How to Train a Shelter or Rescue Dog

Tips for Training Adopted Dogs

cute little puppy awaiting adoption
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Dogs adopted from a dog rescue or animal shelter can make wonderful pets. No matter the reason they landed in the shelter, with a little time, patience, and training, shelter dogs can become happy, well-adjusted family members.

The following are some tips for training a shelter dog:

Expect a Period of Adjustment

When you adopt a puppy or dog from a shelter, he comes with a history, not the least of which is being relinquished to the shelter.

Keep in mind that the stress of this, along with whatever the dog has experienced in his past, can make him less than confident in new surroundings. Plan on giving him some time to adjust to his new home and family. Dogs can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months to get used to living in a new place.

Assume Your New Dog Has Never Had Training

Treat your shelter dog the same way you would a new puppy coming into your house. Assume he has never had any training. Even if he has had obedience training in the past, he may need a refresher after all he's been through. Your best bet is to expect that he knows nothing. This way you'll be pleasantly surprised if the dog already knows some basic commands or is already housebroken, but you won't be setting him up for failure with expectations that are too high.

Plan on Crate Training

Just as you would with a new puppy, you should introduce your shelter dog to crate training as soon as possible.

In this way, you can work on housebreaking, and be comfortable that he won't get into mischief when left unsupervised. It's also helpful because it gives your shelter dog a place of his own. Between living at a shelter and now coming to a new home, your dog may feel extremely stressed. Having a place of his own to retreat to when he feels overwhelmed can go a long way in helping him get settled in his new home.

Get on a Schedule

Dogs like having a routine. A dog who has spent the last few weeks or more in a shelter or rescue may have been stressed out in part because his life had become so unpredictable. By establishing a routine for feeding, walking, and playtime, you can begin providing some stability for your dog. In most cases, this will help with his adjustment to his new home.

Enroll in Obedience Class

Even though it may take a little while for your shelter dog to get used to his new home, that doesn't mean you should put off starting an obedience program. On the contrary, regular training sessions can help get him into a routine.

Starting a training program can also help you to establish boundaries for your dog right from the beginning. It can be tempting to coddle him for the first week or so, to try to make up for the time he spent in the shelter. Don't do it! If you allow your shelter dog to engage in certain behaviors when you first bring him home, such as getting up on the sofa, eliminating on the carpet, or chewing on table legs, it will be much harder to train him to stop doing those things later. Starting an obedience class sets him up for good behavior, and makes it easier for him to become a happy and healthy member of your family!

Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT