How to Begin Training a Shelter or Rescue Dog

February 18, 2016

train shelter dog dave parkerBy Langley Cornwell

There are a lot of very simple training methods to use when you are trying to teach your dog new commands and tricks. Those methods are very effective, but much of the reason they work is because you have already established a relationship with your dog. When it comes to shelter or rescue dogs, you may need to get past a few barriers first and develop a sense of trust with your pet before the lines of communication flow easily. It isn’t a reflection on you, but it does speak of your pet’s history and what they have come to expect from humans.

When you adopt a dog from a shelter you really don’t know what his background is. Most of the time, you don’t even know what type of environment he came from. A shelter dog may have been abused or ignored. Alternatively, he may have been a beloved pet and circumstances landed him in a shelter.

When we adopted one of our dogs, he’d bounced from one shelter to another in our county, and he was quickly earning the title of “unadoptable.” That’s when we stepped in. Nobody knew when he entered the shelter system or how long he’d been in it. Nobody really knew anything about him, so we started off with what we observed and went from there.

For whatever reason a dog ends up in a shelter, if you are his superhero and offer him a forever home, these basic techniques will help with his training.

Create a Safe Place

Coming from an unstable environment, your rescue dog will need a place he feels safe. Some people use crates for this, some put a cozy dog bed in a certain corner of the room that doesn’t get much traffic. Wherever you choose, let your dog know that this specific spot is all for him.

To help him get used to the location, sprinkle a few CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Treats there at first. Reward him for going to his safe place; make it a spot he is happy go to. Assimilating into a new environment and dealing with all the new stimuli will be train shelter dog terrahoverwhelming to your new pup. Establishing a safe place for him to retreat to when necessary will go a long way toward helping him get settled in and ready to learn new things.

Establish Stability

One of the fastest ways to establish trust and shorten the adjustment time for your pet is to create a stable environment. This means sticking to a schedule and being consistent with specific behavior requests. For example, if your dog isn’t allowed in the kitchen, but you let him in there some days, you aren’t establishing trust at all and you aren’t doing your pet any favors. Instead, you are making things confusing and creating an environment that isn’t based on trust, but rather trial and error that can change on a daily basis. Remember to:

• Feed your pet his CANIDAE dog food at the same times every day.
• Let your dog outside at the same times every day.
• Reward the behaviors you want, and change the behaviors you don’t want.
• Be consistent so your dog gets comfortable with what he should and shouldn’t do.

In short, let your dog know what he can expect from you and what you expect from him. This is the best way to create a sense of trust between you and to enhance the behaviors that you want to see from your dog. Keep in mind that even with your best efforts, it may take a while simply because of your dog’s history. It takes time and patience.

Allow an Adjustment Period

It’s exciting to adopt a new dog. If you’re anything like me, you’re bursting to teach him all kinds of new things, slather him with love and affection, and jump right into your unshakable friendship. But your dog needs time to acclimate to his new surroundings. There are so many new sights, sounds and smells he has to get used to. Moreover, it’s stressful to live in a shelter. He needs an adjustment period to get over the strain of shelter-living and come to accept that your warm and loving home is his new home too.

Once your shelter pet settles in and understands that he is safe and secure, the training can begin. Some shelter pets have had no training, but you may be surprised. Some dogs may already know basic commands and be ready and eager to learn more.

Shelter or rescue dogs can make wonderful pets. That’s all I’ve ever had, and I could write volumes about each one of them. It doesn’t really matter why they ended up in a shelter. They are just there, waiting for their chance at a happy life. Remember that with the proper amount of time, love and patience, shelter dogs can be trained properly and become a cherished family member.

Top photo by Dave Parker/Flickr
Bottom photo by Terrah/Flickr

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. DMatsuura says:

    Great article by Langley, but while she painted a rosey picture of shelter dog successes, it is important to realize that not all shelter dogs will ever bond with a new family because of temperment or inherant mental problems, which may be why the dog ended up in the shelter in the first place. It is vital for the adopter to realize they may not have the skills to handle a particular problem and need to know when they need to consult with a professional dog behavorist. Diane @ CANIDAE