Author Archives: renee

Critical Periods of Socialization

dogsAges 3 weeks to 12-14 weeks are THE most critical developmental stages of life for puppies – This is the SOCIALIZATION PERIOD. Dogs MUST BE EXPOSED to other dogs from ages 4 to 6 weeks. Dogs MUST BE EXPOSED to people from ages 6 to 12 weeks. Experts used to think we had until the dog was 16 weeks to socialize him to people, but they’ve discovered this to be inaccurate. If we fail to sufficiently socialize our puppies at this age to all sorts of dogs and all sorts of people, we will wind up having a dog that is always scared of other dogs and people. Now you can see why it’s so important for breeders to do what they’re supposed to do during these critical ages. I’ve gone into homes to train puppies where they didn’t get the puppy from the breeder until he was 12 weeks old. This happens a lot with the toy dogs. But if the breeder didn’t expose the dog to enough people, guess what happens? The dog becomes shy and fearful, which can lead to aggressive behavior. Irresponsible breeders set the dogs up to fail if they keep them too long and don’t socialize them.

During the socialization period, puppies need to be exposed to all situations that it’s likely to encounter during its life. THIS is the time to take your puppies to puppy kindergarten classes. Don’t let your vet talk you out of going to classes at 9 weeks. Although there is SOME risk of health problems, the risk of your dog developing fear and defensive behaviors due to lack of socialization is much too risky. MORE DOGS DIE TODAY, NOT FROM DISEASE, BUT FROM BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS DUE TO LACK OF SOCIALIZATION.

If we miss the opportunities to socialize our puppies and to teach them certain things at this age, we can retard their development and ability to learn in the future. Much of the aggression we see in dogs is the result of insufficient socialization to other dogs and humans by the time the dog is 12 weeks old. Socializing your puppies doesn’t mean just casually introducing them to your family and friends. You need to get these dogs out and about and in as many public settings as you can. However, don’t do this all in one day, PLEASE. You should be introducing your new puppies to 5 new people every week, and then 5 more, and so on as he goes through the socialization period.

Researchers, Drs. Scott and Fuller state that puppies should never be adopted before 6 weeks of age, and best not before 7 weeks. The puppies need to be interacting with their littermates prior to those weeks is very important in their development.

At around 8 to 10 weeks, puppies go through a fear period where it’s very susceptible to physical and psychological trauma, and if something bad happens during that 2 week period, the effects could be permanent and irreversible. That’s why it’s best to get your puppy around the 8th or 9th week, so that YOU can control what’s going on in his life. Dog’s who experience abuse at this age, or if they have bad experiences with vets or other dogs, or ANYTHING that causes them emotional or physical harm, this poor dog will be traumatized for life by those scary events. Maybe now you’ll realize that punishing your puppies for housetraining accidents when they’re going through this fear period can cause terrible problems with your relationship. If you scare him by punishing him now, he will never fully trust you.

Here is a list of ALL of the things you need to expose your puppies to during that socialization period of 8 to 12 week period:

Textures, like pavement, rugs, cement, metal, sand, grass, gravel, vinyl flooring and dirt.

Sights would include trees, insects, other animals, men with beards, women in hats, people in wheel chairs, people with canes, and many children. Sounds like traffic, airplanes and trains, railroad crossing signals, construction and the sounds of children playing. Various recordings of sounds are commercially available and very useful for this. Especially important is to get your puppies used to the sound of rain and thunderstorms. CD sound effects are great for this. You can purchase these CD’s at: http://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=DTB653

If your 8 to 12 week old puppy is kept in his kennel most of the time, he’ll become fearful and hard to rehabilitate!! This would equate to the infant who is given little or no mental stimulation. They become mentally disabled for life.

Now we come to the time that will try men’s souls – the canine period of adolescence – YIKES! This is when you want to go on a cruise around the world and not come home until your dog is at least 2 years old! When your puppy becomes 4-5 months old, you’ll notice that he becomes VERY independent. The puppy that wouldn’t leave your side now won’t come to you anytime you call him. When he was a bit younger, he was so easy to train, but from 4 to 10 months, he may become fearful and cautious even to people and novel things he was fine with before (this is the 2nd fear period that dogs go through). If you were training him early on, that will pay off now because he will trust you to guide and protect him through this.

