How to Train Your Shelter or Rescue Dog

cute little puppy awaiting adoption

E+/Getty Images

If you just adopted a dog from a shelter or rescue group, congratulations! Dogs adopted from a dog shelter or animal rescue can make wonderful pets. No matter the reason they landed in the shelter, with a little time, patience and training, shelter dogs can become happy, well-adjusted family members.

Your newly adopted dog may have some level of obedience training already, or they may not have any. It's also possible that something in their past will trigger behavioral issues. That's why it's important that you take the time to train and socialize your newly adopted companion.

Expect a Period of Adjustment

When you adopt a puppy or dog from a shelter, it comes with a history—not the least of which is being relinquished to the shelter. Keep in mind that the stress of this, along with whatever the dog has experienced in his past, can make it less than confident in new surroundings.

Plan on giving your dog some time to adjust to its new home and family. Dogs can take anywhere from a few hours to several months to get used to living in a new place. During this adjustment time, do what you can to make your new dog feel safe and comfortable. Be patient while they adjust, but also try to keep things consistent and predictable in the new environment.

Set Boundaries

Remember that training begins from the day your new dog comes home. It can be tempting to coddle it for the first week or so to try to make up for the time spent in the shelter. Don't do it!

If you allow your shelter dog to engage in certain behaviors when you first bring them home it will be much harder to train it to stop doing those things later. This includes some of the most obvious things such as getting up on the sofa, eliminating on the carpet, or chewing on table legs. Establish your dog's boundaries early and be sure the entire family knows and enforces them.

Get on a Schedule

Dogs like having a routine. A dog who has spent the last few weeks or more in a shelter may have been stressed out in part because its life had become so unpredictable. By establishing a routine for feeding, walking, playtime, and bedtime, you can begin providing some stability for your dog. In most cases, this will significantly help the dog get adjusted to its new home.

Assume They Have No Training

Treat your shelter dog the same way you would a new puppy coming into your house. Assume that it has never had any training. Even if the dog had obedience training in the past, it may need a refresher after all that it has been through.

Your best bet is to expect that your dog knows nothing. This way you'll be pleasantly surprised if the dog already knows some basic commands or is already housebroken. However, you won't be setting the pup up for failure with expectations that are too high.

Be sure to train your new dog using positive reinforcement. Keep training sessions upbeat and low-stress.

Plan on Crate Training

Just as you would with a new puppy, you should introduce your shelter dog to crate training as soon as possible. In this way, you can work on housebreaking and be comfortable that the dog won't get into mischief when left unsupervised.

A crate is also helpful because it gives your shelter dog a place of its own. Between living in a shelter and now coming to a new home, your dog may feel extremely stressed. Having a place to retreat to when it feels overwhelmed can go a long way in helping the dog get settled in.

Enroll in Obedience Class

Even though it may take a little while for your shelter dog to get used to its new home, that doesn't mean you should put off an obedience program. On the contrary, regular training sessions can help get dogs into a routine.

Starting a training program can also help you to establish boundaries for your dog right from the beginning. Starting an obedience class sets the dog up for good behavior and makes it easier for it to become a happy and healthy member of your family! Remember, dogs are most at ease when they know the rules. Dogs crave structure and predictability, so training your new dog properly from the start is one of the best things you can do for him.