Play Fetch, Not Tug

| November 10, 2011

Little puppy running with a ballAs you may have noticed by now, one of my favorite topics is how to make your dog a well-behaved family member.

That’s not because I am easily annoyed by dogs that don’t behave. Anyone who knows my girls, Sadie and Sophie, knows they demonstrate some poor manners from time-to-time.

But I also know well-behaved dogs are less likely to end up in a shelter, so every time I help someone teach their dog manners, I’m hopefully helping eliminate pet homelessness.

To that end, you may also know that I believe exercise is one of the best ways to put your dog on its best behavior. Dogs with excess energy rarely mind their manners.

I always advocate walking with your dog for exercise. It not only burns off that unwanted energy, but it’s a great way to bond with your pet.

Some dogs, however, need much more exertion, and if you’re not a runner, then a game of fetch can be the right answer.

But what do you do if your dog prefers tug to fetch and will retrieve the ball, but like many, won’t give it back?

The answer is a fairly simple training game that teaches your dog to give in order to receive.

Start with a toy the dog can hold one end of while you hold the other. Entice your dog to grab the toy by shaking it and pulling it away to pique his interest.

Then say “take it,” and let your dog grab an end. Keep holding your end while he mouths and plays with it.

Now it’s time to teach him to give the toy back to you.

Say “give” and offer a treat in trade for the toy. Most dogs will opt for the treat and let go of the toy. If not, try higher value treats, such as liver snacks or peanut butter.

Don’t jerk the toy away when your dog lets go; just hold it right where it was so he doesn’t feel like he lost by letting go.

When your dog lets go, offer praise and then give him the reward. Immediately offer the original toy back, saying “take it!” Praise him again with a “good, take it” when he grabs on, and let him play with the toy while you keep hold of it too.

Repeat this several times, ending with “take it,” and allowing your dog to keep the toy.

Once this game is learned, apply it to the act of fetching. If your dog won’t give up the toy, simply sit down and start reading a magazine. Don’t look up from your magazine until he touches your hand with the toy, trying to give it to you.

This might take a while, but with time, your dog will realize that you’re not interested in playing “keep away.”

Don’t let your dog turn this into a competition. If he won’t “give,” quit playing and go back to reading. The game is played by your rules, not your dog’s desires.

This may mean you’ll be throwing fewer toys or balls in the beginning, but once he catches on, he’ll play the game your way. Be patient. It will pay off.

David Loignon is the owner of Home Buddies Premier In-home Pet Care. You can reach him via email: or online at

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Category: The Pet Buddy

About the Author (Author Profile)

David Loignon
After 25 years as a journalist and television production executive I turned
my career 180 degrees and opened a pet care business; Home Buddies
Louisville. I couldn’t abandon journalism altogether though, so now I write
The Pet Buddy, a weekly column to help you improve the lives of your
four-legged family members. When I’m not hanging out with my wife Julie and
our rescued fur-kids you will find me on a bicycle racing for The Cycling Team.

Comments (1)

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  1. Michael says:

    Great article and point. People way too often believe the animal is to blame for their behavior, when the owner is. If discouraged owners would take the time to learn how their pet’s individual mind and (moreso usually)instincts work, it’s much easier to address misbehavior, make everyone happier, and save at least 1 life.

    The tug/fetch games are perfect examples of having an undesirably competitive relationship with the dog, versus a subordinate one.