NEVER  PUNISH YOUR DOG FOR BEING AFRAID OR YOU CAN TOTALLY RUIN THE DOG!  Your dog is always looking to you for guidance and encouragement, especially if he’s fearful. If you scold him because he isn’t comfortable meeting Uncle Joe, you will only convince him that Uncle Joe is not a good thing!

So…there you have it. If you can get through your puppies first 18 months you can get through ANYTHING. Now, if you’ve got kids that are growing up with your dog, and THEY’RE going through their adolescent periods, I don’t envy you one bit!

Training a Dog to Wear a Muzzle

dog muzzledThere may be times in your dog’s life when you need to use a muzzle. Teaching your dog to like wearing a muzzle is something every dog owner should do, not necessarily just for aggression problems, but in case you need to muzzle the dog in an emergency situation. God forbid, if your dog was injured in an automobile accident, or if another dog attacked him, he might not allow someone else to pick him up or move him to the vet’s office for treatment. So, be prepared for this by desensitizing the dog to wearing a muzzle. Here’s how to do it:

Generally, I prefer using the basket style muzzle; it has wire openings that are large enough on the sides to feed the dog treats, and the dog still has the ability to pant and to drink water. Sometimes these muzzles are available in Petsmart or other large retail pet supply stores; but, you can also get one directly online at: http://www.morrco.com/wirbasdogmuz.html Be sure you get the correct size for your dog. You’ll see a page that will help you decide which size is best.

When you finally have the muzzle, show it to your dog, and keep your voice very happy and upbeat. Let the dog sniff it, and praise him to the skies for any positive attention he shows to the item. Next, place his favorite dry treat at the bottom of the muzzle, and let your dog put his nose inside of it to retrieve the treat. Praise him and encourage him to do this. Feed him some treats a few more times, and then put the muzzle away. While he’s wearing the muzzle, you keep praising him, BUT…when you take the muzzle off – ignore him for at least 3 minutes each time you work on this! That will help him associate good attention while wearing/working with the muzzle, vs. things getting kinda boring when you take it off and put it away.

Next day’s session, you’ll want to repeat this procedure again. Offer him treats that take a little longer to chew, and attempt to hold the muzzle up on his nose for a bit longer than the prior day’s lesson. Praise him, and keep adding a treat at a time while holding the muzzle on his nose for a longer period of time. Tell your dog how great he is for being so cooperative. ONLY when you’re satisfied that the dog seems very comfortable when he sees you bring out the muzzle, and he readily eats from it, you’ll be ready for the next step. Stay on this level of training for a day and practice at least 2 to 3 times for no longer than 3 minutes each time. Remember to keep things a little boring right after you put the muzzle away.

To prepare yourself for the next lesson, practice feeding slivers of treats through the side wires of the basket, but not while the muzzle is on the dog. You want to do this because it takes a couple of times to get this right. I know it was very awkward when I first started trying to feed my dog treats and fit them through fast so he could eat them.

Now, for the most important segment of muzzle training: Be prepared with about 20 treats, but instead of using the dry treat, use a much higher level of food; i.e., use bits of chicken, cheese, liver, roast beef, hot dog slices or steak.

On this 3rd day, always start out with a review of the last day’s level of training, and of course, don’t forget to praise him. Then, place the treat at the bottom of the muzzle, allow him to chew it, and then fasten the strap behind his head. IMMEDIATELY, start feeding him the soft meaty or cheese treat THROUGH THE SIDE WIRES. Continuously feed the dog one treat right after the other, and praise him like crazy in a very happy voice. FEED, FEED, FEED! Then unhook the strap, STOP FEEDING, and DO NOT PRAISE HIM once the muzzle is removed. Keep him at this last level of training for about 2 days and work on getting him used to wearing the muzzle for longer and longer periods of time.

