Adoption & Fostering

How to Train Your Rescue or Shelter Dog

train the dog

Congratulations on Adopting Your New Furry Friend! Opening your heart and home to a rescue or shelter dog is a wonderful thing. These pups can make amazing pets, but it’s important to recognize that they may come with some baggage. No matter their history, with patience, love, and the right training approach, you can help your new companion blossom into a happy, well-adjusted member of the family. 

woman holding paw of dog 1

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the dos and don’ts of training your rescue dog. From gathering crucial information before adoption to establishing routines and boundaries, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in and set your furry friend up for success!

1. Get to Know Your Dog’s Background

Before you even bring your new dog home, it’s crucial to gather as much information as possible about their history. Any reputable animal shelter should be able to provide you with details about your pup:

  • Veterinary records (vaccinations, health conditions, etc.)
  • Previous homes and owners
  • Behavior while at the shelter

This information is invaluable in understanding your dog’s likes, dislikes, potential triggers, and training level. With this knowledge, you could design a tailored training plan that sets your pooch up for success.

cute little dog pet shop with owner

2. Expect an Adjustment Period

First things first – remember that being relinquished to a shelter is stressful for any dog. On top of whatever your pup experienced in the past, the shelter environment itself can make them feel less confident and secure. So when you first bring them home, expect that it may take some time for them to fully relax and show their true personality.

a dog in pet carrier

The key is to be patient. Dogs can take anywhere from a few hours to several months to settle in fully. Stay calm and positive, keep routines predictable, and make sure your dog has a cozy spot to relax with food, water, toys, and bedding. Also, do some dog-proofing to keep them safe as they curiously explore their new digs.

cute shiba inu pet with family

3. Establish Boundaries From Day One

As tempting as it may be to coddle your new friend and let them do whatever they want at first, resist that urge! The training and boundary-setting need to start right away. If you allow unwanted behaviors like having accidents in the house or chewing furniture now, it will be much harder to train them out of it later.

So even though your heart may want to give them a pass, stay consistent and make the house rules clear to your pup (and all family members) from the get-go. It will make your life easier in the long run!

high angle smiley dog sitting floor

4. Get on a Routine

Predictability is your new best friend when helping your rescue dog adjust. Remember, the shelter environment was likely chaotic and stressful. By establishing a consistent daily schedule for meals, walks, playtime, and bedtime, you’re giving your dog the stability they crave. 


5. Make Mealtime Stimulating

One easy way to provide enrichment for your new pup is to make them work a bit for their food. Puzzle feeders and toys that dispense kibble as they play are great for this. It keeps them engaged, stimulates them mentally, and tires them out. A dog who is busy “hunting” for their meal is a dog who has less time and energy to get into trouble!


6. Start Training From Square One

Even if your rescue dog had some training in their past life, it’s best to start from scratch. Between the stress of the shelter and the learning curve in a new environment, they will likely need a refresher on the basics anyway. 

girl plays with dogs

So, pretend your new pup is starting with a blank slate when it comes to obedience. Focus on positive reinforcement methods to teach key commands and behaviors. Keep sessions short, upbeat, and low-pressure. If your dog already knows some things – great! If not, stay patient and celebrate small victories.

7. Crate Training is Crucial

Unless you know for sure that your rescue dog is 100% housetrained and non-destructive, crate training should be a top priority. It’s the best way to prevent potty accidents and chewing mishaps when you can’t directly supervise them

cute smiley dog kennel

Plus, the crate serves as a cozy “safe space” for your dog to retreat to when they’re feeling overwhelmed by all the newness. Making the crate a positive, comforting place can go a long way in easing your pup’s anxiety. Just introduce it gradually and never use it for punishment.

8. Enroll in an Obedience Class

Even if your rescue dog isn’t quite ready for a group class environment right away, it’s a good idea to get them into a training program as soon as you can. Regular training provides that all-important structure and routine.

Plus, starting obedience work right off the bat sets your dog up for success by getting the whole family on the same page with rules, boundaries, and positive reinforcement methods. A good training class is one of the best gifts you can give your new pup.

dog agility training jumping breed

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with the best training approach, rescue dogs often come with a few behavioral quirks. Some common challenges you may encounter include:

shih tzu dogs pets animals

1. Bonding Barriers: Your dog may be somewhat shut down and take longer to bond with you. Take it at their pace and focus on positive interactions rather than rushing into formal training.

2. Socialization Snags: Exposing your dog to new people, animals and environments is critical but may need to be done extra gradually with a rescue. Go at their comfort level and keep things positive.

3. Crate Concerns: If a crate was used for punishment in the past, your dog may balk at going into one. Slow and steady wins the race here. Make it an awesome place to be, and never force them inside.

4. Flight Risks: Even if you have a fenced yard, keep a close eye on your pup outside. The sights, sounds, and smells of a new place may encourage them to wander before they’ve settled in.

happy adult man holding purebred dog while standing near window

Final Words

I hope the tips and tricks I’ve shared here prove helpful as you navigate this exciting new chapter with your rescue dog. Remember, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” adoption journey. You and your pup are both learning as you go!

The most important things are to stay patient, keep things positive, and never hesitate to reach out for professional guidance if you feel stuck or overwhelmed along the way. With an open heart, a sense of humor, and a commitment to consistent training, you and your rescue dog will build an unbreakable bond.

front view girl carrying bag with dog

Wishing you all the best as you embark on this life-changing adventure together. Your new best friend is so lucky to have found you. Enjoy every moment of watching them blossom into the happy, healthy, beloved pup they were always meant to be!


About Helen K. White

As someone who deeply believes in the power of adoption and fostering, I've seen firsthand how it can change lives—for both animals and humans alike. Through heartwarming stories and practical tips, I'm here to share insights, advice, and resources to support you every step of the way. With years of experience volunteering at shelters, fostering countless furry pals, and helping families find their perfect pet match, I bring a wealth of knowledge and passion to the table. Whether you're thinking about adoption, navigating the foster journey, or just looking for heartwarming tales to brighten your day, I've got you covered.