Get Down and Dirty With Your Dog: Bow, Hug, and Tug

Playing with your dog is a great way to maintain a special bond on their terms.

Posted Apr 07, 2017

Disclaimer: It's okay to do all of these things as long as it's okay with your dog. They must be done on their terms, not yours.

A number of people have written to me with questions such as "Is it okay to play with my dog?" "Is it okay to play tug-of-war" with Harry?" and "Is it okay to hug Mary?" With the weekend approaching, many people will have more time to spend with their canine companion and perhaps with other nonhuman companions with whom they share their home. 

I've written about hugging, noting that it's just fine to hug your/a dog as long as it's on their terms (please see "Hugging a Dog Is Just Fine When Done With Great Care"). In this essay I wrote, "A rule of thumb before hugging a dog is to pay very close attention to individual differences, your relationship with the dog, and the situation at hand. ... The bottom line is that when you hug a dog it's on their terms, not yours."

I've also written about playing tug-of-war with dogs, noting that it's not always on only about competition (please see "What's Happening When Dogs Play Tug-of-War? Dog Park Chatter"). I loved playing tug-of-war with the dogs with whom I lived, and many others, once again, as long as it was on their terms.

A few days ago I came across something dog trainer Pat Miller wrote about playing tug-of-war with dogs. In her book called Play with Your Dog, Ms. Miller wrote, “Tug to your hearts’ content,” and don't worry if your dog growls. It's all “part of the game,” and if the dog's other behaviors are appropriate, “let him growl his heart out!”

Tug-of-war between humans and dogs also is not necessarily about dominance. Not only can it be fun, but it also can be important in bonding and maintaining a positive and friendly relationship and training experience with your dog. 

So, when you hang out with your dog this weekend or at other times, feel free to get down and dirty with them and play, hug, and tug to your dog's and your heart's delight, as long as it's on their terms. You have to pay very close attention to who each dog is as a unique individual and what they want and need. But, if she or he likes it, throw in a few play bows, run wildly here and there, wrestle with them, and hug and tug and enjoy it all. Getting down and dirty with a dog is an incredibly special time filled with frivolity and unbounded joy. 

And, as Pat Miller aptly says, “let him growl his heart out!” It's can be boundless fun and a win-win for all. 

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018. Marc's homepage is marcbekoff.com.

For reviews of The Animals' Agenda please see: "New Book Calls for Paradigm Shift," "Animals Need More Freedom, Not Bigger Cages," and "The Animals' Agenda: An interview About Animal Well-Being."