Tips for Training Your Small Breed Rescue Dog

Small rescue dogs can prove to be just as much of a challenge as large breeds! In fact, in many cases, these little pups have even more attitude than their larger cousins. Rescue dogs come with their own unique set of challenges and hurdles. 

While we don’t always know exactly what our small rescue dogs have been through in their past, we do know that we want to do everything we can to help them feel happy and comfortable in our homes.

Because let’s face it, rescue dogs who aren’t trained properly can cause some serious disturbances to the peace in your home. So let’s go over a few tips that you can use when training your small breed rescue dog to give them the best chance at success. 

For more information on training your small breed rescue dog, check out our Dog Savvy – Small Dog Training Made Easy course!

Set Them Up for Success

Before you jump into the training process, it’s important to make sure you set your dog up for success. We know that you’re likely excited to start working with your dog (or antsy to work on those annoying bad behaviors) but take a deep breath first!

For those of you with pets who have just arrived at your home, make sure you focus on letting your dog comfortably settle first. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide a sweet little incentive for exploring and interacting with their new family members, by all means, break out the treats, but you should make sure you don’t push your new pup too quickly. 

It takes time for a dog to become accustomed to change. Let your dog warm up to you and the rest of your family members in their own time by providing them with a warm welcome, a couple of treats, and space if they need it. 

You should also make it a point to sit, on the floor or couch if possible, when you’d like your dog to approach you, as a standing stranger is quite intimidating for small dogs! Once your dog has settled in and made themselves at home, and they are beginning to show signs of comfort and trust, you can begin the process of teaching them new things!

Use the Right Methods

This should go without saying, but you should only be using positive reinforcement with your small rescue dogs (or any dogs, or any animals, for that matter!). With unknown and potentially abusive backgrounds, it should come as no surprise that any type of punishing stimulus could put your relationship with your dog on shaky legs. 

You should use positive reinforcement and encouragement to work with your dog in any situation, to help solidify your bond and teach them that learning is a fun process, not a scary one. 

When working with your small rescue dogs, you should also choose luring as your primary training method. By luring your dog into position, rather than just pushing or pulling them into position with your hands, you give your dog full control over what happens to them. 

For an animal who often has had no control over their life, and has faced turmoil and unknown frequently, your rescue dog will appreciate being able to control where they are and what they are doing. When your dog voluntarily participates in their training sessions, they build their confidence in themselves and in you!

Take Extra Precautions

Certain small breed rescue dogs, and some non-rescues as well, will show fearfulness towards strange sounds or objects. This can make training difficult, particularly if you are trying to use a clicker, or teach your dog to interact with a new object, like a harness. We can take a few extra precautions with rescues to help make the entire process a bit more comfortable for them. 

When you are working with something that could make a strange noise, such as a clicker or a jingling harness, do your best to muffle any sounds coming from the object. Wrap your hand all the way around the clicker to dull the noise, or choose a clicker that clicks softly, instead of loud and distinct. This can help keep the sound from surprising your dog too drastically. 

With collars and harnesses, don’t add any tags or other attachments before you’ve worked with your dog. The added clinking of the tags smacking about can be quite distressing for dogs that are sensitive to sounds. Once your dog begins to grow comfortable wearing a harness, you can add the tags with the muffling border that keeps them from crashing together.

Keep a Good Helping of Patience in Your Pocket!

Few things in the training game are more important than having patience with your animals. It’s important to understand that your small rescue dog has gone through some tough times, and needs some time to adjust emotionally. 

You should also remember that emotional damage can scar just as much as physical damage can. Sure, some scars fade to nearly nothing with time, but time is the key factor. With plenty of love and affection, your dog can heal from their experiences, but they will always need time as well. 

Remember this while you train your dog. Practice short training sessions to keep your dog comfortable and engaged, without pushing them farther than they can handle. Y

our dog’s behavior can and will improve, but it will take time, effort, and sometimes a bit of extra help. If your dog has serious behavioral issues, such as aggression or separation anxiety, you should seek the help of our Ask The Trainer membership. 

When combined with our Dog Savvy – Small Dog Training Made Easy Course, it allows you to cover all of the primary training principles you need, and then iron out the details with our Head Trainer. When it comes to complex behaviors and trauma, or even just basic questions, having a bit of extra help can make all the difference.

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