3 min read


Are Dogs Good at Tug-of-War?



3 min read


Are Dogs Good at Tug-of-War?


Thinking about the game of tug-of-war might bring up memories of playing outside or even elementary school field day activities. However, there is nothing that beats a great game of tug-of-war with your favorite pupper. 

Dogs are absolute pros at playing tug-of-war! They’ll happily play with you or even another pup. So, how can you tell if your dog wants to play? There are a few things to watch for.


Signs Your Dog Wants to Play

While it depends on your dog’s temperament, most dogs love to play, at least at some point. In fact, playing with your pup is an important part of keeping them healthy and happy. If your dog wants to play, you might notice them start to jump up or pace by the door if they think you’re going to take them outside and play with them. 

They might open their mouth, pant, and also put their ears up. They’ll also usually wag their tail really quickly. It’s not hard to tell if your dog wants to play! Most dogs will play a variety of games, so long as you’ll play with them.

Dogs also do something called a “play bow.” A play bow is when your dog bends their front forward and puts their behind in the air. says that this is a universal signal that dogs want to play. You can even try the play bow yourself if you want to signal you’re ready to play! 

Your dog might also grab toys and bring them to you as a signal that they are ready to play. If they start doing this, get ready to have fun. If you don’t start to play with your pup, they might start playing tug-of-war with whatever you’re holding to get your attention. So, be alert!

Body Language

Signs your dog might want to play with you are:

  • Panting
  • Jumping Up
  • Pacing
  • Ears Up
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

Other signs you might notice if your dog wants to play include:

  • Bringing Toys To You
  • Mouthing Whatever You Are Holding
  • Excited Behavior

History of Dogs and Tug-of-War


The game tug-of-war has been around for many years. Britannica mentions that it was a “rural pastime" in England and Scotland. It was even an Olympic event from 1900 to 1920, where there were 5 men on each side of the rope. It’s also still part of the Scottish Highland Games.

Many people also remember playing tug of war with their siblings over toys. So, any parent will tell you it’s a fairly common occurrence, even among humans. With this understanding, we can assume dogs have played along too. Who knows, maybe dogs even taught early humans to play tug of war. Either way, it’s a great pastime since it seems that both pups and humans love to play it. 

It doesn’t seem that many other animals enjoy tug-of-war as much as dogs. Dogs love it so much that pet stores even sell tug of war toys. In reality, you can play tug-of-war with anything, though, from a shoe to an old rag.

Science Behind Dogs and Tug-of-War


There's a reason dogs love it so much. Biologically, dogs are meant to be hunters. So, the catching and pulling involved in the game of tug-of-war seem to bring out some of their most basic instincts. Plus, it means spending time with you, their very best friend. Who wouldn't love that?

Also, it is a very common behavior amongst canines in packs to battle over items including pieces of dead animals. It helps them rank dominance and challenge strengths.

Training your Dog to Play Tug-of-War


It seems like dogs are just born knowing how to play, as this behavior starts when they are just puppies. So, it makes it even more fun! You don’t even need to train them to do it. You can train them to play variations of tug-of-war, but it’s not necessary.

You need to always be mindful of your dog's temperament and needs as some dogs may not want to play tug-of-war. So, don't force them. Also, if your dog seems aggressive when you play, keep an eye on them - especially if they are playing with children. 

Though most research doesn’t point to tug-of-war making dogs aggressive, it’s always good to be safe. They may get too into the game and accidentally nip or bite someone if they get too excited. Prevention is much better than dealing with a dog bite. So, watch it if your dog seems to be getting too aggressive, is snapping at people, is growling in more of a warning tone than a playful tone, and watch their body language. 

If things seem to be getting out of hand. Stop playing the game immediately, and let your dog cool off. In some cases, it might even be better to not let everyone play tug-of-war with your dog if it seems to agitate them.

Overall though, most dogs love tug-of-war, and love to play in general. So, enjoy hours of uninterrupted fun with your favorite pupper!

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Safety Tips for Tug-of-War:

  1. Stop the game if your dog begins acting aggressively.
  2. Do not yank an object out of a puppy's mouth - you could hurt them!
  3. Watch for growling that leads into anxious barking.
  4. Do not play tug-of-war with objects you would not normally let your dog play with.
  5. Make sure your dog knows the "leave it" command.

By Katie Anderson

Published: 04/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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