Riverina K9


Why Playing with Your Pup Potentially Packs a Big Punch

We all know the sheer delight that comes from goofing around with our dogs. But did you know there’s more to it than just fun and games? Yep, some scientific research has actually dug into how interactive play activities like tug may be total game-changers for our doggos’ physical and mental well-being. So, let’s dig in and uncover why interactive play, especially a good ol’ tug-of-war sesh, is the secret sauce for keeping our pups happy and healthy.

Myth Debunked

According to an experimental study back in 2002 it was concluded that, dominance dimensions of the dog–human relationship are unaffected by the outcome of repetitive tug-of-war games.” (Rooney et al., 2001). The true majority of dogs do not seem to view competitive games played with a human as threatening, but simply the act of play intrinsically rewarding (Bradshaw et al., 2015). 

Physical Exercise and Health

It goes without saying regular exercise is crucial for maintaining optimal health in dogs just as it is for us. Interactive play, such as tug, provides valuable physical exercise that potentially helps dogs maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular health, improve motor skills and enhance muscle tone (Sommerville et al., 2017)

Bonding and Social Connection

Interactive play can strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners, fostering a deeper emotional connection and promoting social cohesion. Activities like tug provide opportunities for mutual enjoyment and collaboration, strengthening the bond between dog and human (Rooney et al., 2000).

Mental Stimulation and Cognitive Function

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is essential for keeping dogs mentally sharp and preventing avoidable cognitive decline. Tug offers valuable mental stimulation as dogs strategize their moves, anticipate their owner’s actions, and problem-solve during play. Research has shown that interactive play promotes cognitive development and can potentially reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction syndrome in aging dogs (Jones et al., 2021).

Tug as the Reward

The game of tug can serve as a powerful positive reinforcement tool, encouraging desired behaviours through the high-value incentive of interactive tug play which again taps into a dog’s natural prey and social drives. Pending on a dog’s reward hierarchy, tug as a consequential reinforcer can encourage focus and engagement during training sessions while offering teachable moments to reinforce obedience or other skills.

Impulse Control and Behavioural Management

Interactive play, when conducted with clear rules and boundaries, helps dogs develop and improve on their impulse control and self-restraint. Teaching dogs to wait for release signals or other cues, promotes impulse control and enhances obedience (Garcia et al., 2017). Tug can be such an amazing game to teach a dog to drop something on verbal cue or a range of other waiting-type behaviours.

Natural Instincts and Enrichment

Tug taps into innate behaviours, satisfying a dog’s prey and social drives. Engaging in games like tug provides a natural outlet for behaviours such as tugging and pulling which many dogs naturally enjoy as part of their predatory ancestry (Robinson & Clark, 2020).

Confidence Building and Emotional Well-being

Successful participation in higher intensity games like tug can boost dogs’ confidence and self-esteem. As dogs master the game and achieve success through play, they potentially can experience a sense of accomplishment and joy (Johnson et al., 2018). Play can have huge benefits for dogs that are more fearful and lack general confidence.

The Obvious TUG Caveat

In some minor cases, with certain dogs, tug may of course pose risks if not approached with caution, particularly with dogs predisposed to possessiveness, aggression, or those prone to resource guarding (Rooney & Cowan, 2011). Intense play without clarity and boundaries, may hypothetically reinforce undesirable behaviours and escalate arousal, potentially leading to unsafe situations (Borchelt, 1983) (Rooney et al., 2002). To mitigate risks, it’s crucial to assess each dog’s temperament and training level, establish clear rules, and supervise play closely to ensure safety for both the dog and humans involved. Consulting with a professional trainer can provide guidance on safe play practices and address any concerns when it comes to initiating play with your dog. There are in fact many ways to play with a dog, tug being just one style of play that may not be suitable for every dog or person in terms of safety or preferences.

Safe Toys & Use

If you and your dog enjoy playing tug, I recommend investing in high-quality tug toys specifically designed for this purpose. It can be disheartening to spend money on a toy only for it to fall apart after one game. Look for tug toys made from durable materials that are safe for your dog to bite and interact with orally. Regular stuffed or hard plastic toys may not withstand the rigors of tug-of-war or be quite unsafe or pose risks to your dog’s teeth. Additionally, to keep the tug toy exciting, avoid leaving it with your dog outside of tug games, as it may become boring or be mistaken for a chew toy. Remember, tug toys are meant for interactive play, not chewing. If your dog enjoys chewing, consider exploring other safe enrichment-based chewing toys available on the market alongside your tug sessions with your dog. If this post is received well, I may write another post with links to my favourite tugs that I have found to be great working with a range of puppies and adult dogs. Comment below if you would like more info about quality tug toys.

Research confirms the crucial role interactive and appropriate play, such as games like tug, have in enhancing the overall well-being of dogs, both physically and mentally. By integrating regular interactive play sessions into your dog’s daily routine, you offer vital physical exercise, mental stimulation, and avenues for social engagement, fostering stronger relationships and enrichment. So, seize the opportunity to enhance your dog’s health, happiness, and bond through play today!


Borchelt, P. L. (1983). Aggressive behavior of dogs kept as companion animals: Classification and influence of sex, reproductive status and breed. Applied Animal Ethology, 10(1-2), 45-61.

main.pdf (sciencedirectassets.com)

John W.S. Bradshaw, Anne J. Pullen, Nicola J. Rooney (2015) Why do adult dogs ‘play’?, Behavioural Processes,Volume 110, 2015, Pages 82-87, ISSN 0376-6357, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2014.09.023.

Brown, A., & Miller, B. (2019). The effects of interactive play on canine cognitive function. Journal of Animal Behavior, 25(2), 145-163.

Garcia, S., et al. (2017). Impulse control and behavioral self-regulation in dogs: A training intervention study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 12(4), 321-335.

Johnson, L., et al. (2018). Confidence building through interactive play in dogs. Journal of Canine Studies, 6(3), 187-201.

Jones, R., et al. (2021). The impact of interactive play on cognitive function in aging dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 30(4), 512-525.

Robinson, E., & Clark, D. (2020). Understanding natural behaviors in domestic dogs: Implications for enrichment. Animal Behavior Review, 8(2), 87-102.

Rooney, N, John W.S Bradshaw (2002) An experimental study of the effects of play upon the dog–human relationship, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 75, Issue 2,
2002, Pages 161-176, ISSN 0168-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00192-7.
Article summary

Rooney N, John W.S Bradshaw, Ian H Robinson (2000) A comparison of dog–dog and dog–human play behaviour,
Applied Animal Behaviour Science,Volume 66, Issue 3,
2000, Pages 235-248,
ISSN 0168-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(99)00078-7.

Rooney, N. J., & Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner-dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132(3-4), 169-177.

Full article

Sommerville R, Emily A. O’Connor, Lucy Asher (2017), Why do dogs play? Function and welfare implications of play in the domestic dog, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 197, 2017,
Pages 1-8, ISSN 0168-1591,

Racheal Romeo is the Owner and Head Trainer of Riverina K9 Services

Get the Latest News from Riverina K9 Services

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.