Patience is key when training a rescue dog. Photography by: ©OvalStudios | Getty Images

Common Rescue Dog Behavior Issues

Though it can be challenging, training a rescue dog is extremely worthwhile and rewarding. Here are some tips from renowned trainer, Victoria Stilwell.
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I have worked with rescue dogs for over 20 years, and I’m always impressed with their resilience and courage. Most dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own, but their ability to bounce back from even the most tragic of situations shows just how incredible they are. These dogs have nothing “wrong” with them except that they have been dealt an unfortunate card.

I encourage prospective pet parents to go to a shelter first because rescue dogs make such incredible pets, and while some dogs might find the transition from shelter to home overwhelming, most acclimate quickly and easily. There will be an adjustment period for the whole family when any new dog comes into the home. Dogs previously raised in nurturing environments tend to be more adaptable to new things, while those that have had little social contact or positive experiences with people and other dogs will need time to acclimate.

When your dog comes home

Your dog will have to learn a whole new set of guidelines and adjust to novel experiences in your home. She might have never walked on carpet, seen a cat, been around a child, heard the noise of a vacuum or seen a television. So, it could be overwhelming for her to begin with.

You might find that your dog has toileting accidents, chews the furniture or barks when she’s left alone. These behavior issues are very common and can be resolved with time, patience and the help of a certified positive trainer if necessary.

Create a toileting routine

As soon as your dog comes home, start housetraining basics immediately, and take her out to toilet every hour. Pay special attention to times when she is more likely to go, such as after she has eaten, woken from a nap or after vigorous play. Once you have established a successful toileting routine, you can cut the amount of outside visits to a normal adult schedule, about four to five outings a day.

Create a safe space

Give your dog a bolt-hole or safe space to go to, as the freedom to take herself off to safety if needed will increase her confidence. This space is off-limits to visitors and any young children you might have. Separate this space from the rest of your home with a baby gate so your dog is safely contained but not isolated from the family. Use this space when you cannot actively supervise your dog to avoid toileting accidents, and give her appropriate chew toys to play with so she is not tempted to chew on your furniture or household objects.

Dogs with a history of abandonment can feel anxious on separation. Help her cope by tiring her out with plenty of activities and then leaving her in her safe zone for short periods of time to relax. Make sure she is close to other dogs you have in your home so that she does not feel isolated.

Take it slow

If your dog comes from a puppy mill situation or hasn’t had much experience outside, too much space all at once might be overwhelming. Take things slowly, and let her get used to being in your house and yard before you introduce her to the outside world. If she refuses to go on a walk, the world is still too much for her, so observe her body language and go at her pace. She will let you know when she is ready.

Make time for play

Enrichment is a wonderful way to help any dog acclimate. Teach your dog how to use her nose by playing scent-related games or help her solve problems by giving her dog puzzles and activity toys. This will activate her thinking brain, which will focus her attention onto learning and problem solving rather than feeling worried.

My family and I have only ever had dogs and cats from rescue situations, and we have successfully transitioned them into our home by understanding their needs, giving them time to adjust and teaching them the life skills they need to acclimate successfully. We share our home with Jasmine the Chihuahua and Bella, our Shih Tzu. These dogs enrich our lives every day, and we couldn’t imagine living without them.

Thumbnail: ©OvalStudios | Getty Images

About the author:

Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker, is best known as the star of the TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the media, she’s widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is editor-in-chief of positively.com, CEO of the VSPDT network of licensed trainers and the founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior — the leader in dog trainer education. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter at @victorias.

Learn more about dog behavior and training at dogster.com:

19 thoughts on “Common Rescue Dog Behavior Issues”

  1. Pingback: Dug Up at Dogster: August 2019 Dog Events – News @ ManyPaws Australia

    1. They don’t work for everyone. I was rec’d a prong for my 1st rescue by a trainer, and it was awful – she pulled herself bloody, dramatically so, and wouldn’t stop. I had to carry her home that day and get her cuts/punctures looked at. Don’t recommend a prong until you know the dog.

      After some experiments she did great with a thicker, studded collar. It had some weight to it so she could feel it was there, and feel it shift when she got to the end of her leash.

