Building a bond with a rescue dog

We are seeing more and more rescue and re-homing dogs coming in for training many from
foreign countries. A little bit of care and knowledge in the first few weeks can save months of
heartbreak later down the line. All our trainers have got together and produced this tip sheet
for you to try and get the most from your rescue dog and your training with us.

Give your dog time to settle in with you and learn to trust you before expecting him to mix with and greet other dogs and people. It could take weeks, or even months. Keep early interaction low key. Move around the dog casually, wait until he comes to you, then gently praise this behaviour, keep touching to a minimum and minimize eye contact. All this will reduce his stress levels. Remember that he may have come from the pressurized environment of a dog shelter or never lived in a house if he was a street dog. Do not pressure the dog into interaction if they are not ready for it.

Remember your dog may develop over attachment from excessive fuss and attention in this initial period, which can lead to problems later. Do not hold your dog tightly or cuddle your dog in the early part of your new relationship. This is not a normal canine behaviour but is learned by most puppies in a normal household. Many rescue dogs will become stressed if you try to hold them close and may bite.

Have a fixed schedule of dog quiet time, training time, play time, exercise and feeding times, to help build his confidence and give structure to his new life. Please remember that a dog is a dog and needs to do doggy things such as barking, chewing, digging, chasing so you will need to find him an outlet for these behaviours but under your control. You will need to build in the fact that what he has already learned cannot be deleted, but can be altered with sufficient training and if you have a rescue dog you may need one to one help in addition to training classes.

Give your dog a quiet, comfortable place of his own where he can go and not be disturbed – a bed, or an an open crate. It’s probably advisable to confine your dog to a specific part of the home that is easy to clean and easily accessible to the garden, until he is settled and confident. Remove any valuables, until such time that you are confident the dog is not destructive. Ensure your dog has alone time from day 1 or you will find he cannot be left.

Once your dog is settled then ensure all the family and regular visitors interact with your do so they do not get too attached to one person. Try and get your family to all use the same commands to avoid confusing the dog. Once the “honeymoon” period is over some dogs will try to push the barriers. Remain consistent and calm in dealings with the dog; stick to the schedule and things will settle again.

To form a quick bond with your dog try feeding by hand/bag at least once a day preferably three times a day adding a little training each time. If feeding from a bowl do not take food away at this stage in case the dog “guards” his food. Nearly every owner of a rescue dog thinks their dog has had the worst possible life. Remember dogs live in the moment, so do not make allowances or excuses for behaviour you do not want just because you think your dog may have been ill-treated. Instead look out for the triggers that will worry or distress your dog. Such as raised voices, raised hands, walking sticks, enclosed spaces, clothes and shoes that need guarding, or sudden moves such as grabbing the collar. Do you not punish your dog, it is unlikely to understand what you are doing and he may attack you. Stick to boundaries for example do not allow on the sofa one day but tell dog get off the next day.

Spend time with your dog and try to have positive interactions such as daily grooming, games and fun and when walking do not just allow your dog to trail behind you on a lead. Make sure your training treats are of high value to the dog and only give them when training. Remember to only train when your dog is hungry. If your dog has been neutered recently it will take a while for the body to get used to the loss of hormones so they may be unpredictable for a while.

If your dog is not house trained then you will need to start from scratch as if it was a puppy. Dogs are programmed from birth not to soil their nests and will crawl as far away as possible from their mother . By setting up a small secure area in your house which is your dogs den you can replicate this situation. Take your dog out every few hours until it gets the idea of the garden being the best place to toilet. Ensure your garden smells of dog, if not get a friends to piddle and poo in your garden. Don’t be too keen to pick up until your dog realizes that’s the place to go.

Many thanks to Bronwen Bell, from Animal Magic Dog Club Norfolk, for giving us the right to distribute these notes.

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