Here’s how to introduce your rescue dog to a game of tug

Dog tugging on rope
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most dogs love to play. But, what if you have a rescue dog who was never used to playing before they arrived in your life? Sadly, we know all too well that some dogs don’t have very nice lives before we bring them home, and don’t have the chance to enjoy themselves.

If you’re hoping to play games like tug-of-war with your rescue pup, dog trainer and behaviorist Louise Glazebrook has explained how you can introduce them to play in a recent Instagram post. After all, all you need is one of the best dog toys – nothing too fancy!

Should you play tug of war with your puppy, or an older rescue dog? We might associate activities like tug with younger dogs, but even older rescue dogs can love the game! 

In her video, Glazebrook is working with Ruby, a rescue dog who had been used for breeding, and so wasn’t used to play. “I chose a toy that was soft, had a round end (easy to mouth), and wasn’t heavy,” she explains.

Glazebrook continues, “We allowed lots of time to sniff it and explore it. I moved it gently around her face as she was interested in sniffing. She then took the step of mouthing it.”

While you might be tempted at this point to start trying to play tug-of-war, it’s actually important not to! Avoid putting pressure on the toy or yanking it back, as the key is to build your dog’s confidence in simply mouthing and touching the toy.

Instead, just hold the end of the toy to make it a little bit interactive and create a pull, if your pup wants to pull. But if not, you’re there to support and encourage them! And, once your dog stops and wants to walk off, let them. You can always have another go tomorrow – it’s important to take your time and be patient when you’re encouraging your pup. 

Remember, most dogs have a natural chase drive, including rescues. So, with plenty of patience and positive reinforcement, you might find that your pup loves playing games like tug. Just keep things light and fun as they get used to having the opportunity to play. 

Training a rescue dog can be incredibly rewarding. But at the same time, it’s not necessarily easy, and there are challenges involved with training a rescue dog that might not be there when you’re training a puppy. 

You might find these eight tips for training a rescue dog useful for everything from socialization to setting your pup up for success. 

Earth Rated Tug Toy
$23.99 at Chewy

Earth Rated Tug Toy
$23.99 at Chewy
Featuring two handles to encourage interactive play between you and your pup, this rubber tug toy has a smooth, curved shape that's easy to grab and is soft and durable. 

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.