Will Wrestling With My Dog Make Her More Aggressive?

Camilla about to be "attacked" by my dog Ajej.
Camilla about to be "attacked" by my dog Ajej. | Source
Wrestling with my dog.
Wrestling with my dog. | Source

The Pitbull ran alone on the beach and stopped when she saw a large piece of driftwood that she could hide behind. As soon as the man got close she leapt out, charging toward him and leaping up at the last minute. She growled fiercely, her mouth wide open, and as she lunged her teeth clamped down on his arm.

But did she bite?

No, of course not. A dog who learns bite inhibition will not break the skin.

I know this because I wrestle with my dog almost every day. She puts her teeth on my bare flesh but would never bite me.


Some dogs like treats, some like to play ball, but this search and rescue dog likes to wrestle as a reward for doing his job.
Some dogs like treats, some like to play ball, but this search and rescue dog likes to wrestle as a reward for doing his job. | Source

Does wretling lead to aggression?

In one of her books, the animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell tells about a case with a large Lab who was in the habit of biting his owner. The dog wrestled each evening with the male owner, a man who weighs over 200 pounds, but during the day was with the small female owner and would bite her when she would not play rough. Dr. McConnell recommended that the male owner stop wrestling with the dog.

But is not wrestling with a dog the solution? Not too many years ago many trainers stated “do not play tug of war with your dog” since that game was said to be one of the causes of aggression.

Tug of war is not the cause of aggression.

Tug of war is one of those games that can be used to burn off excess energy and makes a dog less aggressive. Now those who recommend “no wrestling” state “play tug of war instead”.

Wrestling will not lead to aggression, but dogs who are going to wrestle with their owners do need to learn bite inhibition. If you teach your dog bite inhibition, your dog may bite of something bad happens to her, but when she does so it is not going to cause as much damage as the bite of a dog who does not know how to control herself.

Teaching bite inhibition has nothing to do with a dog´s breed. I have worked with many dog breeds, and have yet to come across a dog not able to learn to control himself. It does not matter if the dog is small, large, or even giant.

Do you wrestle with your dog?

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When can I wrestle with my dog?

Your dog also needs to learn when it is okay to wrestle, and when it is not. It is okay when you say it is!

It is never okay for the dog to start the wrestling match.

There are some trainers out there who say “never allow your dog to wrestle, since he may end up being aggressive and wrestling with an elderly person or a small child”.

This is wrong.

A dog can be taught to understand when he is given the signal to wrestle. I grunt and do a “Frankenstein walk” with my arms held out so that my dog will know it is okay to start wrestling. She also knows it is okay to wrestle with one of the neighbor girls, but would never even try to jump up on kids she is not allowed to play with.

So can your wrestle with your dog? Of course you can. All it takes is a little training time.

Your dog is worth the effort.

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Comments 19 comments

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 months ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Perhaps. I read recently that Switzerland is discontinuing its mandatory classes for new dog owners. The owners that had taken the classes did not treat their dogs any differently than those who did not take classes.

jtrader profile image

jtrader 2 months ago

Perhaps it would help if more people did classes before getting a dog.

Max 8 months ago

I used to have a boxer and always wrestled with him since he was very small. When he was tiny any time he but harder than i liked i would say ow, grab his cheeks an pinch them into his teeth a bit to let him know that hurts, then stop a bit and keep playing after some time. He learned very quickly how hard was too hard. By the time he was full grown i could wrestle with him as rough as i wanted, even picking him up and giving him a bit of a toss. He also understood that Im the only one he can wrestle with, i think mostly because of the body language i would use to tell him i wanna wrestle. When it was time to stop i would just stand up and he might mouth me once or twice but i wouldnt respond by playing. Usually id just pat him on the head.

I have a new boxer now and going through the same process and just in the past few days she went from trying to bit hard or tug at fingers, to mouthing hands and arms without putting enough pressure to cause pain (even with her needle like puppy teeth)

I dont see any reason why you shouldnt wrestle with a dog as long as they understand when and when not to play rough.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

We finally gave up on keeping our Chihuahua out of our bed at night, and as a goodnight gesture, she gently bites my hand for a few minutes and then drifts off to sleep. It's has become ritual that both of us love. She does not do this with my wife.