  2. absolutely NO PRONG COLLARS. that is adding pain and discomfort to what is aleady a difficult situation for your dog. This is just logic.

  3. I’ve always adopted and I usually pick the dogs that no one else wants to deal with. With a lot of patience and good positive training, they have always turned out to be great dogs! Not perfect, but no dog is. My latest is a 7 month old rescue that was flown up from Puerto Rico – never been on a leash or inside a house; she was curled up in a ball in the back of the kennel at the Humane Society where I volunteer. I brought her home 3 weeks ago and with the help of her mentor and new best friend, my 9 year old cur mix, she’s adjusting really well.

  4. Pingback: Common Rescue Dog Behavior Issues | ITS A NEW PETSTORE EVERYDAY

    1. I give my 20 lb dog fruit once in a while and she likes it. However, she often gets loose stools from eating fruit. So beware. Probably not the best idea for a dog that is not yet housebroken for toilet training. They have enough challenges already.

  5. Dylan Rodrigues

    None of this talks about common behavioral issues with rescue dogs just how to get them used to living in a house. Majority of rescue dogs are in shelters because of behavioral issues that are easily fixable like jumping, leash pulling, resource guarding, and a few others. 96% of all dogs in shelters have no obedience training to put that in perspective. Ive owned 4 dogs 2 of which were rescues one was nice but had alot of mental issues the other had a severe issue with biting but was small so not too hard to manage but still a problem. The other 2 are from breeders and have no issues thats just my experience thoug, im not saying dont adopt but go on the side of caution when doing so and know what you want.

  6. WE HAVE GOTTEN A MCN AS B MIX HE’S ABOUT A YEAR OLD AND IS A VERY BEAUTIFUL DOG HE’S BLACK AND WHITE WITH BLACK SPOTS ON HIS EARS. ANY WAY HE IS ADJUSTING REAL GOOD , EXCEPT HE DOES NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH S LEASH WHAT SO EVER LIKE HE HATES IT IF WE TRY TO PUT ON A NEW COLLAR , ESPECIALLY A HARNESS I WOULD LOVE SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO BREAK HIM OF BEING SO SCARED OF A LEASH OR HARNESS ??? WHEN YOU TRY TO WALK HIM IF YOU HOLD BACK ON THE LEASH HE GOES RIGHT TO THE GROUND OR IF HE PULLS THE LEASH TIGHT SAME THING WE WOULD LOVE TO TAKE HIM CAMPING OR FOR RIDES TO THE RIVER OR EVEN TO GO WITH ME IN MY SEMI TRUCK , BUT CAN’T UNTIL HE WILL EXCEPT THE LEASH BECAUSE ANYMORE A DOG HAS TO BE LEASHED WHEREVER YOU GO !! CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME IDEAS ?? MY NAME IS CHIP . HE IS ALSO A REZ RESCUE DOG.

    1. Dylan Rodrigues

      I would recommend using a 2.25 prong collar and just let the dog go the ground and when he does keep moving the dog will want the discomfort to stop and get up. I would recommend looking for a trainer aswell. I would not recommend a harness as they encourage dogs to pull and standard collars can cause serious damage to a dogs neck a prong collar is safer when properly fitted since when the dog is not pulling the collar just rests on the dogs hair but will only cause discomfort when given resistance. All my german shepherds pulling issues have disappeared with a prong collar

      1. Those prong collars are abusive. No one should ever use those not even for training. I have a rescue that had fear aggression. She has been through so much. How do you know what that dog thinks when they see a prong collar? FEAR!

        Shame!

      2. Victoria abhors prong collars. You can accomplish the same thing with patience and positive treatment rather than pain.

    2. CHIP,
      Put the leash on the dog’s collar, and then drop it on the ground. After the dog drags it around for a few hours, the dog will let you pick it up and he will be “leash broken.” Some dogs act like a fish on a line the first time they have a leash put on them. Let them drag it around for a while without your attempting to pick it up.

  7. marguerite ambler

    have alwAys given my dogs fruit and veg all.y dogs have been rescueo i have a x staffie andlab i did noy know you could give dohs bluberry but when you have dohs you never stop learning
    marguerite

  8. Pingback: Common Rescue Dog Behavior Issues – Pet Dedicated

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