3-Way Tug

Most of us probably think of “playing tug” as a one-person, one-dog game. Or a two-dog game. Or a two-team game: Those tug-o-war contests in management courses that intend to build teamwork feature two teams — two teams that are pitted against one another. It’s a reasonable understanding. The players are tugging at opposite ends of a rope, after all. There are only two ends.

But what happens when there are three dogs?

Option 1, one dog gets left out, is unacceptable.

Option 1a, the left-out dog has to play with Mom, is even worse.

Option 2, the third dog hassles the other two and badgers them into giving up their game, ends up making everyone miserable.

Enterprising dogs come up with Option 3, a solution that is better in so many ways.

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Option 3 is three-way tug. All three dogs get to engage, play, tug on the rope. No one wins. No one loses. No one is left out. Instead of tug being a zero-sum game, tug becomes an enjoyable, collaborative activity. The goal is having fun. And the more fun each dog has, the more fun they all have. Everyone wins. But Mom/auntie gets left out.

Actually, that is not true either. Mom gets to sit on the sidelines and take photos and enjoy the dogs enjoying themselves.

Truly, everyone wins.

So, what did I learn from watching Cali and her cousins invent and play three-way tug?

  • There are many ways to solve a problem.
  • It’s possible to find a solution that benefits everyone.
  • Collaboration is rewarding and, in some cases, a lot of fun.
  • Rather than sulking over being left out or bullying your friends, it’s possible to change the dynamic to something more positive.
  • Having fun until you’re too tired to stand, then taking a nice nap, is a better way to spend the afternoon than arguing or feeling resentful.
  • Dogs are smarter than people.

OK, I already knew that last one.

Dogs are great problem-solvers. They live in the moment and want to be part of whatever fun thing is happening. Maybe the solution was obvious; it didn’t take long for these three doggy friends to come up with it.

But if it’s so obvious, how come none of us ever thought of three-way tug?




On the fourth night of Hanukkah, Cali got her wish: Snow. Fluffy, white, untouched-by-dog-paws snow.

It started snowing in the afternoon, and she got a little taste of it on our afternoon walk, but not much had accumulated. I went out to a dinner party and got home a little after 9. I put on my boots, put Cali on her leash, and gave her the best present of her life. We walked a bit, then I just dropped the leash and let her run. There was no one else out, no cars moving in the parking lot, and the space between two apartment buildings was so inviting. All that new snow!

As she has on encountering open spaces before, Cali ran crazy circles and figure eights around the picnic tables. She did something a little different this time, though: Every couple of circuits, she’d bound over to me, play bow, dance a little, then take off again. I scooped up snow and threw it in the air. It was so dry and powdery that I couldn’t make a snow ball to throw, but Cali caught the flying snow and licked it from her nose. She plowed into the snow on the ground with both nose and paws. She ran more laps around the picnic tables.

The next morning, we visited our friend Scarlett (who has a back yard!) and both girls ran around and around in the snow. We played ball in the snow, too. The snow is still here (Cali doesn’t know it yet, but the snow is likely to still be here weeks and months from now…) and she still thinks it is wonderful.