Offering a rescue dog a home can be incredibly rewarding, for both you and the dog. However, it can be difficult for them to adjust to their new way of life. It is possible to teach a rescue dog of any age. However, the difficulty levels will depend on their trauma, previous training and life experiences. That is why we have compiled the ultimate guide to training your rescue dog and bonding with them in the weeks, months, and years to come.
Rescue Dog Training Process
Training a rescue dog often requires a lot more time, patience, and adaptability than regular training. This is because they could have little-to-no established training or previous traumatic experiences could be influencing their behaviour. When training your rescue, it is important to:
Build A Routine
Routines allow dogs to settle into their surroundings and develop a sense of confidence and familiarity as they go about their day. Any new people or places should be introduced slowly and on their terms, so they can get used to them.
Be Patient & Follow The 333 Rule
It is important not to assume that just because a dog is older, it already has pre-established training. Their previous owner, if they had one, may not have trained them, or may have ingrained bad habits instead. Additionally, your new family member could have been exposed to any number of traumatic and neglectful circumstances before they found you. That is why it is important to follow the 333 rule to give them the best chance of settling in.
The rule goes as follows:
- 3 days to decompress
- 3 weeks to learn your routine
- 3 months to begin to feel at home
Allowing your pet plenty of space and compassion can help ease the anxiety they are surely feeling. However, it is important to remember that every dog is different. Therefore, you should adapt to their needs accordingly. Your dog may adapt with flying colours, or they may be constantly worried that they will be abandoned or hurt.
Think about your boundaries ahead of time: Do you want them to jump on the sofa? Are they allowed to sleep on the bed? Can they only go in certain rooms? You can then reinforce these boundaries clearly to your dog.
Additionally, you should be willing to accept that they may not understand or follow your rules straight away. You should give them plenty of time to adjust and choose positive reinforcement over punishment.
Provide Mental & Physical Stimulation
Often, rescue dogs can come with a lot of built-up energy and will be in need of distraction. Regular exercise and mental stimulation, such as games, puzzle toys and walks, can help reduce anxiety
Gradually Expose Them To New Environments
Dogs live in the moment, and they are constantly analysing their environment through smells, sounds and visual cues. Exposing your dog to socialisation and different environments can help build their confidence over time.
How Do You Train An Untrained Rescue Dog?
It is important to start with the basics and gradually introduce them to new concepts. It is also vital that you establish a routine so that they feel in control, safe and secure. Additionally, we would always advise putting a focus on positive reinforcement over punishment. This allows your dog to make positive associations with the behaviours you want them to show, as opposed to feeling fearful.
Lead Training A Rescue Dog
Getting any dog to walk on a lead can be a challenge, let alone a rescue dog. This is because they may not have been walked on one before, or may have trauma associated with any part of the process. You should always start slowly by familiarising them with the lead, allowing them to sniff it and become comfortable before attempting to attach it. You should reward them with treats along the way so that they build a positive association with both you and the activity.
Stopping Them From Pulling
To get your dog used to walking nicely on their lead, you should start off by standing still and quiet when they pull. You should give them the full length of the lead, and continue to be still and quiet whilst they ignore you. Once they pay attention to you, you can then reward them with a treat and move off. To make sure your dog stays close to you when walking, you can use treats and your voice.
Each time they move too far away, before the lead goes tight, you should stop and stay still and quiet until they notice you. You can then reward them and move off again.
It is helpful to practise in short, regular sessions; it can also be helpful to provide a distraction, such as a toy. If your dog pulls on the lead to try to get the toy, stop and call them over to you. Their reward for walking on a loose lead should be the toy, so they can learn that pulling will only slow them down.
Ultimately, encouragement is the best way to make learning a fun, positive experience for your dog.
Is It Ever Too Late To Leash Train A Dog?
Whilst lead training older dogs is more challenging, due to pre-established behaviour patterns and experiences, it is not impossible. A qualified trainer can help take the pressure off you and give tailored expert training to suit your dog’s needs.
House Training A Rescue Dog
There are several reasons your rescue dog may go to the toilet indoors. These could be in relation to a lack of training or health issues. It can also occur as a result of separation anxiety.
When you are toilet training your dog, you should never punish them for having an accident afterwards or as it is happening. Essentially, this is because they will not associate the punishment with the accident, leaving them scared and confused. That is why it should especially be avoided with rescue dogs.
If they have an accident, you should clean the area with a warm solution of biological washing powder and then rinse the area with water. Removing the smell from the area will lower the chances of your dog using it again.
How Long Does It Take To House Train A Rescue Dog?
Like with other aspects of training, every dog is different. Their ability to pick up different skills and habits depends heavily on their experience, age, health condition and training level. That is why it is important to be patient, as it can take anything from a few weeks to a few months.
Crate Training A Rescue Dog
Should You Crate Train A Rescue Dog?
A crate gives your dog a safe space that is just for them; this can help make them feel more comfortable in a new environment. With a rescue dog, it is important to consider factors such as:
- Choose a crate that allows them plenty of space to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably.
