Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know

There is something quite special about bringing home a new rescue dog! Finding your new best friend at the shelter is a one in a life time experience. At one point in their lives they they may have felt low and unloved, however, you have come along and saved the day.

It is important that you learn how to train a rescue dog as this will help you enhance your relationship between the two of you and will teach your new dog many skills that they will use in their everyday life, such as, how to treat children, how to play with other dogs and how things work in your household so they don’t get confused.

Training a Rescue Dog: How it’s Different to Puppy Training

The thing is with puppies is that they are an extremely excitable student, they are ecstatic just learning the new process, however, they also have a very short attention span and this can lead to some difficulties along the way. The fact is most dogs enjoy learning throughout their lives and the old saying of you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is actually quite false, indeed, you can teach an old dog new tricks and this applies to your new rescue dog.

One of the benefits of teaching an adult dog is that they have a much larger attention span, not everything excites them and they are a lot more calm than a puppy. Indeed, with a puppy you may be lucky to get a 15 minute training session in without them following their nose somewhere or getting distracted. You will be much more likely to get a full training session in with your new adult dog.

We would recommend using positive reinforcement training with your new rescue dog. Rescue dogs are generally quite sensitive at first and they may be a little bit weary of you and your methods so lots of positive reinforcement is good, it will not only help you teach your dog some skills but also build the bond between the two of you.

The Pet Embassy have compiled a step by step teach in on a list of training games that are fun ways to teach your dogs some skills and a great way to the past the time. You can take a look using the link below!

How to Train Your Dog to Play So You Can Have Hours Of Fun

Important Things to Note When Training a Rescue Dog

Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know
A dog laying on the beach. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Before you start your training routine with your new rescue dog, it’s helpful to keep the following things in mind:

They May Come Out Of Their Shell

You may have taken home what you thought was a really shy, timid dog. However, it may be the case that once they get to know you they might become the life of the party and full of energy, which is amazing. There is nothing like seeing a dog get comfortable around you and showing you their true colour. Some adult rescues might have had a lack of socialization at a younger age or they may be suffering from suffering from something that has happened in their past so proper training may bring their true personality out.

Most rescue dogs go through a honeymoon/adjustment period when they move into a new home, so it’s likely that you won’t get to know your dog’s true personality until after he’s feeling settled and confident. This could be as brief as a few days to as long as a few months.

Do Not Assume They Know

It’s really important that you let go of all the thoughts you might have about your new rescue dog, by this we mean, they may not know how that the bathroom is outside or how to go for a walk without running all over the place. You do not know what has happened in their past, maybe someone never taught them these things or maybe they taught them slightly different to how you imagined you would teach them. Take it nice and slow when learning how your new rescue dog operates. As we said above, an adult dog is more likely to focus for longer when training so it will only be a matter of time before they are doing the things how you want them to do it.

Learn to Read Your Dog’s Body Language

Lastly, we would stress that you read The Pet Embassy’s Dog Body Language Guide: How to Read Your Dog Like a Pro before you adopt your new rescue dog and then a few times during the initial phases so you can understand what it is that your dog is trying to say to you. Understanding ever fine detail will speed up the trust in your relationship and help you and your dog settle in.

Training A Rescue Dog

Ok, so you’ve adopted your rescue dog a few weeks ago and you’ve realised that they are not house trained, leash trained or even crate trained and you don’t know what to do. The Pet Embassy are here to help, we’ve put together a quick step by step to help you with all these training methods.

Just an important point, your new rescue dog may be a little bit scared and frightened as they adjust to their surroundings so they will need an extra slow and gentle approach. If your dog continues to be a little fearful in the future, it’s important that you help them overcome any stimulus that could startle the such as different sounds, places or people.

It’s important that you spot a scenario that stresses your fearful dog out in a quick and efficient manner. You can do so by reading The Pet Embassy’s Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time. Once you have identifies the sources of stress, it’s important you begin to build your dogs confidence. You can also found out how to do that here.

House Training

Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know
I see you human! Photo by Lachlan Ross from Pexels

We spoke about how you should never assume that your dog knows where the bathroom is. However, if you in fact find out that your dog doesn’t know where the bathroom is and they are going wherever and whenever they please, its important to begin house training straight away. It’s quite well known that one reason many dogs end up in shelters is because they are not housetrained. It is not the dog’s fault that they were never taught where to go to the bathroom .We at The Pet Embassy, cannot stress this enough- if you are thinking of dropping your dog to the shelter because of this reason, you should consider if you have given them the opportunity to learn where to go bathroom.

