Retraining a Rescue Dog After You Bring Her Home

There isn’t a magic fix for previous abuse,
but there are some things you can do to help.

My wife and I have two dogs. Hank’s been with my wife since before we met—a five-year-old Anatolian shepherd who seemed to be aging way too fast. Indy Anna, our six-month-old chow mix, joined the family last year after we decided a second dog might help to keep Hank young.

Following an extensive Craigslist search, we settled on Indy because she reminded me of the dog I had through high school and college. The ad said she was young and energetic and, from the pictures, she was a golden ball of wild fur.

When we went to pick her up, we realized that the first few months of her life had been filled with neglect and abuse. She spent most days locked in a slightly-too-small kennel on the previous owners’ back porch, regardless of the weather. She slept on a wet, ratty blanket that reeked of urine and stagnant rain water.

A leathery woman with a sailor’s mouth and visibly expanding tattoos across her chest squatted to open the cage and Indy cowered to the back, whimpering slightly. I knelt down and the matted furball flung herself into my arms. She’s been with us ever since.

Be Patient

It was months before Indy could handle any quick movements without flinching. She’d hide if we threw a ball and yelp if we swatted a fly. Once she adjusted to the idea that we weren’t ever going to hit her, it was only a matter of time until she relaxed.

Any time you’re training a dog, especially retraining a rescue, it’s essential to give them time to adjust and build new habits and reactions in place of the old ones.

Love Unconditionally

Pet and play with your dog, even when you’ve had a hard day or they’ve misbehaved. Correct their mistakes kindly and then reward their good behavior with love and attention.

Indy used to push her way into rooms she wasn’t allowed in and climb into our bed without permission. Now, she knows the rules and obeys (most of the time) but we managed it without hitting, yelling, or holding a grudge. Dogs can tell when you’re upset but they can’t always understand why if it’s been a long time since they messed up. If it’s been a few minutes, let it go and work on teaching the good behavior you want them to learn rather than punishing them for the mistake.

Be Consistent

Indy still struggles with some of the house rules from time to time but some of that’s our fault. When my wife was sick and I had to be at work, we let her onto the bed to keep Natalie company. Because of that, she became unsure of our expectations and doesn’t always know that she’s not supposed to jump up.

Once you make a rule, stick with it. That’s the only way your dog will learn what’s expected. If you make exceptions, so will your dog.

Reward Good Behavior

Treats are a great tool for training and a fun way to show your dog they’re loved. Indy loves The Honest Kitchen’s Nuzzles Treats. We give them for training and as rewards for good behavior. Every once in a while we give them just because.

Today, nearly a year later, Indy still has some holdovers from the past but she’s a happy, kind dog who’s done a great job of keeping Hank young despite the fact that she’s given me more than a few grey hairs.

Meet the Author: Josh Aldridge

Josh Aldridge is a journalist, photographer, and filmmaker whose work always seems to result in muddy boots and broken skin. Covering a wide range of outdoor activities, his images and writing alike depict the interplay between earth's wildest places and the people bold enough to venture out into them. He's only mildly house-broken, drive a Jeep, and spend every possible moment outside—climbing, surfing, scuba diving, and hiking. He lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife—Natalie, and their two dogs—Hank and Indy.

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