When you see your dog wag his tail every time you bring out the muzzle, you know you’ve accomplished your desensitization work. However, don’t stop training. You’ll need to remind him once in awhile that wearing the muzzle is always a good thing. If you stop working on it, and you don’t use the muzzle for a very long time, you’ll only have to go back and work on it again from scratch. You want your dog to be prepared at any time to have a muzzle placed on his nose. With any training of any behavior, dogs are like we are…if they don’t use it – they’ll lose it!

One last thing: never put your dog’s muzzle on him when you’re showing any anger or frustration. The muzzle ALWAYS has to be associated with your being happy about giving it to him to wear.

Set Rules for Dogs Without Punishments

Dogs are happiest when they know there are rules and boundaries to live with. But… it’s imperative that we teach those rules to our dogs and not to take for granted that they already know them. Dogs that lack confidence in their humans to implement rules and define boundaries can become extremely anxious and stressed. All sorts of problematic behaviors develop in our dogs when we spoil and coddle them, when they’re allowed up on furniture, such as beds and sofas without getting our permission first, and when we allow them to practice all sorts of inappropriate behaviors as puppies because we think they’ll just grow out of it. Remember that “practice makes perfect.” If dogs get to practice all the wrong things, serious behavior problems will be the end result.

Show good leadership skills by NOT punishing your dog! Hollering and screaming at dogs, hitting and smacking them with newspapers and pointing fingers at them saying “BAD DOG!” will not teach them to behave appropriately. These tactics will only teach your dog that (1) you have poor leadership skills, (2) you can’t handle him, (3) you can’t make good decisions for her, and (4) you can’t be trusted. Implement the following program and your dog will become a well-mannered and polite companion pet.

Do not give your dog attention when he/she demands it! Do not allow your dog to jump all over you or push his/her toys into your leg. Do not give your dog attention or affection when he jams his nose under your arm. Do not give your dog attention when he paws at you or he barks in your face or if he mouths you. If any of these behaviors are part of your dog’s daily routine, learn to remove yourself immediately by walking away from him/her every time he/she behaves in a pushy and demanding manner.

Teach your dog to sit and look up at you the first time you ask him without repeating “sit, siT, SIT!” You can teach this effectively by giving him a treat when he sits and looks at your face during the first week of your training. Once your dog knows how to sit and focus on you, here’s how to establish a structured and predictable life for him:

1. Sit & wait before getting all meals (avoid all free-style feeding).

2. Sit before getting any treat (never offer a treat just because your dog is cute and he’s breathing).

3. Sit before getting a new toy or chewie.

4. Sit to get the leash put on.

5. Sit & wait before going out the door (don’t let your dog drag you out or push past you!)

6. Sit before coming back in the house from a walk

7. Sit before you initiate any games with him.

8. Sit before getting in the car (put him in a seatbelt harness for his safety!)

9. Sit & wait before getting out of the car (wait helps keep your dog from bolting out).

10. Sit & wait to get out of his crate (he should wait for your release (“OK”)- not for the door to open)

11. Sit before getting anything he wants or needs in his life.

12. Sit before being allowed to sit on the sofa (or bed)* You may want to think twice about giving this privilege in the first place! Remove this privilege if your dog is showing any aggressive behaviors.

13. Your new motto should be “SIT HAPPENS!” You will notice that your dog is a lot calmer after about a week of living with this structured and regimented routine. He will begin to offer sits on his own, which tells you he is actually asking you for permission!

© Renee Premaza 2009

Puppies 101 – Getting Off on the Right Paw

It is vitally important that you begin socializing your puppies NOW! The window for socialization closes at 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, you will be doing remedial work and your dog may never reach his/her full potential for being a normal, friendly dog! Gradually introduce your puppy to all sorts of people: tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people, men, women, children, men with beards and who wear hats, girls and boys who wear baseball caps, black people, white people, and DOGS. When you’re socializing your dog with children, watch your dog carefully to see if he’s getting tired. If he is, remove him from the children and let him rest somewhere, like his crate. Put him in there with a chewy or a favorite toy so he doesn’t see this as a punishment.

