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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My dog Scooby is a boxer/lab mix (best guess) about 3 years old. He weighs 85 pounds and is extremely friendly towards people and dogs. He likes to fetch but he never gives the toy back and likes to play tug of war or keep-away with it. Yesterday he was playing in the creek and another guy with a dog was throwing rocks to Scooby (he loves to fetch rocks underwater). Anyway the guy was holding out small rocks in his hand and challenging Scooby to try to get them out of his hand. Somehow Scooby ended up pulling the guy around by his finger only. I'm sure Scooby didn't realize it was the guy's finger, he probably thought it was a rock. He finally let go, there was no blood but I started thinking, what if that was a little kid?

What do you guys recommend? I was thinking I should quit playing tug of war and make Scooby drop his toy when we play fetch.
 

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It's really unsafe to play tug with a dog unless you are doing it with a proper tug toy that is long enough to put some distance between your fingers and the dogs teeth. Hopefully this guy learned his lesson about sticking his hand in a dogs mouth to play with stuff.
 

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Tug is a great game that can build confidence, build focus, and be a wonderful training tool when used as a reinforcer instead of food.

That said, there is a safe way to play tug or war and an unsafe way.

It is an old wives' tale that playing tug with a dog increases aggression, but playing tug with the wrong dog in the wrong way leads to a wildly over aroused dog that is lunging for a toy and often ends up biting people by accident.

Playing tug with a dog that doesn't have good impulse control and lunges for things and/or doesn't understand that a toy in someone's hand doesn't automatically mean "ok time to play with the toy, grab for it however you can!" and playing tug when you're teasing the dog with a toy/because the dog won't drop the toy when you ask are not the right way to play tug with a dog. In these cases, the game is only going to teach or reinforce behaviors that are potentially dangerous and lead to situations like these.

Part of what I like about playing tug with a dog so much is that the game in and of itself teaches great impulse control, lends itself well to proofing the "leave it", "drop/ drop it", "give it" and "get it/OK" cues for a dog. All three of those are really, really important for dogs that play tug to know, IMO. "leave it" is used in other situations as well, but I use it within this context mostly when I have the tug toy and am communicating that either we aren't going to start playing the game yet or we are done with the game (and I am in the process of putting the toy away). "drop" is my out/drop command meaning to let go of the toy, either into my hand or onto the ground. "give it" is accompanied by an outstretched hand and means to take the toy and press/place it into my hand. "OK" and "get it" both mean that she can take the toy back or go chase after it and are the release cue, usually given after I've asked her to drop/give the toy and often asked her to leave the toy as well while moving it around and making it look fun. As I said, I will ocasionally ask her for a "leave it" and throw the toy near bye/shake it in her face/otherwise make it look interesting, and in this way we work on her impulse control. Usually I do this when the dog is starting to get too amped up and needs to calm down.

There are certain dogs that are not completely safe to play tug with, and will occasionally mis-grip and hit your fingers if you aren't careful. Doesn't mean they can't play tug, just means that the person needs to keep the game safe and understand there is some risk in getting bit, but most dogs will stop the game quickly when they realize they're hurt you.

I would highly recommend not encouraging a dog to play with or fetch rocks, period, because that's a heck of a way to set a dog up to break teeth, which is an expensive vet bill.

I also wouldn't recommend teasing a dog with a toy that is too small for the dog to grab without also grabbing a hand- that is setting up this kind of a situation, IMO.

I also agree tug toys should be long and large, ideally, especially if you're letting strangers play it with your dog. Personally I wouldn't be, because like I said I have a very specific way I usually play it that avoids an over aroused dog lunging for a toy and biting me by accident, but to each their own.
 

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I wish there was a way to idiot proof a dog. How stupid does a person have to be to play tug with a rock?
Teach your dog a good recall & leave it, and use it whenever idiot's approach.
 
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I wish there was a way to idiot proof a dog. How stupid does a person have to be to play tug with a rock?
Teach your dog a good recall & leave it, and use it whenever idiot's approach.
He admitted it was his fault and it was probably a 1 in a million situation but I'd still like to try to reduce the odds. What's a "recall"?

Right now I'm working on getting him to "drop it". He's starting to figure it out. Also sometimes he tries to grab the toy when I have it in my hand, I'm going to teach him not to do that.

I hate to give up tug of war, he loves that and he doesn't get too worked up, he doesn't growl or anything, he just like to win!
 

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recall is whatever command you use to get a dog to come back to you- "come here", "come", or "here", etc.

Do you know how to teach drop it efficiently?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
recall is whatever command you use to get a dog to come back to you- "come here", "come", or "here", etc.

Do you know how to teach drop it efficiently?
No, I've just been telling him to "drop it" and when he does I praise him. What's the best way?
 

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When you're training a dog a new command, you're working on building an association between the word and the action meant to follow it. Just saying a meaningless noise (which is what "drop it" is to the dog right now, just meaningless noise) and then praising the dog for doing what you were hoping it would do is not going to be very efficient at teaching it to associate the phrase with the behavior, because most of the time the dog is likely not dropping the thing.

I usually start teaching the command using either a toy or a chew stick (like a bully stick or tendon chew). Give the toy/chew toy to the dog, let them get involved with it in some by starting a game with the toy (if its a toy I usually play tug or a little) and then stick a smelly treat right in front of their nose. They will drop the toy/chew stick in favor of the treat. As soon as the toy is out of their mouth, you do a "yes!" (or whatever other marker word you use to let the dog know they did a good thing and are going to be rewarded for it) and give the treat. Then, start the game again and repeat. I usually do this- without saying anything when the treat appears except the marker word when I give the reward- until I see that the dog is starting to understand that it gets the toy, and then I give it something else. Then, I start introducing the cue I want to use- "drop it"/"drop"/"out", whatever you want to use- right before I stick the treat in front of their nose. Then, I do that for several repetitions. Some dogs might need only 10 repetitions, some might need to spend a few days or weeks in this stage. It depends on the dog. When I eventually notice a glimmer of recognition, I might wait a little before I stick a treat in front of their nose, and let them drop the toy without the treat being there, and instead of "yes!" and one treat, they get a "yes!" and 3 or 4 treats right in a row.

There are other ways to teach the cue, but this has always worked very well with me.
 

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Taunting an excited, playful dog with your hand and expecting an accident free outcome? Well, how about playing another way to avoid bloodshed? I would tack that to accident rather than misbehavior.

A couple of suggestions:
1) Drop it/Leave it should be part of the dog's vocabulary, for when you want to assert control over a toy, or, well, a finger, I guess.

2) Do not reward keep-away. A dog that does keep-away gets ignored. Cross your arms and/or turn your back to him when he takes off with the toy. See how much fun he thinks that is. If he loves you, he wants to play with you. If not, well, work on that, maybe with some initial treat-based enticement. Teach him "bring it," and reward him when he answers to "drop it."

3) You can teach this through controlled (you in charge!) tug-of-war: Allow enthusiastic tugging to take place for thirty seconds to a minute, then, still holding the toy, stiffen up and stop pulling while saying "drop it." Let your end go limp. If he won't let go, you let it go, cross arms, turn back and ignore. A few times of that, and most dogs that want to keep playing will bring you back the toy, and eventually, they'll drop it. Once you get them to drop it, hold it in their view and teach "leave it." Reward on success, reset on failure. When you're done with the game, put the tug toy away (for now, it's yours until they return it and release it without fail). The earlier you do this, the better. A dog that's been rewarded by getting chased all over the yard will take some time to get that this is no longer acceptable.
 
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