K9DIY: Make a hard core, square-braid tug

Project difficulty level: Medium (requires some attention to detail, especially at first)

I’ve got three dogs, and they’re all in sports.  They’re all big on toys, and they all like to tug.  And they’re terriers. You can imagine that a good, strong, tug-friendly toy that actually lasts is worth its weight in gold around here.


Ol’ red eyes right there is why we can’t have nice things.

I bought my first square-braid tug from Katie at Red Dog Tugs and was sold immediately.  Tugs made this way are STRONG: my first ones that I bought from Katie are more than two years old and still going strong with three maniac dogs (and several crazy fosters) in the house. The very first one I got from her, in fact, still rides around with me in Widget’s puppy bag and is her go-to tug. They’re also washable, and if you throw a stretched-out tug in the dryer for a few minutes, it shrinks back up. I started dinking around trying to figure out how to make them myself about a year ago; I got pretty good at them and have been selling them locally at the farmer’s market and giving them to my dog friends.  I’m sure I’ve made at least 100 by this point.  Here’s the thing, though: when I want a really tough tug for my dogs, I still buy them from Katie, and here’s why: much like the first couple of scarves you make when you’re just learning to knit, there’s a learning curve with these tugs, and you get better at them the more you make. Katie’s been doing this for a while; her tugs are better than mine. And the ones I’m making now are certainly better than the ones I made when I started, even though it’s the same fairly simple process to make them; it just gets in your hands better the more you make.  But if you want to try making one for yourself, here’s what to do!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Two pieces of fleece, at least eight inches wide and a yard long. These should be in contrasting colors; it’s easier to keep track of what you’re doing that way.  I made this particular tug for Widget’s puppy class buddy, Jem, a baby border collie with agility in his future. And what better colors for a pre-agility pupper than yellow and blue? But you can use any colors you want. Also note: you want a fleece that is not too stretchy: I do not have very good luck with so-called ‘microfleece’ or fleece marketed as ‘anti-pill’ as they tend to lose their shape when tugged.  My favorite fleece to work with is sold under the brand name ‘Blizzard’. FYI!
  • Scissors

Here’s what you do:

The Beginning:

1) Lay out your fleece on a large flat surface.
2) Cut two yard-long strips from each piece of fleece, leaving you with four strips in total. I tend to make my strips about four inches wide: much wider than that and it becomes cumbersome to work with.  You can go a little thinner if you have a micro-dog, but this size works well for 18 lb. Widget as well as 65 lb. Lucy (and it’s strong enough for super-tuggy pittie Nellie). You don’t have to get all Martha Stewart OCD about making sure your strips are an even four inches all the way up and down; I usually just eyeball it and assume that any weirdnesses will lead to fun, dog-friendly textural variation (WHAT?) Also, as you can see from my shockingly jagged edges (I need new scissors), they don’t need to be perfectly straight.  The strips should be the same length, more or less, but otherwise, it’s forgiving.


3) Unfold your strips (if you cut your fleece folded) and lay the strips on top of each other, alternating colors: in this case, yellow-blue-yellow-blue.

4) Gather the bundle of strips in your hand, leaving a few inches hanging out at the top.

5) Make a slip knot with the whole bundle, again leaving a few inches at the top…

6) …and pull it taut
6a) At this point, you might want to tie the loose ends to a chair to make your new tug easier to weave. I took pictures of it laid out on a table, since that got the visual point across better, but that’s not the easiest way to go about this.
The First Stitch*

The first stitch in your tug is different than the rest, and somewhat more complicated, but it’s necessary to start the good square shape.

* No, it’s not really a ‘stitch’, but that’s easier to say than ‘the first weave-y knot-y thing’, so let’s all just roll with it

1) Lay out the fleece as shown in the picture, with the two blue pieces hanging down and the two yellow pieces out to each side. I have labeled them yellow left (y-l), yellow right (y-r), blue left (b-l) and blue right (b-r)

2) Bring the tail of y-l over so it crosses over the top of both blue pieces and lays parallel below y-r.

3) Bring the tail of b-r up so it crosses over the top of both yellow pieces and runs perpendicular to b-l.

4) Bring the tail of y-r up so it crosses over both legs of b-r and then crosses under b-l and then over y-l.


Over b-r…


Under b-l…


…then over y-l.

5) Pull the four ends taught and hey presto, you have a cute little multi-colored box.

