Training a rescue dog can mean a difference between them living their best life, or being put down.
So if you're currently fostering, planning to adopt, or already adopted a rescue dog, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Training a rescue dog is similar to puppy training only on the surface - only the techniques used are similar and applicable.
Everything else is much harder sadly.
This is most probably because majority of rescue dogs that you want to adopt already have some life experience, and most of these experiences are not pleasant ones.
Most of the time, they come in with some form of emotional or physical trauma. They've been abused by other humans, neglected or even physically beaten up!
So of course, you can't really blame them for being so fearful and wary of any new person that enters their lives - even if you mean well.
It will take some time to get through to them, and we hope that this article will help point you in the right direction to break through to them!
Before training a rescue dog
So before we get to training a rescue dog, there are a few things we need to consider first.
Expect an adjustment period
You will learn a new timeline framework for dogs to get comfortable below, the 3 - 3 - 3 rule.
This means, 3 Days, 3 Weeks, and 3 Months.
While this is a very useful timeline to adhere to, understand also that your new rescue dog might not take this period of time to adjust.
Some dogs take far longer to adjust, and some take a far shorter time. Most dogs usually fall into the 3-3-3 band relatively accurately. But just expect that your new rescue dog might not fit into this timeline - just adjust accordingly and trust your gut!
Establish a routine
Introducing new changes often will stress out a new dog, who is already trying to get used to its new environment.
So by establishing a routine quickly, and introducing as few new things into their lives for now, they will settle into your home and schedule far more quickly.
This usually also helps dogs calm down a lot faster, and be less overwhelmed by everything.
By routine, we mean establish a time for their feeding schedules, walking, and playtimes.
Provide ideal environment at home
Similar to puppy training. setting up an ideal environment for your new rescue to come home to would be great!
This means buying their beds, leashes, and other tools beforehand. This helps you be able to spend a bit more time with the dog, and not need to go out of the house so often to buy these items.
This also helps to reduce deliveries to your home (and thus introducing someone new - the mailman!) and lower the stress on an already stressed and overwhelmed rescue dog.
Providing an ideal environment also lets your new rescue dog, be a dog. This means letting them sniff and smell everything in your house - putting toys with kibble around the house as puzzles and toys, etc.
Remember, rescue dogs are wonderful dogs once they've adjusted into your life. But they'll only adjust well if you have the proper skills and tools to help them!
Don't worry about obedience at the start
Your new rescue was used to a life that was mostly without humans (or bad humans), and as such, don't worry too much about your dog listening to you too much at the start.
Don't worry about teaching your dog all the dog commands when they first arrive.
Sometimes it's also better to use a technique called "capturing".
This technique basically 'captures' the behaviors your dog naturally does (by your observation), and you reward that behavior that you like.
For example, you see the new rescue dog giving you it's paw. You reward the dog by saying "yes" and then giving it a treat for that action.
This will help reinforce behaviors that YOU want the dog to have! The best thing is, there are so many behaviors that you can capture, and it depends on what you want them to do.
Assume no training
Assume that your new rescue has never had any training before. Treat it like a new puppy entering your home.
Basically, just assume that it knows nothing about obedience training, or toilet training. Even if it had some former training, it might have been taught differently than what you expect.
However, when you do begin to train your rescue, remember to use positive reinforcement on your dog! Keep the sessions fun and stress-free for best results.
Give your new rescue time
We all want our dogs, rescue or otherwise, to always be bouncy, happy, playful and cuddly with us at all times.
This usually isn't the case with rescue dogs. At least not at the start.
It takes time for them to decompress, and for us to get to know them. It also takes time for them to get comfortable in our presence, and in their new home.
And yes, this does not happen overnight. Give them time and space to adjust to their new life with you - its not that they hate you, its that they just want to get used to it first.
Give them a bit of time, and I promise you they'll be cuddly and loving you before you even know it!
Rescue dog training timeline
First three days
The first three days are crucial - this is when they will be very overwhelmed in a new environment.
Give them time to decompress - they've been through quite a bit to get to this stage of their life, and they will most likely be very scared and unsure of things.
They will not be comfortable, and will most probably not show their 'true' personalities at this stage. This is normal, and to be expected!
Some more fearful dogs will tend to shut down even, not eating or drinking, and find some hiding spot to hide and curl up away.
All these behaviors are completely normal for the dog, so give it some time.
Allow them to do all these first. Don't be surprised if your new rescue dog takes more than three days to fully decompress and begin to slowly settle in!
