11 Tips For Training A Rescue Dog

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11 Tips For Training A Rescue Dog

If you are planning on adopting a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, we at CharityPaws thank you!

You are not just making one dog extremely happy and giving him a better life; you are making room for another dog to be saved.

Although you may be over the moon about your new furry companion and looking forward to pampering and cuddling him, training a new rescue dog is an essential part of adopting one.

After all many may not come house trained, and they will not know what you expect from them.

Unfortunately, many rescued dogs are returned to the shelter due to not adjusting to their new life.

Sometimes the new owners are inexperienced with dogs, or they don’t put effort into helping their dog feel safe or fully settle into the home.


Estimated number of dogs and cats returned to shelters within 6 months of adoption.

Usually, adopted dogs have been through a lot.

You might be wondering about why they ended up in a shelter in the first place.

Often, it’s behavioral problems that require some training for the dog to become a well-adjusted member of the family.

Still, no matter what your dog’s history is, it’s never too late to start training him.

With some love, patience, and training, anything is possible.

Hopefully these helpful tips will teach you the essentials of how to train a shelter dog so that you and your new best friend can have the best possible start for your life together.

Training A Shelter Dog Tips

training a rescue dog

Taking some time to understand how to train any dog is important to ensure they will become a thriving and happy family member.

Training not only gives them a sense of boundaries it will help improve your dog’s life.

The first few weeks are the foundation of your relationship, which is why it’s important you know a few basic things about training a shelter dog before you bring him home.

Basics Of How To Train An Adopted Dog

Plan And Prepare Ahead

When rescuing a shelter dog, you need to plan ahead, even before taking him home with you.

Sadly, many people are not prepared for what it takes to adopt a dog, and many rescue dogs are brought back to shelters because of this.

Before adopting, you need to figure out many things.

Not just whether you have the time and financial resources to take care of your new family member and whether you have all the dog gear you need, but also who will be doing what and what your dog’s new routine will look like.

Also be sure you puppy proof your home.

Remove loose wires, household chemicals and other items that can be dangerous to a curious new dog.

Remember that dogs love rules and are at ease when their life is predictable and structured.

Make a plan for who will be taking him for walks, feeding him, and playing with him, and how everything will fit in your daily schedule.

Related: Can you neuter an older dog?

Get To Know Your New Dog

Ask the shelter for any information they may have on the dog you’re about to adopt.

Something in your dog’s past can trigger behavioral problems, which is why it’s essential to find out everything you can about their past.

By getting to know your future pet and what might affect his behavior, you can avoid some of the pitfalls and understand him better.

Ask the shelter to tell you everything they know about your dog’s previous owner as well his stay in the shelter.

Any information on what he likes, and what may trigger unwanted behavior is highly valuable when bringing a new dog home.

Also, while some rescue dogs may need to be taught the basics, others may have a lot of training in place.

The experts at the shelter can help you assess which dog is a good fit for your home, considering how experienced you are with dog training.

pdf of questions to ask when adopting a dog

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Expect An Adjustment Period

Although you, the owner, have had time to adjust to the thought of getting a new pet, for rescue dogs, a new home is a big and sudden change.

They may be fearful and distrustful because of what they have experienced before or how their life was in the shelter.

They usually need some time for decompression, so keep things low-key for the first week or so.

Spend time with them with them on a level they are comfortable with.

Some will want you around all the time, others may take a little while to warm up.

Let them call the shots.

A new pup will need time to get used to the change, and you should expect an adjustment period which may take a couple of days or up to six months or more.

During this time, you need to be patient with your new family member and make them feel safe and comfortable while they get used to their new home and start trusting you.

It may take a while before you see your new dog’s full personality.

Once you do then you can focus on how to train your dog and create a better relationship with them.

Set Boundaries And Create A Routine

Setting boundaries and creating a routine from day one will help your pet adjust and feel secure.

Although you may feel sorry for what he may have been through, you should not try to make up for the past experiences with treats and allowing unwanted behavior.

If you don’t set the rules from the beginning, it will be much harder to break bad habits later on.

You can definitely pamper your dog with hugs and playtime, but make sure to set the rules and routine right from the start.

Your furry friend may have lived a stressful and unpredictable life, and establishing a routine for feeds, walks, and playtime will help them adjust to their new home better.