Begin this week by taking your dog to 5 new places. Put your puppy in the car and take him/her for rides in traffic. Speak to your dog along the way in a happy voice. Go and get gas at the gas station so your puppy gets used to someone reaching into the car to give you change. Ask the attendant if he’d mind offering your dog a treat through the window. Introduce your puppy to the mailman, to policemen, and anyone you see wearing a uniform. Have these people give your puppy treats. Each week increase the amount of people you introduce your puppy to.

Expose your puppy to many different novel stimuli. Let him see the hose outside, or the rake, or your feather duster and vacuum cleaner. Familiarize him with all different sights and sounds. Let him walk on all sorts of surfaces, like concrete, grass, sand, tile, and asphalt, etc. Purchase a CD that has the sound of thunder on it, and gradually let him hear this recording at louder and louder volumes. Have some toys and treats, and play with him while he’s listening to your thunder CD. If there is a real thunderstorm, play with your puppy and feed him delicious treats during the storm. Even if there is a loud, scary clap of thunder, clap your hands and laugh about it. Expose him to other sounds, like the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer. Turn on the food processor and let him get used to that. If your dog shows any fear or discomfort from hearing those sounds, don’t console him because he’ll think you’re rewarding his behavior. Just speak to him in a happy tone of voice, as he will be very affected by your own emotions. This is important to know, folks — your dogs will be very affected by your feelings about all things in general. If your puppy suspects that you’re nervous or upset about something, he will respond in kind. Remember that for the future.

Once your dog has had its first set of shots, try to arrange play-dates with other vaccinated puppies of similar age and size. Make sure you know and trust the owners of these dogs when they tell you their dogs are healthy and friendly! Be careful not to overwhelm your dog at first. Do this very gradually. Most vets recommend that you keep your puppy off of any surface that might have been soiled by unknown dogs.

If, at anytime, you see your puppy begin to look stressed or anxious, please give him a break. Puppies can become ill if they are feeling overwhelmed.

If you notice that your puppy seems afraid of anything, DO NOT CONSOLE HIM by picking him up, petting him and cooing to him. This will only reinforce the behavior, making your puppy think you LIKE his behavior! Speak confidently and offer him treats as you desensitize him to the things he’s afraid of. Help him learn that SCARY THING = GOOD THINGS HAPPEN by pairing up a negative with a positive (treats or toys/games).

This is the time you should begin handling your puppy all over his/her body. Message your puppy’s feet and give him treats while you do this. This will get him ready for grooming and nail clipping. Bring out the nail clipper and put treats around it. Make his association with this instrument a positive one. Pretend to clip his nails with the clipper, but don’t actually cut them yet. You might want to take your puppy to a professional groomer the first time to make sure his first nail cuts are done without incident. Let the groomer show you the right way to trim nails to avoid accidentally cutting too close to the quick.

LEARNING RESTRAINT & ACCEPTING HANDLING

Some of you may have puppies who don’t like being restrained, handled or being picked up. Do NOT become alarmed. Work on these problems by using food rewards to encourage him to like these things. Pair up being handled or restrained with being given very tasty morsels of food so that the dog will learn to associate being handled as a good thing! If you pick your puppy up and he squirms, DON’T put him right down! Hold on to him GENTLY, but firmly until he settles down and stops fussing. THEN put him down. Here are some handling exercises you should begin doing with your puppy to accustom him to being restrained and touched all over his body.

Bring your left arm around the front of your puppy’s chest while your right hand and arm supports him under his chest and belly. Gently restrain him with just a tad of pressure and then release him. Praise and reward him with a nice treat if he remains unaffected. Reward him each time he accepts what you’re doing. Little by little begin to lift him up while you support him against your body. For each step you take, praise and reward your dog. You will be shaping behavior that you may need in the future for veterinary exams, lifting him onto a vet or groomer’s table, and in general, getting him used to being held, picked up and moved around. Touch your puppy all over his body, including his ears, paws, belly and genitals. Get him used to your putting your finger in his mouth to brush his teeth and stroke his gums. Touch him around his collar and do gentle collar-tugs. The more handling you do now, the more he’ll accept being handled by the vet or by other people.

