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Rescue dogs don’t often have the happiest of starts in life and, to many, ‘play’ is an alien concept - especially interactive play with a loving human.
At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, we talk a lot about the power of play to boost bond, transform recall and even tackle difficult behaviours (as well as being a LOT of fun!), so it seems a shame that some rescues miss out on all these benefits because they find it tough to let their guard down and have a good play.
But there’s good news. All dogs, rescues included, can learn to play. All you need is a few tactics up your sleeve and some awesome, enticing toys. Luckily we’re on hand to provide both 😘
Here are 7 easy ways to help your rescue learn to play…
You can’t rush or push a rescue - or any dog, for that matter - into playing. It has to be something they are willing and happy to do - and getting to that point takes time, patience and consistency.
If you’re not enthusiastic about play time, don’t expect your dog to be. They mirror your energy - and if you fake it, they can sniff it a mile off. To tempt your dog into playing, you need to be genuinely excited about it yourself. Having some ideas of games to play can help with this, as well as training toys that are designed to be interactive, so they are fun for BOTH of you.
Once your rescue dog is well settled in, your home becomes their safe space - which makes it the best place to introduce toys. Start with a selection based on what seems to motivate your rescue (if it’s food only, that’s ok - see below) and allow them to sniff and explore them in their own time, with supervision. Try ditching the food bowl and letting them try a food puzzle. As they grow in confidence, try toys that are well suited for taking out and about, like the Pocket Bungee Sheepskin Ball Tug.
If play is difficult for shy or nervous rescue dogs, the chances are that food is going to be their main motivator - and that’s OK. Lots of food motivated dogs can also enjoy playing - if they have the right toys.
At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, we make a range of toys for foodie dogs, like our Bungee Food Bag, which you can stuff with treats to slowly teach your dog than playing tug is fun and rewarding. The bungee handle lets you encourage them to tug safely at a slight distance, which they may prefer. There’s also our ever-popular The Clam, which lets you hide treats inside that your dog can help themselves to, perfect for rewarding from a distance for agility training, teaching fetch or scent games at home.
Most dogs, including rescues, have an instinctive chase drive - although in some it’s more powerful than others. By tapping into this using motivational training toys made with real fur, you can harness the power of play and turn it to your advantage to encourage play and boost training. Explore our range of tug toys made with real British Sheepskin, like our Sheepskin Chaser, and those made with responsibly-sourced rabbit skin, like the Rabbit Skin Chaser With Squeaker. There’s even a faux fur version, if you prefer.
Use a gentle, happy tone when you play and reward your rescue for being calm and positive. Never raise your voice or take toys away as any kind of punishment. Positive reinforcement all the way!
How do you encourage your rescue pup to play? Share your thoughts in the comments!