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How to Welcome & Train a Rescue Dog

It's time to bring Fido to his forever home

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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The rescue community has definitely grown. Many people are working from home, so they have more time to commit to training needs and are able to grow strong bonds with their new dogs.
– Tiffany Baker, Dogly Training Advocate
 and founder of Boss Babe Dog Training LLC


Are you ready to welcome a rescue pup to his or her new forever home? According to a 2019 report on Petpedia.co, there are 14,000 shelters and rescue groups, combined, in the US today. Of the 6.5 million animals admitted to shelters approximately 3.3 million are dogs, and their average age is 18 months. However, in 2020, shelters are experiencing larger vacancies right now due to the pandemic, as many Americans have opted to adopt and rescue dogs while spending more time at home. If you are considering offering your home to a rescue pup, but are concerned about the training and work involved, consider the helpful tips from pros and owners, alike, below.

What to Expect When You Rescue a Dog

By day, Joe Moller owns and operates his namesake event company; however, by night, the attention shifts to his 4-legged housemates. “I’ve come to love the companionship, long walks, and unconditional love only a dog can provide,” Moller admits. Currently, Moller has 2 rescue pups living under his roof: a Boxer named Napoleon and the more recent addition of a 180-pound Harlequin Great Dane named Picasso. 

“He was covered in bite marks, scared of his own shadow, and didn’t even want to walk with me down the block,” Moller recalls of his first days with Picasso. Moreover, Moller had his hands full with Picasso, who came with a past history of abuse. “We had to – and are still dealing with – reactivity issues, learning how to play with other dogs, separation anxiety, and more.”

From Moller’s personal experience, he offers several tips for new rescuers, which include the below:

• Understand your dog’s issue(s) from a professional’s point of view.

• Find trusted service providers in your community (vets, groomers, dog walkers, trainers, etc.), and meet them before you get your dog.

• Join a group or individual training class to educate yourself on how to train your dog and to observe both the good and bad behavior habits of other dog owners.

• Commit to the daily training time required by your dog’s issues.

• Reward your dog – and yourself – for improved behavior.

When it comes to rewarding his rescues, Moller serves up organic chicken hearts. “These are treats for both dogs. They love them, and can easily break them into smaller pieces, and were highly recommended by my local and most favorite pet store, Rosie Bunny Bean in Los Angeles.” And, due to the pandemic, Moller has fewer events to tend to and is not traveling as much, which allows him to spend more time at home. “We have started taking longer walks together every morning and weekly hikes that didn’t use to happen,” he says.

Finally, if you’re procrastinating about getting a rescue, “get it now!” Moller exclaims. “Stop thinking about it. The morning play sessions, couch cuddles, and unconditional love outweigh any and all inconveniences owning a pet may present. Everything can be easily managed once you develop your network of service providers.” Still, for those not yet convinced, Moller suggests short-term rescue situations where you can house a dog for a few weeks to a few months – before making your decision.

An Advocate for Rescue Dogs

Dogly Training Advocate Tiffany Baker’s experience with rescues dates back to when she was 7 years old. She then began fostering dogs, as well as training them to help them become more adoptable. “I very quickly recognized the need for animal advocates in the rescue community,” says the Dallas-Fort Worth area resident and owner of Boss Babe Dog Training LLC. “My mission became giving these animals a voice, to help people understand their behavior, as well as their potential as great family pets.”

Today, Baker partners with several rescue organizations to help dogs find their long-term homes. Additionally, she volunteers her time offering behavior assessments for urgent dogs at local shelters to provide potential adopters with the information needed to find their best possible placements. 

Currently, rescues are in high demand, given COVID-19 protocols still being enforced, which allow adopters more time to spend with their new furry friends. “It has been great to see the influx of adopters, as well as new fosters and volunteers!” exclaims Baker. “The rescue community has definitely grown. Many people are working from home, so they have more time to commit to training needs and are able to grow strong bonds with their new dogs.” 