The Rest of the Stitches

These next stitches are easier, and by the end of the tug, they’ll be old hat.  The major rule from here on out is the same as in Ghostbusters: don’t cross the streams! Your blue pieces should never cross over your other blue pieces, your yellow should never cross over your other yellow. Go straight across from here on out.

1) Lay your fleece out as in the picture below, in a big plus symbol. I am going to rename our pieces of fleece (1-4, based on the order we deal with them). To recap Rule #1, 1 and 2 will never cross each other, 3 and 4 will never cross each other.  They’ll run parallel to each other but never cross.

2) Fold 1 partially down and over the top of 4, so it runs parallel with 2.

3) Fold 2 partially up and over the top of 3.

4) Fold 3 over the outside leg of 2 and under the outside leg of 1 (tricksy!)

5) Fold 4 over the outside leg of 1 and under the outside leg of 2. Remember to go straight across–4 should never overlap or cross 3.

6) Pull the ends taut. If you did it right, you’ll be rewarded with another cute multicolored box.

7) The next stitch! You will notice that 1 has shifted from the right side of the box to the left, and everything else has followed suit. No matter, it’s still 1, 2 is still 2, etc. So, to recap:
Fold 1 down and 2 up (don’t cross them!)

8) Fold 3 over(2) and under(1), then 4 over(1) and under(2)

9) Pull. Please note that when you pull, you should pull tightly, making sure to yank on all four strands.
This is too loose:

This is just right:

You should start seeing a pile of little boxes as you continue to stitch. Two sides should be all yellow, two should be all blue.

10) Keep going until you find yourself with only a 4-5 inch ‘tail’ left over


1) As you did at the beginning, take all of the fleece in your hand and make a slip knot with the whole pile.

2) Snug the knot up until it is tight and flush with the square-braided part of the tug.

3) Trim off the ends of your tug to even them up and to get rid of any weirdnesses in the fleece.

4) Go take a look at Michelle’s awesome tug post

5) Go have fun with your dog!
Nellie tug

51 thoughts on “K9DIY: Make a hard core, square-braid tug

  1. I have been looking all over for good instructions on this, so I will definitely refer back. Last winter I made some decent tugs out of clearance fleece scarves and felt pretty proud of myself, but they weren’t by any means great. I’m going to have to try this again.

    • I experimented a lot with these when I was first making them, and what ended up holding up the best were these (basically a fleece lanyard) and a stripey round variant which you make by just doing the first stitch over and over again. Regular braiding, at least with my dogs, doesn’t hack it (although I will do a regular four-strand braid when I’m making tuggy leashes, since that’s a lot more flexible.) Let me know what you end up with if you do try this!

  2. Fleece tugs (specifically the ones from Red Dog Tugs) are my dogs’ favorite toys EVER. I’ve been toying with the idea of making some of my own, so this post is perfectly timed!

  3. This is SO COOL, thank you for posting it!

    I used to be pretty good at this sort of thing when I was nine and in summer camp (friendship bracelets and lanyards were A Big Thing at my summer camp, probably because it was the easiest way to get a giant cabin-ful of sugar-crazed preteens to sit down and shut up for an hour) but at this point I am old and talent-less and gonna hop over to that Etsy shop to place an order instead. ;)

    But still, really neat post that I can refer more crafty-talented friends to.

  4. Oh, this is awesome! I just tried this out last night, using old green and purple tee shirts as the fabric. It ended up a little funky because there were inconvenient seams that got in the way, but I think it’s pretty good. Now I just have to figure out how to convince a 12-year-old rescue dog to tug with me… :)

    • Yay, I am so glad it worked for you! I had to actually teach one of my dogs to play tug with me, and I trained it like I was training any other trick: I shaped it, and paired it/rewarded it with food. My dog loves to tug now, and it’s become a reward in its own right; it just took a little while for it to click on that tug was actually FUN.

  5. Yeah, I think I’m going to have to teach her somehow. She responds well to praise, but isn’t food motivated at all. Like, if I offer her a treat, even a high value one, she just stops everything she’s doing and thinks about it for a long time. It’s like she’s surprised and confused and perhaps afraid to take it from me. By the time she eats it she’s clearly forgotten what she was doing before. But if I put the same thing in her dish, she gobbles it up. I’ve only had her a week and a half, so we’re still getting to know each other.