Rescue dogs that have been in the shelter for a long time may have picked up a few bad habits, they may have been house trained going into the shelter and not so much coming out of, if this is the case it will only be a few days before they are back outside doing their business. Also, if you have just moved your rescue dog into your home, they may just be going anywhere because of the different routines or because you don’t know your rescue dog well enough you may be missing the subtle cues that your dog is giving you.

House training a rescue is no different to house training a puppy, you should follow a few rules:

  • Look and supervise your new dog at all times and if you cannot watch them then put them into a crate or a confined area
  • Keep your new dog in one area through the use of gates or blockades
  • Set up a schedule for feeding times, this is important as it implements routine and it can also help in predicting bathroom times.
  • Reward your new dog straight after they go to the bathroom outside, you can do this through treats, positive reinforcement or playing with a toy.
  • Please, please, please don’t punish their mistakes, we understand it’s frustrating that you have to clean it up.

Leash Training

Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know
Fun times on a nice walk. Photo by Samson Katt from Pexels

Similar to house training, many rescue dogs simply don’t understand how to walk on a leash as they’ve never been taught how to or they are reacting to their new environment, they could have been use to a quiet park with little/no people and you may be walking them by a main road with lot’s of people.

As we said before, positive reinforcement is the best way to teach a dog any skill or trick, the same applies to walking on a leash. Lot’s of encouragement, let the dog know that you are there supporting them every step of the way. Trying to make sure that your dog knows pulling makes the walk stop and a little bit of slack on the leash means lots of treats and movement is always a great start. As you walk with your new rescue dog, whenever the leash is loose for a while make sure you reward your dog with treats and lots of positive reinforcement. Let you dog know you think they are doing a good job.

Conversely, if something or someone catches the attention of your new rescue dog and they begin to pull on the leash, ensure that you stop walking. Many dogs may not be accustomed to a quick change of pace and this will startle them for a second. Ensure your dog calms down and the lead becomes loose again, once this happens praise your dog and being walking again.

Lastly, its important that you chose the best leash/harness for you and your dog type. We would recommend a six-foot fixed length leash. This is just enough to give your dog the freedom to explore but keeps them close enough that they cannot endanger themselves or anyone else for that matter. The problem is with extendable leashes, is that you can actually encourage pulling accidentally, which is not very good.

Sometimes, the dog may be a little more powerful that yourself or you may be having a hard time when they pull on the leash. Therefore, you should consider looking into a no-pull harness. These harnesses are solely designed to reduce pull by changing the fulcrum point of the leash thereby making it difficult for a dog to actually pull.

Crate Training 

Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know
Black dog in a pretty bow. Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Another way to help with house training and too keep your pet safe when you find it difficult to keep an eye on them is to crate train your dog. In theory, most dogs feel comfortable in a crate and it is a safe place for them to relax and to sleep. However, some rescue dogs may lack crate experience and therefore might need some time to get accustomed to being confined a small space.

There are a few things that you should look out for when crate training your dog in order to make sure they it is a success:

Find the Right Location for Your Dog’s Crate

Ideally you would like to keep your crate in a part of the house that is quiet but is not too far away from the action. If you have a quiet corner in your living room this would be a great spot to put your dogs crate. We would recommend keeping crates in places like the basement or the garage.

Picking the Perfect Crate

Picking the right size crate may sound easy but in fact it s quite challenging. You want a crate that is sized so your dog can stand up, turn around and then lie back down with ease. If it’s too small your dog may be uncomfortable when lying down and if the crate is too big they will perhaps not feel safe in the crate.

Condition the Crate To Be a Safe and Happy Place

It’s important that you encourage your dog to be comfortable in the crate. You can start by feeding your dog their meals inside the crate with the door open, this way your dog will become accustomed to eating in there. After a couple of days, try to close the door for a little bit to see what your dog does when inside, begin by staying in the same room.

Slowly Build Your Dogs Confidence to Be Alone

Once you have done the steps above, it’s important that you now begin to leave the room for short periods (no more than 20 minutes to start with) to see what your dog does and how they behave. Gradually, your dog will become accustomed to being alone in the crate and you may be able to leave them for longer periods of time.

If you found our “Training a Rescue Dog: Everything You Need to Know” helpful please let us know in the comments section, we would love to hear your stories.

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