On the other hand, Baker says the only downside is if – and when – people return to their normal schedules and if they are able to uphold their same commitments to their newly homed pets.

Training Tips From a Pro

When training rescue dogs, Baker says that the unclear history of the dog’s past can be challenging. “There are times when I work with dogs that seem to have had limited socialization with people and/or dogs, and some that have even experienced significant trauma,” she says. “This can lead to insecurities and fear that have to be handled delicately. I’ve learned over time, however, that these pups can be amazingly resilient.”

Baker’s top training tips are as follows:

• Patience. For even the most resilient dogs, change is hard, and they need time to decompress and adjust to new unfamiliar surroundings. They will slowly start to come out of their shell, but let them do this at their own pace. Try not to overload them with attention; just be there to encourage and support them as they learn to navigate through their new world.

• Become an expert on your dog’s body language. Learn to read your dog’s quiet communications, so you can better gauge their emotions.

• Read into negative signs. Ears pinned back, head lowered, tail tucked, and tight mouth? This indicates something is causing your dog to become nervous or cautious.

• Recognize the happy signals. Wiggly, loose body with a sweeping wagging tail? This means your pup is probably very happy about what’s happening.

• Consent and choice. Make sure your new dog is enjoying each new person and dog interaction, as well as introductions into new places. Is your dog trying to avoid interactions or barking at something new? They may need some space or a break. Giving your dog a choice to opt in and out of new situations is one of the best ways to build confidence and trust.

• Enrichment. Provide your pup with adequate daily enrichment. Many problematic behaviors develop due to boredom and limited outlets for natural dog behaviors. Giving your dog an appropriate outlet for these behaviors can help to prevent them from developing in an unwanted way.

• Communication. We spend so much time trying to get our dogs to stop doing certain things. Instead, try to focus on what you would like for your dog to do, and then teach them this. Build foundational cues for your dog to understand what you want from them, and then implement these cues into their day – while rewarding them along the way for all of their good choices. Reinforcement drives behavior.

Pro Tip: Baker recommends browsing dogly.com which offers many different training tools, along with a community to ask advocates like her questions about nutrition and wellness. There are also 1-on-1 training sessions available.

Potty Training Your Rescue Pup

Potty pads have long been a default for training puppies and rescues in new home environments. However, potty training your dog on a synthetic surface can cause lasting issues and is not the most environmentally friendly practice around today. “Teaching dogs to use paper pads or plastic grass can have negative consequences,” says Andrew Feld, founder and president of Fresh Patch. “Training dogs to use these synthetic materials in the home will often lead to the use of other synthetic materials – like bath mats and rugs.” 

Instead, Fresh Patch offers adopters real-grass training pads that are all-natural and completely safe to use within the home. The living grass absorbs liquids and controls odors naturally, which offers a more stress-free training experience. And, since the units are fully disposable, owners can discard one unit and replace it with another, as needed.

While Fresh Patch may seem like an ideal solution mainly for those who live in apartments or downtown areas without easy lawn access, the training tool is actually beneficial for everyone. For example, in times of extreme rain or snow, or when owners are out or working long hours, Fresh Patch offers an indoor grass solution. Fresh Patch works short or long term and provides an easy transition to outdoor yards – if and when your rescue is ready.

“Having an indoor dog potty can help eliminate accidents in the home,” says Feld. “This saves a lot of aggravation and frustration as you bring a new pet into your family – especially adopted dogs who have presumably failed in another home. Having a consistent potty routine and an indoor option – for early-morning or late-night needs – helps dogs adjust to their new homes.”

In addition, Fresh Patch has a long-standing presence with some of the largest dog rescues in the Los Angeles, California area. “Dogs that are trained on Fresh Patch are more likely to find a home because new owners can feel more comfortable bringing these (potty trained) dogs into their homes,” shares Feld. 

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Tracy Block

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How to Welcome & Train a Rescue Dog

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