A word of caution here: Please do not take anyone’s advice when they tell you to flip your puppy on its back and restrain him to settle him down if he becomes overly excited. This will scare your puppy, and he will learn that you can’t be trusted. A puppy will feel very vulnerable to being attacked while he’s got his belly exposed. This is instinct here. If you try to flip an adult dog on its back, be prepared to get bitten!

Many people like to pet puppies and dogs by reaching over their heads. Desensitize your pup to this now so he won’t feel afraid when a stranger decides to extend a hand and place it over his head. So, pet your puppy by placing your hand over his head and patting him, and then give him a tasty tid-bit for a reward.

Always praise and reward with treats when your puppy doesn’t show fear or alarm at being handled anywhere on his body. If you notice that he’s sensitive in certain areas, begin to SLOWLY desensitize him to touch by touching him gently and then offering some treats. The more you handle your puppy, the better he’ll like it.

Believe it or not, many puppies and dogs don’t like being hugged or kissed. If it’s going to be important that your puppy accept our human affectionate behavior, teach him to like it by giving quick gentle hugs and then offer a treat reward each time you do this. If you have children that love to hug your puppy, make sure you desensitize the pup well to avoid nips on childrens’ faces.

Practice putting your puppy on a high surface, like on top of your washer. This will help him get used to being on a vet’s table. While he’s up there, do a physical examination of him, much like the vet would, checking his ears and feet and his teeth. Begin cleaning your puppies teeth using special doggy toothpaste – not human toothpaste! Good dental care is important, especially for the small breeds of dogs that are prone to dental disease. Dental problems can lead to other physical problems.

SETTLE DOWN!

If your puppy becomes over-active and obnoxious — AND HE WILL…– Here’s an exercise that will teach him to settle down:

Put your dog onleash and a flat buckle collar or harness. Sit in a chair in a quiet room with your dog. Watch what your dog is doing, and anytime he behaves calmly, say “Good Boy/Girl!” and toss him a treat. If he gets all excited again, and starts jumping on you or pawing at your clothing, IGNORE HIM or get up and walk out of the room leaving him alone! The instant he stops this behavior, say “good boy/girl” and give him some very tasty tid-bits of food. He will learn that a good default behavior is being calm and quiet. Set these training sessions up a couple times each day. Just sit there and wait for behaviors to reward him for. Remember to ALWAYS ignore your dog when he’s demanding your attention. If you put your puppy in his crate, and he immediately starts to whine or bark, put cotton in your ears and don’t run back to him. Otherwise, you’ll have a dog that knows he can get out of his crate by barking and whining. If, however, you’ve put your pup in his crate for the night, and later you hear him whining or barking, you’d better check to see if he needs to go out and potty.

ALONE TRAINING

One more important suggestion is to get your puppy accustomed to being left alone. Even if you are home everyday, all day, do not neglect to teach puppy that it’s okay for him to be in his crate by himself for short periods of time. Leave him with a nice chew toy (e.g., filled, frozen Kong). Make sure you do this everyday while you extend his alone-time little by little. When you do put him in his crate, pretend to go out by opening the front door where he cannot see you, and then close it. Quietly go to some other area of the house for about 20 minutes at first. Return to your puppy WITHOUT FANFARE and release him. Do not make the mistake of getting all excited when you come back to greet him. This actually is one thing that can create separation anxiety in dogs. When you leave him, make it a non-event, and when you return to him, that also should be a non-exciting ritual. If others live with this dog, please have them get involved in his alone-training. Separation anxiety is not something you want to reinforce in your puppy or any dog! It can be very complicated and involved to modify a dog’s behavior once he is displaying symptoms of this disorder, and it can be very expensive in terms of dealing with possible destructive behavior. Let’s prevent the behavior from happening NOW.