  6. The one in the picture with the tennis ball is actually made by Premiere–I just love that picture and had to include it :) However, here’s what I do to put a ball on the end of a tug. First, get an old tennis ball, an awl (or something similarly pokey) and a screwdriver or dowel. Next, poke holes with the awl on the top and bottom of a tennis ball. Use the screwdriver to widen the hole a bit, then take the four pieces of fleece you’re going to use to make the tug and push them through both holes in the tennis ball. You should have a short ‘tail’ coming out the top and a long tail coming out the bottom. Knot the fleece above the top hole of the tennis ball to prevent it from coming off, then follow the above instructions for square-braiding the tug (you can use the tennis ball in place of the initial knot).

  7. So I told the rescue organization I work for, Peace Ridge Sanctuary, about how I’ve learned to make these tugs. I’m making a bunch for the sanctuary to encourage more people to make donations – make a donation, get a cool tug. I wanted to let you know that this tutorial is not only fun, but will make a difference for our rescue dogs at Peace Ridge! Thank you so much for posting it! If people ask me where I learned to make them, I will point them here.

    • Awww, you are the greatest! I am so excited that the tutorial is going to indirectly help out some dogs. Just took a look at the sanctuary’s website, and wow! You guys are doing some great work.

  8. Thank you! We have saved 264 animals this year, including cats, goats & other farm animals, and a lot of dogs. :) It is good work, and I am so happy to be part of the sanctuary team. We are having some success with the tug toys as well. They are puppy approved by a cute pair of pit bulls and the cats love to run around with the tiny ones I made for them.

  9. this was exactly what i was looking for too!!! i just completed my first tug (albeit small… need more material) out of some old cotton and my Shepherd mix loves it. it is holding up very well with all those sharp puppy and new adult teeth! thank you so much for these great instructions… sooo easy!!!

  10. Thank you so much for the detailed instructions- I just made two of them from fleece remnants- only had one color so I wrapped silly bands over # 2 and #4. My girl’s eyes popped when she saw them!!! Thanks.

  11. I just made one from 4″ strips and I think I will try narrower strips next time. Excellent directions, it seems almost rope-like! Just a little too thick for our saint bernards preference.

    • I have to make them pretty thick for my guys, since they’re all pretty ferocious tuggers: even the 19 lb puppy requires a pretty big, sturdy tug! They are rope-like, for sure: they should feel pretty thick and sturdy in the hand. I’m glad you found what works for your guy, though!

  12. Can some one explain if TUG is a god exercise or bee fi cilantro in some way I don’t know about! My mom has a one year old rescue part jack Russell terrier, when she comes to vivid, she tries to play tug with my 12 year old griff who has Jo interest whatsoever. Now I just got a 3 month old Friff puppy who is also showing no real fondness for tug. she does love to chew with those baby teeth, but she is very happy with American made rawhide chews….just curious.

  13. Sorry about spell check, should be…good exercise, and benefit. I have no idea where the cilantro came from!! also, no interest. And Griff…..dang the iPad is out to get me today!! Lol

  14. Lesley: if you look through our archives (or check the tags) you can see a bunch of posts that we’ve made about playing tug with your dog: those will give you a little more information. The short version is that yes, it’s good exercise, and a lot of fun for dogs.

  15. Thank you so much for this! While our new puppy loves her jolly ball, she also loves to just gnaw on the strings of the rope and has started shredding them off. When I made this, I missed the direction that included the second stitch being reversed from the first stitch and instead did the first stitch the whole way through. This produced a spiral effect with the two colors. While it looks cool, I’m worried that this error made it less strong for the puppy (a lab). Do you have any idea of whether or not this will be the case?

    • It shouldn’t make a difference! Is your tug kind of round-ish? If so, that’s a perfectly legit way to make them. IMO, I have found the square braid tugs a liiiiiitle more sturdy than the round braid tugs, but it’s a matter of tiny degrees. Your tug should hold up just fine, and the nice thing is that once you know how to do it, if your puppy does murder the tug…you can always make another!

  16. Kelsy. Thank you for your excellent directions for making the fleece tugs. My dog loves his. I made a ton of them for our local SPCA. And for all my friends with dogs. I even made some teeny ones for kittens. Just made one for my friend’s 8 week old yellow lab. She caught on immediately. I usually wait until my local fabric store has a sale on fleece and buy a bunch in bright colors. The big dogs like the ones with the tennis balls. Some time I put a big knot in the middle of the tug for the big dogs. The labradoole next door drags his all over the place. Thanks again. Your instructions are the best. Jo

    • Yaaaaay! Thanks so much for helping out the SPCA dogs, Jo! I’ve made some little ones for my cats too, and they really get a kick out of them. Randomly, the microfleece/antipill fleece that doesn’t work very well for the dog tugs seems to make really good cat tugs: my cats are usually grabbing the tugs with their claws rather than their mouths, so the extra stretchiness of the anti-pill stuff is fun for them.