After the first few days, you can also begin to crate train your rescue dog. This is a crucial step, because you want your dog to recognize that the crate is it's safe space where no one can harm it.
Then, if you have a yard, let it frolic around and play in the yard. Let it smell around your apartment and the yard - let it be a dog and unwind from the stressful situation of moving to a new home!
During this time it's vital for you to observe your dog - see it's behaviors and note down what it does and when it does it. This information will be useful when you bring it to the vet for any checkups and examinations in the future.
If you have other dogs, also remember to introduce them to your new rescue dog SLOWLY. You don't know if your new rescue dog has any bad memory of other dogs, or if it'll attack your dog!
By the three week mark, your new rescue dog should be considerably more relaxed than when it was first brought home. and is more settled in.
Your dog might also have a marked change in it's behavior. It could suddenly turn into a very happy dog, because it realizes that your home could be it's forever home!
By this time, it also should have figured out your new home and environment, and let his guard down a lot more.
But caution is also advised - around this period is also when you'll begin to see any bad, destructive behavior surface.
When this happens, you can also begin training your rescue dog - by rewarding the behaviors you want, and to ignore the ones you don't want.
Example: food aggression
For example, a common trigger rescue dogs have is food aggression.
You can then use the techniques to teach them that you're not a threat, and use positive reinforcement when they behave the way you want to.
Rinse and repeat for the different bad habits you notice they developed over time.
A caveat is, of course, to give them time. You don't have to rush through the training processes to get rid of all their issues in 3 months. You'll have a lifetime to help them become the best dogs they can be!
You can also spend a lot more time playing with them, as they should be used to your presence now. Spending time with your rescue will only further strengthen the bond you have with it, and make it even more relaxed and happy.
Start taking them to dog parks, walking them around the blocks and taking them on hikes (while leashed, of course)
At the three week mark onwards, you should also start establishing a regular routine and schedule for your dog. This includes eating schedule, playtime and potty times as well.
By the three month mark, your dog should be more or less completely settled into your home, and built a strong bond with you and your family.
At this stage, it is also an ideal time for you to start a more rigorous obedience training program. Basically, teaching them more commands, such as the "sit", "recall" and improving their bond with you.
It is also at this time where you can also spend even more time walking and travelling with them - you should consider teaching your new rescue to travel off-leash with you as well.
At this point, there is no more 'curriculum'. You can basically teach your dog new commands, or stop and let them just enjoy life with you. The possibilities are now endless - and you just gained a new family member! 🙂
Here are some of the more common questions that will be asked when training a shelter dog.
How to Train rescue puppies
Rescue puppies can be similarly trained like regular puppies - this is covered quite extensively in our puppy training article.
However, you should note the age of the puppies - any puppy below 8 weeks old should not be trained at all!
If you adopt a puppy that is older than 8 weeks, you can still train them as per the schedule listed in the puppy training article - but make sure you emphasize the basics first, before moving on to the advanced techniques and skills!
Training senior dog rescues
This one is a little tougher than training puppies.
Senior dogs in general have a lot of life experience, and if they've gone through really bad, traumatic ones?
Be prepared to be extra patient with these dogs.
Just like how mentally damaged people can be treated and eventually open up, so too would these senior dogs.
Remember positive reinforcement when you can, and always be patient with rescued senior dogs.
Often times, training them will also be harder - their joints might have arthritis, or they have poorer bowel or urinary control.
But that's okay - just be patient and slowly teach them and you'll make progress.
you can definitely teach them the same basic impulse control techniques for puppies though - having them "sit" and be patient before receiving food is always a beneficial skill for them to have.
If you're planning on dog training at home, I would recommend Doggy Dan's online course. It contains a ton of techniques and methods for you to train your dog well.
You can have a look at the doggy dan review here if you're interested!
If you truly feel that your rescue dog is too much for you to handle, that's fine!
You can also bring them to a dog obedience school to teach them their basic impulse control trainings and progress from there.
Ultimately, you should aim to have you rescue well adjusted, and be a part of your family!
This section is currently under construction. Check back soon? 🙂
Training a shelter dog will take a longer time to than training a new puppy from a breeder, because they have been through more than most new puppies.
Give them time - they just need to be reassured that they are safe with you and in this new environment. Once they know they're safe, they'll come out of their shell and show you their personalities.
Rescue dogs have a lot of love to give, and once you earned their trust, they'll give you so much love, you'll drown in it 🙂