DOGS & KIDS

If you have young children in the family, please teach your children safe and proper handling of your puppy. Do not allow very young children to pick your puppy up while they’re standing. Chances of dropping the puppy can cause his death or serious injury. Many puppies do not like being picked up because they feel vulnerable to being dropped. Have your child sit on a chair and then place puppy in the child’s lap to pet gently. Do not allow children to pull your dog’s ears or tails. Do not allow children to lay all over your dog and jump on him. Some dogs will NOT tolerate this childish behavior and will snap or bite children for doing this. An excellent website to visit to learn about how to avoid dog bites with children is: www.doggonesafe.com Be sure to click on all the links as this site is packed full of very important information.

Do not allow your young children to lie on the floor with your dog! Make sure you supervise both kids and dogs whenever they’re together. All too often, kids and dogs get into trouble with each other because the dog gets overly excited around the child, or he misinterprets the child’s behavior, and then bites the child on the face. When children play with puppies or dogs, the children should be standing up or sitting on a chair or sofa and the dog should be on the floor. This eliminates all possibilities of child and dog being at face level. If you cannot be there to supervise, then your dog should be in another room behind a baby gate with a toy or chewy to occupy him. When kids and dogs are together, the keyword is SUPERVISE, SUPERVISE AND SUPERVISE! If your child is mature enough, allow that child to begin issuing sit commands to your puppy. Place a treat in your young child’s hand to offer puppy while your own hand holds onto your child’s. Many children inadvertently tease dogs by offering a treat and then pulling their hand away before puppy gets the food. Puppy then grabs at the child’s hand and might nip. Again, SUPERVISION WITH YOUNG KIDS AND PUPPIES/DOGS IS CRUCIAL.

GOOD MANAGEMENT

Attached is a section on teaching bite inhibition. Please begin this training NOW. All puppies bite, because they’re teething, and because that’s how they’ve played with their littermates. It’s important to teach your dog to have a soft mouth. All dogs are capable of biting! If your dog has been taught good bite inhibition, if he’s ever provoked to bite during his lifetime, he will not do any damage because you will have taught him to bite without pressure!

Do NOT wrestle and roughhouse with your puppy. You will be teaching him that physical aggression is a fun thing to do when he reaches maturity. I watched a situation where the owner of 3 Pomeranians enjoyed teasing his dogs and he thought it was funny when they’d come back and try to bite him. Two of the 3 poms in this household have both shown serious aggression toward the owners and toward each other. Always think about what behaviors you are reinforcing! Again, use good common sense when you’re raising a puppy. Whatever behaviors you reinforce now will follow through into his adult life. Reward appropriate behaviors and he will behave appropriately!

When the mailman comes or the UPS driver pulls up to your house, give him a treat to give to your puppy everyday! By doing this NOW, you will avoid having a dog who wants to kill the mailman or someone else wearing a uniform or hat. Let your puppy know right from the get-go that the mailman is a good thing because he represents treats. Take puppy for a walk around the neighborhood and let him meet and greet anyone who is willing to politely greet your pup. Have treats on you so you can give your neighbors and/or their children treats to offer the puppy. If you see a patrol car or fire truck anywhere, seize the opportunity to introduce your puppy to a police officer or fireman.

If you don’t want your puppy to learn to chew on or steal socks or other laundry items, do not make them available! Keep laundry items in a closed hamper. Keep all food items off the kitchen countertops from the very beginning, so your puppy won’t want to “counter surf.” If you start out doing the right things, you won’t have to “fix” these training problems later on. Use good common sense when training and interacting with your puppies. Keep tight lids on all trash containers. Puppies LOVE toilet paper, paper towel and used tissues.

