How to Teach a Fearful Dog to Love Again: A Trainer’s Guide to Bonding with Your Rescue Dog

How to Teach a Fearful Dog to Love Again: A Trainer’s Guide to Bonding with Your Rescue Dog

Whether your dog was simply born with a wimpy personality or was damaged by a traumatic experience, you can turn him around with the right training and bonding techniques.  What follows is a step-by-step guide to help you start the bonding process with your rescue dog and turn him into a happy, healthy, trusting dog.

Dogs, like humans, have a multitude of emotions, including fear. In many cases, it’s fear of the unknown: of thunder, fireworks, new situations, children, dogs, people, even objects like strollers or vacuum cleaners. So how do we break through that fear? There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach, and it depends a lot on the dog’s personality, age, history, and breed. But there are some basic principles that work for every dog.

Bonding with a rescue dog: first steps

Dogs are man's best friend for a reason: they are lovable, loyal and endearing, and make excellent companions. But owning a dog can be a big responsibility; if you get one without properly preparing for the task, you may find yourself struggling to cope. One of the most important things you can do before bringing a dog into your home is to make sure you have the time, energy and resources to provide for your new friend.

When you bring a rescue dog into your home, it's important to start building a bond early on. When you're bringing a new pet home, it's important to make them feel welcome, and to make sure they have their own place in your home. Having their own space will help them feel comfortable in their new surroundings, and help you make sure they have a place that is truly their own. A crate is a great place for this, and it will also give them a safe place to retreat when they aren't feeling well or are feeling overwhelmed.

Give your new rescue dog space

If your new dog is a rescue, chances are he’s going to have some issues. You want to give him a loving and warm home, but it’s also important to respect his past and give him some space.  To do this, you should avoid petting or snuggling him too much right away. Spend some time with him and get him used to your presence, but also give him the space he needs to find his own way.

You may want to take her to the pet store to get her used to being around other animals, too. Use these activities to get your dog comfortable with new situations and interactions.

No dog should be disturbed when they eat, sleep or are in the middle of a chew bone. Dogs can feel threatened and insecure in new environments and you want to give your new dog every opportunity to feel at ease.

Let your rescue dog guide your interactions

It's not unusual for a dog to behave differently in a new home. It can take weeks—or months—before a rescue dog feels comfortable enough to show its true personality. It is this personality that can help you decide how to interact with your new pooch. Some dogs are naturally friendly, while others are more standoffish. Some love to play, while others are content to snooze. Knowing what makes your dog tick will help you prevent behavior problems and teach your dog to be the best dog he or she can be.

The main challenge for people who are looking to adopt a rescue dog is the same as when you are looking to purchase a new puppy; the only difference is that you are looking for a puppy that is already fully grown. How can you tell if you're going to be a good fit for a particular rescue dog? You're going to need to take a much more active approach than you would with a puppy.

Avoid hand-delivered dog treats in the beginning

When you adopt a dog, you get lots of tips from well-meaning friends and relatives. One piece of advice that can be particularly tricky is how to feed your new pet. Some experts will recommend a specific brand or type of food, others tell you to feed your dog the same thing you eat, and some will tell you to feed your dog whatever you're eating at the moment. All of this is so confusing! As a rescue dog owner, I've found the best way to avoid dog treats from your dog is to train her to "sit" and "stay" before you even bring your new dog home.

As someone who has trained hundreds of rescue dogs, I can tell you that one of the biggest pitfalls new dog owners face is food. Many rescue dogs have been fed table scraps, fast food, or other human food their entire lives. Some have learned to beg for food at the table, and others have never been taught not to beg. The end result is that most rescue dogs have a serious food issue to overcome before they can be considered a family pet.

Use games to build confidence in your rescue dog

Games are a great way to build confidence in your rescue dog, as long as you play them the right way. Some dogs need a lot of praise when they do something right, while others just need something else to do so that they can get their confidence back. Some dogs love to play fetch, while others need a little time to warm up to a game before they can run and catch a ball.

One thing you can count on is that every dog will be a bit shy and a little nervous at first. If you're thinking about adopting a shelter dog, you're likely also feeling a bit worried about how to help a new animal adjust to its new home.

Help your rescue dog make other dog friends

Does your dog bark and growl at other dogs on walks? Rescue dogs are often fearful of other dogs. The most important thing you can do is ensure your dog’s safety, especially if you are in an area where there are other dogs. The second step in helping your rescue dog make other dog friends is to understand the root of the problem. This will help you to better manage the situation as your dog adjusts to his new life with you.

Thirdly, if your new rescue dog is having trouble making friends in the dog park, you may want to try bringing along another dog that he has a history with. The idea is to set up a play date between the two dogs, so they can meet on neutral ground. Not only will this help your dog feel more comfortable about meeting other dogs, but it also gives you a chance to see how he acts around other dogs. If he plays well with your other dog, then you can feel more comfortable introducing him to the other dogs in the park.

As you know, however, adjusting to a new home can be tough on your little buddy. Although it is possible that your dog will become best buds with other dogs, it is also possible that he will be shy or aggressive. 

No matter how many times you tell them, rescue dogs don't always know how to play nicely with other dogs. Whether they've been in the pound for months or years, they've had to learn how to get by without any dog friends—and they're still learning how to make friends. So just be patient as their confidence starts to build.

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