Frequent and unexpected changes can make dogs experience stress, so a daily routine is a stepping stone to training a shelter dog.

Keep The Training Sessions Short But Frequent

Training may be a new experience for your dog, and even if they have had training before, it may not have been a part of the daily routine at the animal rescue.

Therefore, keeping the training session short but frequent will help your dog learn.

It’s always better to train for a short time and stop when your dog is doing well than to stretch the training session and quit when your dog is too tired to succeed in whatever is expected of him.

Related: Why does my shelter dog sit on me?

Use Reward-Based Training

Reward-based training is the most effective way to teach animals.

Of course, you should only use positive reinforcement with any dog, but it’s even more important with dogs that have been adopted.

Punishments, negative actions, and corrections will only lead to anxiety, fear, aggression, and distrust.

Because fear will make a dog forget what it has learned, using punishments will literally take you nowhere.

On the other hand, rewarding your dog with treats, petting, and play will not only help your dog learn but also strengthen the relationship between you two.

Begin With The Basics

With dogs that are rescued from a shelter, you should always start the training from the basics.

Even if a dog has lived in a family before being brought to the animal rescue, it may have gotten used to a very different life during its stay in the shelter.

Getting started with the basic commands and not setting your expectations too high will help you both have a positive attitude towards training sessions.

Start Crate Training

Although some dog owners think a crate is not something they want to use with their pets, you should definitely consider it.

There are a few reasons it is highly recommended:

  • It will give you time to do some obedience training without them being destructive when left alone.
  • It can help prevent “accidents” in the house while you working on reinforcing where they go potty.
  • Contrary to what many believe, many dogs find comfort in having a place that is “theirs”.
  • If you have other dogs or a cat or any other pets, it can help keep the needed separation until they get used to each other.

You can get more tips about working with a crate below!

Remember The Importance Of Socialization

Socialization is a crucial aspect to consider when adopting a rescue dog.

Because shelter dogs have often had rough experiences in their past, they may be fearful of many things.

Before you can start fully training them, you need to ensure they are comfortable with their environment.

Socialization is important for all dogs, but especially for a new puppy.

They are most sensitive to socialization between 3 and 14 weeks, so making the most of this time is important.

Let your dog slowly get used to everything that’s going on around him, and don’t get frustrated if your dog is fearful at first.

With older dogs that socialization can also reinforce good behavior if they are paired with well trained and confident dogs.

Sign Up For Obedience Classes

Signing up for obedience training classes will help both you and your new dog or puppy start off on the right foot.

If you are inexperienced with dog training, the expert advice will help you get off to a good start.

There is no shame in asking for help from a professional.

Actually, you might find it very beneficial to learn a few expert tricks.

Just keep in mind that some dogs may need to adjust to their new home before starting an obedience class.

Still, you should train at home from day one, even if you don’t plan on attending a class straight away.

Be Patient

Always remember that training can take a lot of time and patience.

Make sure that you are setting achievable goals, being realistic with what is possible, and setting up your dog for success.

Give it time, and eventually, you will see your rescue dog being happy and thriving in its new home.

To help you get a good start with training your adopted dog, we have some advice on the most common issues pet owners face.

House Training A Rescue Dog

Remember that even if a dog was house trained in its previous home, accidents may still happen because of the stress of a new home and not being adjusted to the new routines yet.

When potty training a rescue dog, take him outside often enough, and always praise him and give him treats immediately after he has done his business.

You must never punish your dog for accidents that happen inside, as it will only lead to mistrust and more stress.

Instead, just clean up the mess and don’t make a fuss about it.

If your dog is not house trained and you can’t stay at home all day, crating him while you are gone will help you prevent any damage to your home.

Crate Training A Rescue Dog

Some people think crate training is cruel and don’t want to keep their pets inside a closed space when they are out of the house.

However, it should not be viewed as a cage or punishment, but rather a safe space where your dog can retreat to when they want to be left alone.

If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of using one, think of it this way: if you had lived a stressful life full of fear, wouldn’t you appreciate a safe space that was just for you?

With proper training, your new family member will see the crate as a sheltered nest where they can feel secure and unthreatened.