I know that many of you have had to get things out of your dog’s mouth – maybe your dog has stolen your children’s toys, or the dog has tried to eat something he found in the trash. Many of you have been told that it’s important to pick up your dog’s food dish so that he knows you’re “the boss.” I want to caution you about forcefully taking things away from a dog. Now…I fully understand that when there are small kids in the house, you need to teach your dog to relinquish items just in case the child tries to take something from the dog. But there’s a better way to teach a dog to relinquish something rather than grabbing it from him. If you work on training your dog to obey a DROP IT cue, he’ll relinquish anything you ask him to. If you continue forcefully taking things away from him, you might create a dog that becomes a resource guarder. Dogs who guard their food bowls, bones, or certain locations, or people, or their toys are resource guarding. Sometimes this behavior is instinctual, but sometimes the dog learns to do this because he feels he has to protect his stuff from everyone who keeps taking things away from him. I usually see this type of behavior develop in puppies at around 6 months of age, which is the very beginning of adolescence. Learn to make food exchanges with your dog. If you need to take something away from him, put a treat right on his nose; when he opens his mouth to take the treat, tell him, “drop it” and then reward him with that treat. You might want to do this a lot with his toys so he’ll learn a drop it command very quickly. You can reward him with that treat, but also give him his toy right back! You’re working on developing a good trusting relationship.

When your puppy is young, get him accustomed to being lightly stroked as you approach him and his food bowl while he’s eating. Toss something really delicious into his bowl when you do this so he looks forward to people being around him when he’s eating. Include your children of all ages when doing this work, but make sure to closely supervise them during this training. Watch your puppy’s body language to see if puppy seems stressed when approached around his food, bones or special resources

Playing Tug of War by the Rules

Boy playing tug of war with dogIf you are the kind of person who doesn’t like setting rules down for your dog to follow, then playing tug is not a good game for you to play. Tug of War is a very competitive, but excellent game to play if you want to teach your dog to have self-control. Many trainers and vets advise people to avoid playing tug because “it will make the dog aggressive.” Believe it or not, I taught my own very aggressive Border Collie to stop biting and use good self-control by allowing him to play his most favorite game in the whole world — Tug of War! If played correctly by using very strict rules, your dog can enjoy tugging with you for hours, if you want to play for hours. As you will read below, at no time during this game is your dog permitted to put his teeth on your skin — even if it’s an accident. If your dog mouths you, the game must stop. If you don’t want to follow through with playing by the rules, avoid playing this very fun game. Here are the rules to follow:

Does your dog have a drop it command? If not, first teach him to drop things out of his mouth by placing a treat over his nose when he has a boring toy in his mouth and say “drop it” as he opens his mouth to take the food. Praise him and give him the toy back. As he gets better and better at this, begin having him drop more valuable items out of his mouth, like his chew bones.


  1. Start the game off by commanding the dog to sit!
  2. Ask the dog, “wanna play tug?”
  3. Cue him to “take it.” and then give it to her
  4. Play for a little while, and then ask for a “drop it.” The dog should have a bomb-proof drop it and should release the toy immediately. If the dog doesn’t release it, just hold onto the toy and don’t pull on it or look at her. She’ll realize that “well… this is boring” and then should release the toy. Praise her for the release, but put the toy away.
  5. You can re-start the game in about 5 minutes or so (this serves as a time-out for her ignoring the drop it command.
  6. Play again, and then ask for a drop it. If she drops it, praise her and give her the toy immediately with a take it command.
  7. It’s recommended that once in awhile, after commanding her to drop it, that you do a couple of obedience maneuvers before re-starting the game.
  8. With any dog who has shown aggression toward an owner or other humans, never let that dog win a round. If you find that sometimes the dog has gotten the best of you and was able to pull the toy out of your hand, let her think you planned it that way, and say “Take it!”
  9. Whatever toy you choose for playing tug should always be put away and out of the dog’s reach. Remember that it is your toy, as are all others. Put the toy away until YOU decide when to bring it out again.
  10. If the dog makes any mistakes, like touching your skin with her teeth, the game ends immediately, the toy gets put away, and she gets ignored for about 3 minutes or so. Wait several hours after a mistake like that before re-starting the game. Then, put the toy away.

Note: If you are playing tug with a puppy, do not pull too hard. Your puppies teeth are not strong enough yet, and you do not want to strain or sprain any of your dog’s muscles, tendons or ligaments. When playing tug with puppies, do not jerk her head from side-to-side. You may cause spinal misalignments in a very young dog. Allow your dog to pull in any direction she feels comfortable. Let her do most of the pulling. Have fun 🙂