Training a Rescued Dog

Training a rescued dog

It is a sad fact that dog rescue centres are often full with abandoned and homeless dogs. But thanks to increased public awareness, more and more people are responding and choose to provide a loving home to an adult rescue dog.

It takes about 6 months for a rescue dog to fully settle into a new home, so you need to prepare yourself for a long haul of exciting, rewarding and sometimes frustrating experiences during that period.

From a training perspective, there will be some extra considerations you will need to bear in mind and these, to a large extent, will depend on the good or bad experiences your rescue dog has had in the past. This article is intended as an introduction to these added considerations. It should not be considered a definitive guide or a training guide in itself.

When should I start training a rescue dog?

Training requires a trusting rapport between you and your dog. Dogs will be more responsive to training when they have accepted you as their leader and trust you in that role. With a rescue dog, this may take days or even weeks, but you should allow time for this to develop before embarking on a training program.

What preparation is required?

As you are developing your relationship with your dog, you may find that they already understand some basic training commands. With rescue dogs, more often than not, this is usually quite limited and you may have to start training from the beginning. As with all training, you should bear in mind the following:

Always carry out training in a quite spot with no distractions

Unlike puppies, rescue dogs are likely to be more confident if allowed to run freely. So until you are absolutely certain you dog will return on request, ensure all training takes place in a secure area or using a long training lead.

Make training a positive and rewarding experience, so never rise your voice or discipline your dog during training exercises.

Rewards are your dogs primary motivator, so before you start training, experiment to find out which treats or toys they like the most. With rescues dogs, extra patience will be required here. It may even be that your dog initially seems to have little interest in treats or playing. In which case, you may need to withhold treats for a period before starting training sessions. In extreme cases, hand feeding your dog at meal time is also one way for your dog to learn that you are its food source and means of survival.

Don’t try to achieve to much in one go. All trained behaviour will need a number of sessions to master.

Keep training for specific behaviours to 3-5 minutes at the most, but repeat regularly.

Try to accompany all verbal commands with a distinctive and consistent hand signals.

If you are new to dogs, read up on dog body language so that you understand the when your dog is trying to warn you.

Always stop while your dog is still interested and always stop when you feel yourself getting frustrated.
Are there any specific techniques or equipment?

Most of the training techniques for rescue dogs are much the same as for training any dog. Because of potential mal treatment in the past, extra care should be taken with rescue dogs to ensure training is a very positive and not an intimidating experience. For this reason, clicker training has proved very successful.

Controlling a untrained fully grown adult dog can sometimes be quite strenuous. The use of head collars are now a very popular choice to prevent dogs pulling on leads. These collars control the position of your dogs head that prevents them pulling on the lead.

To prevent damage to your dog’s neck, it is important that these are fitted correctly and that you do not pull the lead sharply. For the same reason, because of a dogs ability to gather speed over a short distance, you should never use a training collar with a long or retractable lead. Use of a training lead can also help take the heavy work out of lead pulling

What about dog training classes?

Dog training classes are wonderful way to develop your training skills and allow your dog to socialise with other dogs. However, rescue dogs may have problems dealing with large groups of people or other dogs, this can cause stress that may manifest itself in aggressive or other unusual behaviour.

Before deciding to take your dog to training classes you need to establish how they will behave in this environment. Make your decision based your experiences of walking your dog in public places, how they react to strangers and other dogs.

Should you decide that training classes are appropriate, it’s a good idea visit a class without your dog, to ensure you approve of their methods (see the article selecting a training school)

Are there any other things to consider with rescues dogs?

Yes, there are quite a few other considerations to take into account when integrating a rescue dog into your home. It is well worth investing the time to understanding these, before you commit getting a rescue dog. A number of very useful books have recently been published in this area:

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About Patricia Hunter

Patricia Hunter at Canine Concepts is a qualified full-time dog behaviourist and trainer. Some of the articles on our site were written by Patricia with her full permission to use the literature on our site.

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