Is Playing Tug-of-War Good For My Puppy?

10 minute read By Lucy Hughes
Reviewed by: Pawrade Team
March 16, 2023

A Golden Retriever puppy chews on a rope toy

Tug-of-war for dogs is a game where a dog and a human (or another dog) playfully compete over a toy or a rope. The game involves the dog using its teeth to grip the toy or rope and pulling on it, while the human or other dog tries to pull it away.

As a new puppy owner, you might be hesitant to play tug-of-war with your puppy because of some preconceived notions, such as being worried that playing the game will teach your dog to be aggressive. However, we’ll examine what scientific research found when testing out this theory (hint: it may surprise you). 

Playing tug-of-war with your dog might seem like just another way to pass the time and have some fun with your furry companion, but playing tug-of-war games has several psychological and physical benefits for your puppy. 

Learn why playing tug-of-war with your puppy is important for their physical and psychological benefits backed by scientific research as well as tips on how to play tug-of-war with your dog safely and effectively.

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Physical Benefits of Playing Tug-of-War

Not only is tug-of-war a really fun game for your puppy, but he or she will also gain a variety of physical benefits from this easy, inexpensive game.

Provides a full-body workout

Tug-of-war is an excellent full-body workout for both you and your dog. Engaging in regular physical activity with your puppy can help prevent obesity, keep other health conditions at bay, and prolong their lives.

Builds muscle development

Tug-of-war can help build your dog's jaw, neck, and shoulder muscles. It targets various muscle groups and promotes cardiovascular fitness. For puppies, it can help build core and neck strength, which is essential for their overall health.

Improves coordination

Playing tug-of-war can help improve your puppy's coordination and balance. Pulling backward on a rope will allow them a better sense of how their bodies operate in open space. Tugging side-to-side helps dogs practice their balance by remaining on all four legs to distribute concentration. 

Good dental health

Tug-of-war can help clean your dog's teeth and maintain good dental care for puppies by removing plaque and tartar. However, be sure to use an appropriate amount of force for your puppy, as puppies are experiencing rapid changes in both their skull size and teething phases. If your puppy loses some teeth during the game and appears to be in pain, it’s best to stop and play at another time.

Psychological Benefits of Playing Tug-of-War

While keeping your puppy physically active is essential for overall health, so is making sure you’re raising a psychologically healthy, well-adjusted puppy. Tug-of-war for puppies helps maintain brain health and encourages positive puppy behaviors. 

Teaches acceptable chewing behaviors

Puppies are exploring the world around them, often through their mouths. Teaching when and how to play tug-of-war with approved objects will reduce the chances of your puppy destructively chewing the wrong items. 

Builds a stronger bond and trust with your puppy

Playing tug-of-war with your dog can strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend. Tug-of-war is a game that requires teamwork, which can help you and your dog to build a stronger bond. As you engage in the activity, you are communicating with your dog and teaching them to trust you. The more trust your dog has in you, the better behaved they will be in different situations, and the stronger your connection will become.

Relieves puppy energy and stress

Playing tug-of-war with your puppy is a strenuous activity that allows them an outlet for your dog to release pent-up energy and stress. After a good play session, your puppy will be much calmer and more relaxed.


Provides necessary mental stimulation

Mental stimulation in puppies can be anything involving the 5 senses that allows your puppy to think in new ways or solve a problem in an environment that is new to them. It’s a crucial part of building neurological pathways in puppy brain development, so you want to make sure you are providing lots of opportunities for your puppy. Playing tug-of-war can help your dog develop problem-solving skills and increase mental stimulation. The game demands mental and physical focus, as your dog anticipates your movements and reacts accordingly.

Improves your puppy’s confidence

Winning a game of tug-of-war can increase your dog's confidence and self-esteem. Let your puppy win every now and then! It’s good for confidence building. They’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You’ll also be able to gauge their mindset better if they come back toward you for another round. Well-balanced dogs are confident dogs, and a confident dog is less likely to develop behavioral issues.

Teaches impulse control

Some puppies are still learning the concept of controlling their bodies and how to wait for something good. They have a natural tendency to jump up on people entering the room or paw at you before dinnertime. 

Teaching a puppy how to play tug-of-war delays the need for instant gratification and promotes emotional self-control in puppies. Practicing the “leave it” or “settle down” command helps them determine the type of behavior you want them to engage in. 

Taps into their natural instincts in a safe way

The game of tug-of-war is predatory in nature, but that doesn’t mean your puppy will go immediately into survival behaviors a wolf would do out in the wilderness. Your dog wants to interact with pretend prey by using their jaws and gaining a sense of accomplishment with “the hunt.” 

It’s just plain fun

Dogs love to play, and playing tug-of-war is a fun and engaging activity that your dog will enjoy. Puppies learn through playtime and will gain social skills along the way. A tired puppy is a happy puppy!