  17. You can make really sturdy ones out of pillow case fabric. I ripped up some old pillow cases into strips and used those. Really solid and the dogs loved them!

    Thanks for the instructions!

  18. I love the instructions (and pics!!). I used fabric that was a yard long and I keep ending up with REALLY SHORT tugs. What am I doing wrong???

  19. This was my first Pinterest project and it turned out great! 39″ strips yielded a 19.5″ tug toy…exactly half. Thanks for the clear instructions.

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  22. thanks for this tutorial! i used four two-yard-long strips, made about an 8-10″ section of stitches in the middle, then brought the loose ends together and made a big fat box stick with all eight strands. the final product is shaped sort of like a magnifying glass, so there is a nice, cushy tug handle.

  23. Just made a tug for my 10 week puppy (she’s a Koolie and growing fast). Started off with 4 inch wide strips but looked a bit big for her so cut it down and now have a tug that’ll suit smaller and larger dogs :) Somehow didn’t manage to get two sides being the same colour. Mine ended up alternating in a downward sort of spiral. Still seems to work. Thanks ^_^

    • The second stitch is a little different than the first one: if you do all the stitches like the first one, it’ll be kind of a round, barber pole-looking tug. Those work great too! I just like the feel of the square ones in my hand (plus I find them a tad bit sturdier), so that’s what I default to.

    • Well, it depends on a lot of factors: how you play with them, if you leave them out a lot, and how strong you make them. I know that mine usually last between 8 months and a year of serious play before I start thinking about replacing them (usually because the ends get scraggly: I’ve never had one actually killed to the point where it can’t be used yet.) I tend to use them as interactive toys–I pick them up when I’m done playing–but my dogs will often play tug together and we use them pretty much every day. My dogs are tough on toys, but I make them pretty strong. So, in sum: YMMV!

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  25. I’m super excited that everyone’s making and liking their tugs! And I’m really relieved the directions were clear :) Thanks, everyone, for letting me know!

  26. Thank you very much for these clear instructions! I made a tug for my dog back in March and she has loved it. Have just made a new one as the old one is now on its last legs, but it’s lasted 5 months, which is so much better than anything I have bought for her! I found that fleece fabric is best. Tried with old pyjama trousers, but they didn’t last so well.

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  28. Thanks for the pattern – it’s great. I’ve made a few now in both square and round and 3 different sizes. I make a small one with 5cm strips, a medium from 7.5cm strips and I use 10cm for a large – all 3 vary in length too.
    Since making the first one, I’ve made a quality improvement. Everyone would have noticed that as soon as you start braiding, the strips curl up, leaving the fluffy side out. It gets soggier more quickly and the fluff goes a bit messy, like an old flannelette sheet. So I lay a strip on a bench – fluffy side up, and put small drops of craft glue about 10cm apart along the length of the strip. Then I carefully fold the other edge over, bringing the two long edges together and press firmly. You end up with a neat, long strip that is now half the width and the nice side stays on the outside as you braid. It’s easier to do an extra neat braid too.
    It gives it a much nicer finish that stays that way and it’s not as soggy after a tugging session.
    To save time when I get some more fleece in, I cut the whole lot into the various sizes and I spend a few minutes pre-gluing all of them so they’re ready for braiding. I can just grab whatever colour strips I want and get straight into it. It’s well worth the extra effort as it makes a really nice quality tug.

    My dogs loved it straight away and it’s the favourite toy by miles!

  29. I just started making these dog pull toys for fundraising at my local SPCA. I also make miniature versions with 1 inch strips and about 3 to 4 inches long to use as a cat toy. My 2 cats tested them out, and they played with them.

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  31. How long is the braided finish product when starting with 1 yard? In the picture with the dogs it looks long but in the picture with it laying on the table it only looks about 12-18inches. My smallest dog is 65lbs and the biggest is 100lbs. I am wanting them to be about 2ft long when braided so I was thinking I would need closer to 1.5 yards? Thanks inadvance!

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