Is Tug of War BAD for Dogs? (The Truth)

Tug of war is a challenging and fun game that involves two or more people pulling on opposite ends of a rope, trying to tug the other person across a line. 

It is a typical game children play and can also be enjoyed by adults – but, is tug of war bad for dogs? While it may seem like harmless fun, this game can be dangerous for dogs.

is tug of war bad for dogs
Is tug of war bad for dogs? (The truth)

Let’s take a look at the reasons why. 

Dogs Get Overexcited

Dogs have a tendency to get over-excited during games of tug of war and may become aggressive if they feel they are losing. This can lead to injuries for both people and dogs.

Another problem with overexcitement is it can reinforce past traumas. For example, if you adopted a dog who was previously used in a dogfighting ring, it is best to avoid tug of war because it may trigger aggressive behavior.

Dogs Can Be Stronger Than People

Dogs are often much stronger than people and can easily pull a person across a line or even knock them down. Avoid playing with bigger and stronger breeds that can easily overpower you unless they are trained to understand their power.

Dalmatian plays tug of war
A Dalmatian dog plays tug of war with a little girl.

Dogs May Develop Bad Habits

Playing tug of war can give dogs the wrong idea about playing with other dogs. They may think that playing roughly and becoming dominant over other dogs is acceptable. 

It can lead to fights and injuries. So playing tug of war a lot isn’t a good idea. Mix in other games that reinforce that aggression is not a good thing.

two dogs playing tug of war
Two dogs playing tug of war aggressively.

Can Cause Dental Issues

In addition, playing tug of war can cause dental issues for dogs. The pressure of the rope against a dog’s teeth can cause them to crack or even break. It can especially be a problem in older dogs because their teeth are more brittle.

pitbull smiling
What a smile! (Wanna learn how to teach your dog to smile?)

Can Cause Injuries

Tug of war can not only lead to injuries in humans but in dogs as well. While people can pull muscles or ligaments, dogs can suffer from strains, sprains, and even rips in their muscles.

brown and white puppy on dog bed
A (very) sleepy brown and white puppy nods off on a large dog bed.

Dangerous for Puppies

Tug of war can be dangerous for puppies because they may not be strong enough to handle the tugging and easily become overexcited. They may lose their grip and injure themselves. Not to mention, their teeth are still growing and can easily be damaged by the game.

brown and black puppies asleep in crate
Brown and black young puppies sleeping in a shared crate.

Isn’t Ideal for Every Dog

Aside from taking age and past traumas into account, it’s essential to understand that tug of war may not be ideal for every dog. The activities that each dog loves can be different. 

For instance, Collies, Labs, Terriers, and Bully breeds tend to love tug of war. Other dogs may not be stimulated by it as much. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t another activity that doesn’t motivate your dog to get up and moving.

Experiment with different toys to see which one your dog loves the most. They may love a squeaky toy, a bone, or Frisby. They may even just like horseplaying with you and running.

With time, you will figure out what they love the most.

Russian toy terrier with frisbee
A Russian Toy Terrier plays with a frisbee. Small dogs play frisbee too!

You Can Still Enjoy Tug of War

Don’t be scared of tug of war. It can be an excellent activity to bond with your furry friend. Just understand the risks and take precautions.

Here are some things that will allow you to enjoy the game more:

Controlled Environment

Play tug of war in a controlled environment, like your backyard. It will help to minimize the chances of injuries. Playing in the home increases the chances of you or your dog breaking something or obtaining an injury.

a puppy outdoors with a rope tug toy
A puppy outdoors with a rope tug toy.


If your backyard isn’t an option, make sure there is plenty of space for the dogs to move around and keep a close eye on them at all times. If your dog starts to get too excited or shows any signs of aggression, stop playing immediately.

Recommendations for Playing Tug of War

One recommendation for playing tug of war is to use a toy that has length. While your dog may not mean to, they could nip your hands trying to get the toy. 

Having a toy with length will help decrease the chances of this happening. It can also lower their need to keep biting the toy to get a good grip.

Another suggestion is to let your dog win sometimes. It will keep them interested in playing and ensure that they don’t get too excited. If you always win, your dog may become bored or frustrated.

Use It As A Distraction…

It may come as a surprise, but tug of war can be used as a distraction. Our dogs are just like us in that they get uncomfortable in some environments and around certain people. If your pup is passionate about tug of war you may be able to use it to calm them down.

It’s best to start doing this at an early age to teach them that they are safe and can be free and have fun no matter where they are. 

It increases their attention span by lowering how quickly they get distracted by new environments and people. The practice can reduce their level of stress and anxiety.

chihuahua playing tug
A Chihuahua playing tug on a carpet

…But Don’t Chase

It’s easy to engage in a chase with your dog when they take their toy and run. However, when you chase them, you teach them that it’s okay not to listen to you, creating possessive and aggressive behavior. 

If you are playing tug with your dog and they run away with the toy, let them. They need to know that engaging in tug of war is the reward. There is no game if they don’t bring the toy back to you.

Wrapping Up

Tug of war is a fun game that can be enjoyed by people and dogs alike, but it’s important to play safely. Be sure to keep an eye on your dog, and stop playing if he starts to get too excited. Be mindful of their behavior and use it to teach them to listen to you and remain calm.

Enjoy playing tug of war with your furry friend!