Skip to content
Ask me anything about your pet
How To Train a Rescue or Shelter Dog

How To Train a Rescue or Shelter Dog

Becoming a pet parent to a rescue or shelter dog is a very rewarding experience. Not only are you saving a life, but you are also gaining a new friend and family member. While it may take a few weeks to a few months for you both to adjust to this new life together, before you know it, you’ll have a comfy-spot-stealing, shenanigan-starting, good-time-having best pal.

While this relationship doesn’t occur overnight, there are a few things you can do to establish a positive relationship with your new pal. By training your rescue or shelter dog, you’re giving them structure, routine, and building a lasting relationship that will be one of the most rewarding in both of your lives.

Understand Your Dog’s Background

One of the most critical aspects of understanding where to start the training process with your pooch is to understand their background. Your new dog may have experienced a not-so-positive start in life, whether it be neglect or abuse.

Like in people, this may affect a dog’s ability to trust or influence certain behaviors, so knowing what challenges may lay ahead will help you plan accordingly. Take all the notes you can from the rescue on the dog’s past (if they have them), the dog’s likes and dislikes, and everything else. By being patient and understanding, you can create a safe and supportive environment for them to thrive.

Establish a Consistent Routine

You want to start off on the right foot (or should we say paw?) when bringing your dog home. To maintain consistency, start your dog’s training the day that they come to their new home from the shelter.

This can be established quite successfully in the beginning by having a routine. Dogs absolutely love having a routine, and you can help make your new family member feel welcome in their new home by giving them some predictability in a new place.

One of the best ways to establish your dog’s routine is to feed them on a regular schedule in a consistent place. When you have a regular feeding schedule, your dog will likely start to be on a regular bathroom schedule. Getting your dog on a regular schedule can be a big help with their training. Many rescue dogs are already potty trained, but some might not be.

Give your dog a space of their own, whether it be a dog bed or a crate. Along with giving your dog a space of their own, it’s also equally important to set boundaries. This may include not allowing them to beg for morsels at the dinner table, lounging on the sofa, and using a baby gate to keep them out of certain rooms.

While you may want to show them extra love to make up for the time they spent in the shelter by letting them do as they wish, these will be difficult habits to break down the road.

Provide Opportunities for Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Just like humans, dogs need physical exercise to maintain their health. Not only does it help keep weight off, but your dog will get a chance to get outdoors and sniff to their heart’s content. They’ll be able to burn off excess energy and be less likely to get themselves into trouble when left alone. Going on walks with your dog also gives you extra time to bond, which is important in the early days.

We may we wish we could, but we can’t spend the entire day walking our dogs. This is where mental stimulation comes into play. Giving your dog puzzles and interactive toys helps to keep them engaged and keep their mind working, which is a perfect way to distract your dog while you are not actively interacting with them. Better to load a toy with treats than your dog to discover what a trash can is!

Both regular exercise and mental stimulation are important for your dog. Their physical health will benefit from getting outside and moving around, and their brain will get some well-deserved exercise by figuring out puzzles. This will come in handy when it comes to training your dog.

Prioritize Training

When it comes to training your rescue or shelter dog, assume that they are coming to your home not knowing any training or how to properly behave in your home, and you will be starting from the very beginning. Training your dog is a must so that your dog can function around other people and other dogs. This keeps them and everyone around them safe.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best way to instill skills in your dog. Whenever your dog exhibits a desired behavior, you give them a treat to enforce the behavior and let them know it is desired. Many dogs are highly food motivated, so they’ll be eager to figure out what to do to get another treat. Positive reinforcement is very effective, and your dog will be learning essential skills in no time.

1. Teach Your Dog Their Name

One of the first skills your dog will need to learn is their name. Anytime you say their name and they look at you, give them a treat. After a while, your dog will learn that anytime they hear their name, they’ll get something positive in return, whether that is a yummy morsel or a sweet scratch behind the ears.

2. Teach Your Dog To Sit

Next, teach your dog to sit. While your dog is standing, hold a treat over their head and slowly move it back over their head. This will make them look up, and they will sit on their bottom on the ground. As they do this, you can say ‘sit’ and give them a treat. Continue this behavior until you just say “sit,” and they do the action. Always reward them when they obey the command!

3. Adjust 

If you find that your rescue or shelter dog has come home with less than desirable behaviors, like jumping or chewing, redirect them to a positive behavior and then reward them. If your dog jumps on you when you first enter the door, ignore them. Once they stop jumping and engage in another behavior, present a treat.

If your dog is chewing an object you don’t want them to, give them an alternative toy. This will show your dog the items that they are allowed to gnaw on.

What To Know About Separation Anxiety

If your rescue or shelter dog had a less-than-positive past or even a well-meaning pet parent who didn’t work on training and surrendered their dog, you might see some behavior issues pop up. While this is not the only behavioral concern you could see with your pet, a very common behavioral concern in dogs is separation anxiety. This is completely understandable in rescue or shelter pets, especially if they were surrendered by their previous owners.

Separation anxiety occurs when your dog becomes upset that you are not home with them. Behaviors may include excessive chewing, barking and whining, and using the bathroom in the home. Your dog may start becoming clingy when they get the sense you are going to leave, often when you get your bag, grab your keys, or put your shoes on.

One key way to help this behavior is not to make a big deal when you leave or come home. Being calm lets your dog know that everything is normal. Taking your dog on a walk or leaving them with interactive toys prior to leaving gives them an outlet to get rid of excess energy. When your dog has been physically or mentally engaged, they are more likely to snooze when you are out of the house.

Seek Professional Help When Needed

Other behavioral concerns are fear and aggression. Your pup may have experienced fear while in the shelter since there is so much unknown, and this can come out as aggression when your dog feels stressed out. When it comes to addressing these behavioral concerns, working with an experienced dog trainer or expert can help with omitting unwanted behaviors.

When you are an AskVet member, getting in touch with a Certified Pet Lifestyle Coach is easy when you have behavioral concerns. You can sign up for a virtual session easily, and before you know it, you’ll be chatting with your Certified Pet Coach and coming up with an action plan that will help your pet live with you comfortably.

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Furever Love

Adopting a rescue or shelter pet is a remarkable decision, but it does come with responsibilities. It will take patience and understanding to help your new best pal overcome their past and develop into a well-adjusted and loving member of your family.

Becoming a member of AskVet gives you one-to-one support in managing your pet’s daily health and wellness — like having a life coach for your pet. You also have 24/7 vet support anytime you have a health-related question.

With AskVet, you can transform your new pal into a beloved family member in a wag of a tail. Join us today!


​​Why Your Dog Needs a Routine at Every Stage of Life | American Kennel Club

Benefits of Exercising with your Dog | VMBS News

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training: The Science Behind Operant Conditioning | American Kennel Club

Developing Diagnostic Frameworks in Veterinary Behavioral Medicine: Disambiguating Separation Related Problems in Dogs | Frontiers in Veterinary Science

Separation Anxiety | ASPCA


Related posts