Cynthia 2 years ago

I'm a 130 lb woman & I wrestle with my 90 lb Great Dane/Pitbull mix almost every day. She bitesme, but very softly (would never break skin) & knows that when I say "sit" that the game is over. I can't say wrestling is right for every dog, but it's pretty fun for us!

Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

People who argue against wrestling with dogs are usually those who belong to the school of though that believes in wolf / dog domination theory. They also advise letting the dog lead you on a walk.

I let my dog lead me all the time. He leads and all I have to do is to let him know which way to go if he is indecisive or heads in a wrong direction. Many times, I ask him to pull me, especially under knee deep snow conditions or when I am tired and we have to climb an ascent.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

That seems like a long time but at least it wasn't IVDD,which often does not do better no matter how hard you try. Good to hear he is now doing better!!!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

My MinPin didn't have IVDD, it turned out to be an infection in his spinal fluid. He's been on medication for a year...actually took the last pill last week.

Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

I think it is. When talking with someone with a new dog and small kids, I'll tell them I know a vet who says that, but in reality it happens all the time. I'm sure vets and pediatricians have some horror stories to tell, but as a percentage of teeth/skin contact episodes, they're probably pretty low. It's good CYA rhetoric, though.

I'd guess that normal cautions would suffice. With a puppy or a rescue, you make sure the dog understands the rules of human/dog play.

If the dog just doesn't get it, then you just don't roughhouse with him. But if he's good with roughhousing, I should think it's a play that he would very much identify with and enjoy.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

I´ve read that "never, ever" comment before, and I think it is unrealistic. All it takes is a little education and training.

Does this sound like another case of MAAN?

Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

Had a hard time getting beyond the visual of a grunting DrMark1961 doing the Frankenstein walk. lol!! There's still time to edit the hub and add the video. Bet it would go viral.

There's a vet who does a call-in show in RI who is fond of saying, "A dog's teeth should never, ever touch human skin." He usually uses it in the context of training a puppy or when adopting a dog. Maybe a bit extreme.

No statistics, but I think it's a safe bet that most dog owners roughhouse or wrestle with their dogs without ever having taught bite inhibition.

When dogs (and cats, too for that matter) play with each other, it often looks pretty violent, yet they never draw blood. Is it realistic to think that dogs are simply able to discriminate between play and real aggression, whatever species they're engaged with?

Another valuable hub...voted up, useful and interesting.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Hi Suhail this is so short because I just wrote it as a reply to a "do not wrestle with your dog' suggestion. I had to go out and take a picture of my dog "attacking" my arm, and it was cloudy so it is kind of dark.

I don't think your dog would like the heat here, but I would sure enjoy wrestling with him!

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Hey Kashmir56 thanks for reading and commenting! I always enjoy your reading list (the articles you share) and appreciate your participation.

Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

I don't wrestle with my 110 pound Kuvasz, but I am close to doing it. I play quite a rough form of tug of war with his two favorite tough toys. Of course, he understands the limitations and has bite control.

In real life wrestling situation, I don't think anyone stands a chance against him lol.

Great hub! Short, sweet and confirming my belief :-)

kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Great informative and interesting article with useful information on wrestling with your dog, how to do it right and why it is good to do it with your dog. When my dog was alive she would always love to wrestle with me and never once bit me . Well done !

Vote up and more !!!

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

Thats really great that your Chihuahua is into wrestling! I used to try to play like that with my Maltese, and he would look at me like "Are you serious?Give me some space here!"

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I've always play-wrestled with my dogs. It's a fun communication that they understand, and we always ended it with mutual displays of affection (like the girl in the video).

Even my tiny Chihuahua loves to play fight, although she just attacks my hand. Her tiny little growls just crack us up!

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

I have this great visual now of wretling with a MinPin! Does he still have problems with IVDD?

Dogs are so funny. My dog loves to wrestle but could care less about balls and doesn't like tug of war. Oh well!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

This is very informational Dr. Mark. There is so much controversy about tug of war and wrestling with dogs it is hard to know what is right. Everything you've said makes sense. Obviously I don't wrestle with my MiPn, but I do play tug of war with him. He has put his mouth around my hand or arm many times but never bites down...I didn't specifically teach him bite inhibition but did go through "no bite" training.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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    DrMark1961 profile image

    DrMark1961568 Followers
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    Dr Mark is a veterinarian in Brazil. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and dogs suffering from aggression problems.

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