Here are a few tips to make crate training successful:

First of all, you need to choose the right size and material.

It needs to be big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around.

If your dog is still growing, you will need to find one that can be adequately sized when your pup reaches adult size.

Next, you need to make it comfortable.

You want your dog to feel safe and cozy inside it, so get a soft blanket to put inside.

Place the it somewhere where your dog spends a lot of time and leave it open so he can explore it by himself.

You can use treats and toys to get your dog to go in, but never force him because you don’t want him to associate it with anything negative.

The next step is to feed your furry friend inside the cage and move the food gradually to the back of the cage.

Once he comfortably enjoys his meals inside the crate, you can close the door and slowly increase the time you keep it closed before letting him out.

Once your new rescue dog is completely comfortable in his crate, you can increase the time he spends inside a small step at a time until you know he feels secure when left in his crate while you are out of the house.

Training An Older Rescue Dog

Although old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks, they may need more time to adjust to the new rules and routines.

In addition, because senior dogs may be more prone to experiencing stress, you need to make any changes as stress-free as possible and give them a quiet space where they can relax.

Training an older rescue dog may take a little more time, and bad habits can be harder to break, but frequent training sessions and some resilience will be rewarded with a well-behaving senior doggy.

Training A Nervous, Fearful, Or Abused Rescue Dog 

Shelter dogs can often be fearful or nervous because of their history.

Some dogs may have been abused, and others may come from puppy mills or other challenging backgrounds.

Even dogs with bad experiences in their past can make excellent companions, but it may take a little more time and patience to help them become well-adjusted family pets.

What’s most important when training a timid rescue dog is that you are aware of the dog’s background and current situation.

It will help you assess whether you have enough experience to home a dog like this.

When training a nervous rescue dog, you need to win over their trust before you can move on to other things.

Let your dog get adjusted to their new life slowly and gain their trust before working on more challenging commands.

Dogs that present behavioral issues may require an experienced dog trainer.

Dog trainers that work with dogs that have issues like this will not only help the dog, but help you understand how to manage their issues.

Some other behavioral issues that might require a more advanced trainer include:

  • Dog barks when the doorbell rings, there are loud noises, or as a sign of “jealousy” with certain people in the home
  • Showing of aggression when eating from their food bowl
  • Issues with separation anxiety which can include barking or destruction of the home

When researching trainers in your area for your new dog, please be sure to use a trainer that uses positive reinforcement.

The last thing you want for a dog that might have some emotional issues is a trainer that brings a prong collar or abusive measures to address behavior issues.

This will only make your dog more fearful and possibly aggressive.

Common Mistakes Owners Make When Training Rescue Dogs

Adopting a shelter dog is an adventure in itself, and you will want to avoid some of the common pitfalls to ensure both you and your new best friend will be happy.

First of all, when adopting a rescue dog, listen to the experts at the shelter.

They know the dogs that are up for adoption and will be able to pair you up with a pooch that matches your circumstances the best.

For example, a dog with behavioral issues may not be suitable for an inexperienced family with kids.

Shelter dog training can sometimes be very challenging, and to ensure your dog can have a happy life and not be returned to the shelter, you need to be a good match.

Another mistake is that people either pamper their new pet to make up for their past experiences or are too strict with them, causing more fear and distrust.

It’s all about finding the middle road.

You should set up a routine and rules while also allowing a rescue dog to settle in comfortably. Introduce them to all family members, but also let them have quiet time.

Final Thoughts

Adopting a new dog and deciding to give him a happy home is an amazing act of kindness.

Shelters are full of dogs that deserve a better life, and we’re delighted to see people giving them a second chance.

Still, it’s always important to remember that all dogs need training.

A new dog will thrive with rules and routines; someone just needs to help them understand what is expected of them in their new environment.

However, training can come with its challenges, so you need to be prepared.

Luckily, with everything you have learned here, you are all set up for success.

Jill Caren CharityPaws

Jill Caren

Jill is an avid animal lover who spends her time helping animal rescues by photographing homeless pets and through her work on CharityPaws.

She is currently owned by Cleo, an American Pit Bull Terrier and Snoopy Cat. Her inspiration comes from her girls Ginger and Riley (RIP) – pit mix sisters who were loved family members for almost 15 years.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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