Bringing home a rescue dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but you might be concerned about how you should approach rescue dog training.
Training an adopted dog can definitely pose a challenge for some pet owners. However, for most rescue dogs you can use these three tips to help them get off on the right paw (so to speak).
1. Make Your New Pet Feel Safe
The very first step in bringing home your rescue dog is ensuring that you introduce them to a welcoming environment. You might not know what situation your pet is coming from, so you want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Before you even consider bringing home your new pet, make sure that you have everything you need for their health and safety if at all possible. Crate training a rescue dog can be a great way to make sure your new pet has their own personal space – a safe haven if you will, for them to retreat to when they feel uncomfortable.
An appropriately sized crate, a soft crate pad, and a blanket to drape over the top for some privacy can all work wonders during rescue dog training. For best results, practice crate training a rescue dog in a laundry room or spare bedroom where they can get away from loud noises or overwhelming situations.
Another important factor is determining what your new family member was eating before they came to you. You should choose a high-quality dog food for them, but before you feed them anything you need to slowly transition from their old food to their new food. Buy a small bag of whatever the rescue or foster home is currently feeding them, and a bag of the new food as well.
Make sure you give them a week or two to acclimate before adding any new stress by changing their food.
Sometimes you end up in a situation where you cannot prepare properly. In that case, all you can do is try your best to provide as much comfort, quiet, and space as your new pet needs.
2. House Training a Rescue Dog
Potty training a rescue dog can be quite difficult. Sometimes your rescue dog has had some crate training or similar work, but some owners find themselves trying to housebreak a rescue dog that has lived outside their whole life.
Regardless of if your rescue dog is a puppy or an adult dog, you can help them out by following a few quick rules:
- Preventing accidents is key! The goal is zero accidents for an extended period of time. Not one or two… ZERO!
- Supervision, supervision, supervision! You should not leave your dog unattended unless you know for a fact they will not have an accident. This means you will need to use gates, playpens, or even a leash to keep your dog from sneaking off.
- Be more regulated with food intake. Don't let your dog graze on their food, they should eat their whole meal in one sitting (and thus have their whole bowel movement at one time as well).
- Water counts too! If your dog gulps down some water, they will need to urinate about twenty minutes after. Make sure you set a timer to take them out after EVERY instance.
- If you need help, get help, our housebreaking section of Dog Savvy, Small Dog Training Made Easy can get you started. For additional assistance, you can seek the support of our Ask The Trainer.
3. Work on Socialization
One of the most common issues when dealing with rescue dogs is socialization. This problem particularly plagues small breeds, as many owners fail to focus on socializing them and the world can be quite intimidating when you are that much smaller than everything else around you!
People frequently make one mistake when working on socializing their pet or desensitizing them to other animals or people, but this mistake can mean the difference between success and failure for many dogs. Many people fail to pair reinforcement with exposing their pet to new things.
You want to slowly acclimate your rescue dog to other dogs, pets, and people of all ages. However, you need to make sure they have a good time while you are doing it! Researchers call this process counterconditioning.
During counterconditioning, a potentially scary stimulus, like a stranger, gets paired with a very reinforcing stimulus, like a juicy piece of boiled chicken.
When we repeat this multiple times, the brain starts to automatically pair the scary stimulus with good things happening, reducing the stress and anxiety it might usually cause.
Regardless of the Behavior, Patience is Key for Training Your Rescue Dog
No matter what behavioral difficulties you might be experiencing, during rescue dog training you must focus on patience and understanding.
Small steps can go a long way with a rescue dog. Whether you're working on crate training a rescue dog or trying to stem rescue dog aggression towards people or other animals, you need to always focus on small progress towards the final goal of good behavior.