I adopted an 18 month old pit bull from a shelter about a month ago and I have been trying to train him to play tug and fetch to help strengthen our relationship and give him efficient exercise.
However, I am having trouble teaching him to let go of the rope safely. I have already taught him to take it and let go on command, but when he's playing, this doesn't work anymore. Once I bring treats into the situation, he loses interest in the game.
So, I have tried several techniques to make him let go of the without treats. For example, I have tried to hold the toy completely still or letting it become limp, but often when I do this he tries to bite the toy again to get a better grip. The further my hand is on the toy, the more he moves his mouth, which makes this dangerous. I've had the most success by putting my hand much closer to his mouth and holding both ends of the rope. Usually then he doesn't bite as much (so as to avoid biting my hand), but occasionally does bite the rope again and accidentally nips my hand. When he does this I try to yelp and leave the situation, but this usually doesn't affect him too much (maybe he can sense my yelp is not earnest).
I have tried a couple other things including putting my hands over his eyes, which doesn't do anything and feels dangerous, and also moving his direction when he tugs to stop the game.
To me this is a necessary thing to teach him, as he has a lot of energy and I'm afraid some days I will not be able to take him on a 2-3 hour walk as I'm fortunate enough to do now. I only wish I could have had him as a puppy so that I could have taught him this before his jaw got so strong.
Are there any other safe techniques I can try that do not involve food?