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Does Playing Tug-of-War Teach My Puppy Aggression?

Studies have shown that playing tug-of-war with your dog can be a positive and beneficial activity for both you and your furry friend. 

A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that playing tug-of-war with dogs did not increase aggressive behavior and was actually associated with higher obedience levels (Rooney & Bradshaw, 2002). 

The same researchers found dogs that played tug-of-war had more confident interactions with their people, and dogs who started the game were less responsive and more aggressive than when their owners designated and controlled the play session. That’s why it’s so important that you are always the one initiating the game to set the tone. 

How to Play Tug-of-War with Your Puppy Safely and Effectively

You may be wondering why you would need to read something on how to play tug-of-war with your dog since it seems pretty straightforward, right?

While playing tug-of-war is not responsible for encouraging aggressive behaviors, how you play tug-of-war with your puppy is important. Without understanding nuances and rules, a game of tug-of-war can quickly go in the opposite direction. By educating yourself on how to play tug-of-war safely and effectively, you can ensure a positive and healthy experience for both you and your puppy.

Before engaging in a game of tug-of-war with your dog, it’s essential to establish some tug-of-war ground rules for your puppy to ensure safe and enjoyable play. Here are a few tips to get started before you use any old rope lying around.


Using one toy for tug-of-war will teach your puppy what is okay (and not okay) to have as a toy.

Choosing a toy

Always use a designated tug toy. This will prevent your dog from thinking it’s okay to play tug with any object at any time. Make sure you choose the right-sized tug toy for your dog’s size and strength with enough length to provide room for both of you to grab it plus some extra rope space in the middle and on each side. 

Designate a space

Try to consistently use a space that is free from obstacles to bump or fall into. Your dog will also associate the space with playtime.

You do the initiating

Initiate the game by presenting the toy to your dog and encouraging them to grab it. You always initiate the game so you are the one starting and finishing to show who is in charge and to teach boundaries. Your puppy may want to continue playing after you’ve ended the game or let them win a few rounds, which is fine – just be sure to end the full session.

Teach your puppy the “drop it” or “release” command

This ensures that you can stop the game if it gets too rough or if your dog becomes overly excited. It also helps you signal when to end the game to transition to another activity and gives your dog boundaries and conveys expected behavior.

Be mindful of your puppy’s size and strength

Avoid playing too aggressively or using too much force against a smaller or weaker dog. Pull back gently and let your dog tug and pull as well. You don’t have to go in with full strength from the start. Match the same level of playfulness from your dog and go from there.  

Dianna L. Santos, Owner and Lead Instructor at the Dog Sport University, recommends the following method for playing tug-of-war with your puppy:

“Strive for two to three tugs in a session (tug-trade-tug-win-tug-trade) and then cap it off by asking the dog to do a ‘thinking’ exercise. Give them a treat and then put the tug toy away.”

What is Normal Puppy Behavior During a Game of Tug-of-War? 

Some growling and teeth baring are totally normal. Check to see if your puppy’s tail is wagging while they are growling, which usually indicates he or she is having fun. They will also bare down and shake their head, and lean back to pull the rope toward them. 

The key lies in interpreting and understanding canine body language. Researchers have shown that when dog play signals are absent or when humans misinterpreted their puppy’s body language, the outcome of games may have more serious consequences.

When to End a Game of Tug-of-War

During a session of tug-of-war, always monitor your puppy’s body language closely, and supervise the game to ensure safety to prevent any accidents.  

If your puppy shows signs of aggression, resource guarding, or discomfort, or if you feel uneasy about the direction in which it’s going, stop the game immediately and consult with a professional dog trainer for guidance if needed.

Stop the game right away if your puppy gets too mouthy by biting on your hand. During the puppy teething phase, they’re learning bite inhibition, so it’s important to teach them when their bite is too much. Follow your training program for what to do when your puppy bites down too hard. For most programs, you’ll give the release command followed by some quiet time. Mix in some basic commands to get your puppy back on track and try again. Never let your puppy chew on your hand while on the rope!

Play a Game of Tug-of-War with a Pawrade Puppy 

From stress relief and boosted self-esteem to full-body workouts for your puppy, the benefits are clear. Playing tug-of-war with a Pawrade puppy is not only a fun way to bond with your canine companion but is also a fantastic method for improving both your mental and physical health. 

At Pawrade, we strive to match healthy, happy puppies for sale from pre-screened and trusted breeders with potential pawrents just like you. Reserve your new canine best friend today!


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Lucy Hughes

Lucy Hughes has been teaching and writing professionally for half her life. She has a passion for helping people choose a puppy and lead an exciting life with their new furry companion. She enjoys spending quality time with her family and her beloved Golden Retriever, Bowie.

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