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How to Train a Rescue Dog

| Updated September 26, 2017

Train a rescue dog using patience, positive reinforcement and lots of love and compassion. In addition to obedience training, be prepared to reteach appropriate bathroom habits and possibly, employ the help of a vet if behavioral problems exist.

The Rescue Dog’s Story

Some rescue dogs have been through harrowing ordeals before they reach their forever homes. Adopting a rescue dog means making a commitment to helping your pup re-establish himself as a vital member of a household, an undertaking that can require a special degree of patience. If possible, learn about your pet’s backstory so you have an idea about what kinds of obedience or behavioral training he’s already completing. This will help you decide if you’re starting from scratch or just reacquainting your new pup with some existing skills. Knowing this story will alert you to problem areas or fears you’ll need to be aware of.

Use Positive Rewards

Enroll your dog in a group obedience training class or work on basic training skills at home. Sit, down, stay and come can be taught through gentle repetition. Your rescue dog should be given lots of praise and rewards for following even basic commands. This helps you establish trust and begin to bond with your new companion. If your dog seems skittish or overwhelmed, slow the pace of training. You want the experience to help integrate the dog into your family, and in time, your pup will come to see following commands as a way to please you.


  • Never use forceful training methods with your dog. You likely will create anxiety and eliminate any trust you managed to build.


  • Even dogs who have been housebroken will need to learn the rules of your house. Take your dog to the appropriate bathroom spot after eating, drinking, playing or waking and praise and reward him when he does his business.

Go for Walks

Take your pup for leash walks, both to acquaint him with your neighborhood and to work on basic commands such as heel. Don’t use a choke collar or jerk the leash. Use a short leash and a gentle tone and positively reward every instance when he follows your instruction. Regularly stop and review other obedience commands and talk to your dog. It may have been a long time since he was the center of anyone’s attention, and gentle words and petting will build his confidence.

Provide a Haven

Your new pup should have a quiet and safe place he can retreat if he becomes overwhelmed with his new environment and training schedule. Prepare a kennel with soft bedding, cover it with a blanket and put it in an area that’s semiprivate, yet still part of household traffic. You want your dog to have a place to go for privacy without feeling like he’s being banished from his new family.