with food and that is all fine. During separate sessions I use the tug working on having them drive it back to me. So it is tug tug tug (at the appropriate level of intensity for the dog, I think) let them have it coax them to bring it back (just like in the video) they bring it back but just not like they would with a different toy. 

For example due to snow,we play with those flying squirrels. With the frisbee they will tug with much more intensity. But as M.E. says it is a terrible thing to use later for obedience due to size, not to mention cost of replacing the things all the time.

So during a regular day we play with tugs and Frisbees. I can probably answer my own question, but, should I just ditch the frisbees for the time being until we have the tugging issues worked out. Using the frisbees, I always have in the back of my mind I am making all the fun away from me which I don't want, right? The other thing is playing frisbee provides good exercise for them. Should I just find other ways (long walks) for the exercise for the time being.

Also I should say, I have an assortment to tugs, jute, leather, firehose, synthetic, I rotate them for different biting surfaces, Jaz, the black GSD pup likes jute a little better but generally doesn't care which tug.

Here is what I was thinking. Just put away all other toys and make their life revolve around the tugs until we have the game established and find other ways to get good daily exercise, a tired puppy is a good puppy.

Does this make sense?



I think this is a great question for Michael, but if my dogs were this way I would remove the “favorite” toys and get them to engage with the toys I choose.  Toys that you throw AWAY give the dog the satisfaction AWAY from you, which is ok if you have a dog that is really engaged with you all the time but if you struggle with equipment and toy bias this is not optimal.

The end goal is for your dogs to play with you anytime, anywhere and with anything.  My dogs will play with a piece of lint or a pine cone if that’s what I have handy.

If your dogs are tugging with intensity, it can provide a lot of exercise too.  I know that Rush is worn out after a vigorous session of tugging with me.


3. Question:


I looked through your Q and A and did not find the exact answer I am looking for. I will try to be quick.

I have a 4 month old aussie/BC cross who I will be training for agility (and life skills in general). Right now we are just playing. She is not overly driven but does enjoy tugging, etc. The problem... and I do not really see it so much of a problem but she really prefers tugging on the sleeves of my sweatshirts over any toy that we play with. I tried using a glove... not the same. I actually enjoy how she gets into it as she enjoys it also. I am thinking that if I get one of your puppy sleeves and then teach her that she only gets to tug on my sleeves when I have this on, that we can continue her favorite game and help build her drive, she is a bit soft.

Thank you for your time,


I wouldn't allow this behavior to continue. In order to use tugs as a reward for training, the dog needs to tug on what you want them too. Many high prey drive dogs like to tug on clothes but you are setting yourself up for a problem later in training if you allow this to go on.

If she likes the sweatshirt material, then make a tug out of it. DO NOT let her continue to do this on your arm, because as her drive builds with maturity you will wish you hadn't. I've seen others make this mistake.

I'd use a sweatshirt on a string or leash, and get her tugging on that and when she's doing that well I'd switch to a pocket tug or something that you will be able to carry on you for an agility reward.

I'd also recommend The Power of Playing Tug with your Dog.


4. Question:

Just watched the DVD, great stuff! Already notice a HUGE improvement in my dogs "out."

One question, if you get to the point where you say "yes" and they aren't that interested, does that mean you "outplayed them" with it? Meaning, I should have stopped the game much sooner?

Thank you


You are correct, you made the session too long for your dog at this stage.
Go back to working engagement in short, intense sessions.

Cindy Rhodes

5. Question:

I wanted to ask about the out command. I will give you a brief history about my dog. I adopted a german shepherd @ 7 months old form a humane society, which, in return saved my dog, Mason, from death row at the local animal shelter. I soon realized that I did not have an ordinary house dog, and was soon at the end of my whits with him (one of many things he did was bite himself out of the plastic airline kennels). I then had the opportunity to watch an S.F. K9 demo and realized the similarities. After talking to the handler about pointers, he was so taken away with my dog that he wanted to train him as a working dog. At the time, I thought that would be the best for him, but he broke his leg while he was away and is now a full time pet. I try to train with him every day because it is fun for both of us, he needs it and because I am starting to like doing this as a hobby now. Mason has improved 100%, but he just wont out for me. Every time, it is a struggle to get with whatever we are training with out of his mouth! Can you tell me anything about this, and perhaps give me a pointer? I would tremendously appreciate it!

Thank you


I can’t really explain the out in an email, because it’s a process that’s built on  marker training (at least the way I teach it).

I see that you have the marker video already, so that’s great.  I’d HIGHLY recommend the next two videos in the series, in this order.

The Power of Training Dogs with Food
The Power of Playing Tug with your Dog

The out is covered in detail in the tug video, but it’s really most useful if you’ve done all the food work first to set the foundation for the dog.  If I had a dog that wouldn’t give me what was in his mouth, then I would not use any non food items for training until I fixed that problem away from training. Struggling to get the toy away from the dog negates any good training that’s gone on leading up to that.

I’d recommend backing up and doing more foundation and set the communication system before going back to toy rewards.

For future questions, you might benefit from learning to use our SEARCH function, which is located in the top left corner of every page of the website.  If you type in your key words or question it will find you articles, Q & A’s, free streaming video and links to threads on our discussion forum.  Our website has over 16,000 pages and it’s very likely you’ll find the information you are looking for.  I hope this helps.

Cindy Rhodes

6. Question:

Hi Cindy,

I have received all 5 videos Michael Ellis. Very nice, I enjoyed them very much. Thanks.

I have a question, I hope you can give me some advice.

My female pup, 6 months old, has crazy ball drive. After watching the video, I tried to train with tugs, as advised by Michael. At first, my female was not so interested, but eventually she started to want to play, though not as high drive as with balls. I always train without leash when playing with ball or tug.

I try to play tug with my female and let her win after tugging for a while, by letting her have the tug. Then I would back away from her, encouraging her to bring back the tug, so we can start the game again. But my female just stops where she is, or worse runs away with the tug. Then I would run away from her, showing her another tug in my hand, to encourage her to come to me and play again. She would then pause, then decide to come over, but without the tug she had. She would leave the tug behind her.

My question is, how could I have her come back to me with the tug she got and start a new game? Should I leash her while tugging and gently tug her on the leash if she refuse to come? Should I use prong collar at this time? So far, I have never use a prong collar on my pups since I started trained from 2 months old. I have another pup that is not interested in tug, but ball crazy. Should I insist in tug, building tug drive? That may be time consuming and frustrating.

Please advise.


This is covered in The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog DVD, you use a leash to encourage the dog to come back. You don’t use a prong to correct the dog. You also don’t use 2 toys, because you want the dog to bring back the original tug to continue the game. 

I would recommend going back and watching portions of the tug DVD again, they are not meant to be watched just one time… I would recommend studying the sections you are having trouble with. You may need to watch it multiple times.

For dogs that are obsessed with only one item, like a ball, this is handler error. Dogs need to learn the game is with YOU, and the toy you present is what makes it fun. Later, you can go to a ball on a string but I would recommend using the tug to teach all the skills first.

We also have a Q&A on playing tug with your dog.

I hope this helps.

Cindy Rhodes

30% off Micahel Ellis streams, good through December 11th, 11:59 PM CST