“I’m having trouble with my OUT,” he said as I met him on the grassy field.

“My dog just won’t let go of the toy. And when he does finally let it go, he’s so frantic, I always get bit.”

His hands showed the wounds from a tug game gone South.

“I mean, I almost don’t want to play with him anymore.”

I listened intently as he told his story. And after he finished, my response was a simple one.

“You’re not alone.”


Getting a high powered dog to let go of a toy can be tricky business. Especially if you’ve got a working dog for whom tug play is seemingly hardwired into their DNA.

Avid tuggers LOVE the game.

So asking them to stop…

To let go of the prize they worked so hard for…

That’s the stuff of fairy tales.


Not so fast.

Truth is, nearly every time a well-intentioned dog owner comes to me with a dog suffering from a “letting go” problem, they are the ones that are causing the issue.

In fact, over the years, I’ve identified 3 things a majority of dog owners struggling with the OUT do, that are obliterating their chances of getting their dog to let go reliably.

So what are they doing that is working against them?

Here are the top 3 things that dog owners regularly do that hurt their chances of teaching a reliable OUT.

No. 1 – They protect the toy – It’s our natural inclination to want to protect the toy once we finally get it away from our dogs. So as soon as we get them to let go of it, we pull it away as quickly as possible in order to hide it behind our back or get it out of our dog’s reach.

But this quick movement triggers our dog’s instinct to chase. Not to mention, as you rip the toy away to protect it, your dog thinks the opportunity for play is escaping. So they’ve got to act fast in order to continue the game.

Do this: Rather than pulling the toy away when your dog let’s go of it, keep it still. You can even reward your dog by cueing them to grab the toy again as payment for their OUT.

No. 2 – They Pull – Many dog owners want to pull the toy away from their dogs. They’ll ask their dog to let go, and then they’ll start pulling in an effort to pry the toy from their dog’s mouth. But did you know that pulling on the toy tells the dog to set his or her grip? To hold on tighter?

Do This: Rather than pulling, make the toy go dead. Relax it. Don’t pull or fight. You may have to step into your dog to alleviate tension on the toy, and you may need to keep your dog on leash to prevent them from initiating pulling themselves, but that’s okay. A dead toy is far easier to let go of than one that is actively trying to get away.

No. 3 – They fight – We LOVE playing tug with our dogs. And some of us get REALLY into the game. We growl at our dogs, we swing them around, and we love how excited they get for the toy. But the harder we fight our dogs in play, and the more movement and excitement is in our game, the harder it will be for our dogs to let go.

Do this: Take it easy, tug for short bursts, and quiet your movement when you first introduce the OUT. Make it easy for your dog to let go and set your dog, and yourself up for success.


If you’ve got a dog that struggles to let go of their toy, you may have to adjust your own behavior in order to set the stage for success.

Before you ask your dog to let go, make sure the toy is “dead” – don’t move it or pull on it. And when your dog does let go, don’t rip the toy away. Instead, keep it steady. You can even reward your dog for letting the toy go, by letting them have it again. If there is a reward in sight, your dog will be more likely to let go when asked moving forward.  

By making some minor tweaks to your handling, you can avoid the common pitfalls dog owners face when teaching their dogs to OUT. And by setting the stage for success, you can teach your dog to let go of that coveted toy whenever you ask.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    2 replies to "Who’s to blame? 3 Reasons your dog won’t “Out” their toy"

    • Cathy Sagmo Parks

      Making sure the toy is ‘dead’ and letting your dog relax (Like they train to in IGP) are most excellent ideas! Thank you for this article!

    • Ellen

      Excellent advice and suggestions. I’m going to try to video myself with the dog so I can see what I do right, and may be doing wrong in that game excitement. Thank you!

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