- Introduce the crate gradually, letting your dog get used to it on their own terms. You should never force them into it. Instead, start slowly increasing the time they are in it.
- Stick to a regular schedule that revolves around the crate to help them adjust.
- Ignore whining where possible, and only let them out of the crate when there is a break in the noise. This is so that they do not associate whining with being let out.
- Teach them commands like “crate” and use positive reinforcement to build good associations with being inside the crate.
- Never associate the crate with punishment – it should be a positive space for your dog to be in.
When it comes to crate training, consistency is vital. However, it is important to remember that every dog is different; when it comes to crate training a rescue dog, there is no set time that it takes them to adjust.
Bonding With Your New Rescue Dog
Like with training, bonding with a rescue dog comes with its own set of challenges. They may arrive fearful, and traumatised by past experiences that render them unable to connect with you initially. However, this does not necessarily mean you will never build a bond of trust and friendship with your dog. When looking to establish the relationship, you should take into account the following considerations:
The key factor when settling in your rescue dog is time. They are unlikely to warm up to you immediately for a variety of reasons. A history of trauma and abandonment, as well as anxiety and unfamiliar surroundings, can all play into their reactions. That is why it is necessary to ease them into their new life and not force physical contact.
Also, rescue dogs will be of a variety of ages, with numerous potential health conditions that may affect their behaviour. If you are patient and let them come to you on their terms, they are more likely to trust you. However, there is no specific timescale, and the process could take weeks or even months before you see signs of change.
You should always respect their personal space and boundaries, and pay attention to their body language.
Additionally, you should speak to your dog in a calm voice to soothe them. It is also best to avoid loud or sudden movements and sounds.
Spend Quality Time Together
Sitting with your dog and spending time with them, even if you are reading or watching tv, can be a great way to bond with them. Regularly playing with and exercising them can also help your dog associate you with positive activities and feelings.
Rewards Over Punishment
A firm, gentle approach to behaviour correction is key. This is because harsh punishment can trigger feelings of fear or anxiety. Instead, you should opt for positive reinforcement, such as praise and treats, to reward good behaviour. This will help you to establish trust between you and your dog, as well as reinforce good habits.
Create A Safe Space
Your dog should always have a space that they can go to where they can feel safe. This could be their crate, or a bed in a quiet room or corner.
Whether you crate train your dog, and the contexts in which you use it, will depend on their individual needs, training level and separation anxiety level. For some dogs, it can be a safe space where they can decompress and avoid overstimulation. For others, it can provoke feelings of trauma associated with past experiences. The amount of time they may spend in the crate can also be influenced by the boundaries you have set regarding sleeping arrangements.
Potential Bonding Problems & Common Mistakes
Many people prefer to adopt an older rescue dog than go through all the stress of training a new puppy, but this can come with problems. Older dogs may have a history that you don’t know about, including abuse, lack of socialisation and other issues. They can also come with a host of bad habits. This can make training harder, as your dog may be defensive or reluctant to take part. This means that you may need to consider a professional dog behaviour course.
The Health Of Older Dogs
If your dog is particularly old, then you need to be careful in choosing which tricks you want to teach him. For example, sitting or lying down on command may be hard for an older dog with joint problems. Older dogs may also have problems with hearing or sight, so you need to adapt your commands to take account of this. It is important to continue with dog behaviour courses, even as your dog gets older, because it can help keep their mind and body active.
Supervision is Key
You should always supervise your dog in the first few days. This is because it allows you to catch any unwanted behaviours so that you can help to redirect them.
Not Maintaining Boundaries
However well you have trained your dog, chances are your strict standards will start to slip over time. Rules about jumping on the sofa may become flexible; you may find that you start to tolerate behaviours that you previously would have stopped straight away.
This is a common problem; you should never be afraid to ask for help. After training courses such as ours, for example, we will show you how we’ve worked with your dog and spend time with you so you know how to continue where we left off, to maximise the impact of the training.
Not Managing Separation Anxiety
It is important to gradually desensitise your dog to being alone, as opposed to leaving it too late, or doing it all at once. This is especially vital if they are a rescue dog, as they may come with abandonment-related behavioural problems. It can also be helpful to leave activities like puzzle toys with your dog to keep them occupied while you are gone.
Crying is highly likely as rescue dogs may not be used to the crate. To combat this, you should focus on crate training to make them associate positively with being in the crate. Additionally, you should start by leaving them in there for smaller periods, gradually increasing it as they become more comfortable.
How To Help A Traumatised Rescue Dog
To help your traumatised rescue dog feel settled in their new home, it is important that you:
- Gradually introduce new places and people, only increasing exposure as they become more comfortable
- Create a safe space with their bed, toys, and water for them to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed.
Ultimately, you should consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about any of your dog’s behaviour. They will be able to recommend treatment for anxiety, as well as rule out any underlying health conditions that may be contributing to their behaviour.
Adopt a Rescue Dog from A&T Trained Dogs
If you are looking for a new addition to your family, why not adopt a rescue dog? We will even train them before their adoption to give them the best possible chance at settling in.