Tug-of-war is a fun, engaging game to play with your dog, but, for some dogs, the game can trigger snapping and nipping. If your dog nips at you while you are playing tug-of-war, the two of you need to readjust the rules of the game. While it is possible your dog is overly excited and accidentally nipped in exuberance, he may also be showing signs of possession aggression -- in which case, his nipping must be nipped in the bud, fast! Either way, your dog should understand that any form of biting of humans is prohibited.
Tip #1 - Teach your dog to take the tug-of-war toy on command. Take the tug-of-war toy and shake it gently in front of your dog while you say "take it." When he takes his end of the toy in his mouth, praise him.
Tip #2 - Train your dog to drop the toy when you ask him to. To get your dog to drop the toy, keep hold of the toy but quit tugging on it. Extend your other hand to his collar and move him a little closer to you. This will take tension off the toy, making it much less satisfying to tug on. Tell him to "drop it," and praise him when he does.
Tip #3 - Practice teaching "take it" and "drop it" until he does both, reliably, on command. Don't resume playing tug-of-war until he will drop his end of the toy when you tell him to.
Tip #4 - End the game immediately when your dog nips. Once you start playing tug-of-war again, watch for signs that your dog is getting too excited. It is best to take a short break from the game before he nips, but if you miss the warning signs, take the toy and walk off. He must understand that if he nips you either intentionally or accidentally, the fun ends.
Tip: Some trainers suggest yelping in pain (mimicking the way a dog might do it) should your dog's teeth come into contact with your skin -- even if it wasn't in any way painful. If your dog didn't intend to be aggressive, he should immediately release (as he doesn't want to hurt you!), and will eventually learn to not repeat the action.
By Stephanie Dube Dwilson
ASPCA: Mouthing, Nipping and Play Biting in Adult Dogs
Veterinary Partner: Growling, Jumping and Nipping
ASPCA: Teaching Your Dog To Play Tug-Of-War
About the Author
With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.