Training a Shelter Dog
Expert advice on teaching a rescue dog your rules.
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Dogs from shelters are not inherently problematic — there are good dogs and troubled dogs in shelters, just as there are on the outside. It's not fair to a shelter-adopted dog to lower your expectations of its potential. Just love it and train it and be in the present with it. "A dog lives in the moment, and moves forward from every interaction," says Sternberg. Even if a dog has been abused, it matters not. Move forward with each dog and don't fuss over its past — the dog doesn't.
Shelter dogs have training needs similar to those of most other dogs: consistency, early and continual training, unambiguity and positivity. Sternberg says, "Typical training issues for shelter dogs are leash-pulling and jumping up. Even as a professional trainer, I would have to say those are the most common problems my own dogs have, too."
As should dogs from any source, it's important for the shelter-adopted dog to start learning the rules of its new home right away. Sternberg notes that a dog deserves to have clear limits and guidance and to have positive training from the beginning, which involves establishing rules and routines prior to the new dog's arrival. "Rules should be determined before a dog enters the household," she says, noting that dogs do best with consistent rules, confident owners and training that's positive and fun.
Sternberg also emphasizes that training should begin as soon as you adopt the dog. It's not all that important what you teach first; just get started. She advises, "Immediately start teaching your new dog anything — sit, come, its name. To help the dog learn what it's supposed to do, give it rewarding attention for behaviors you like, such as settling down, not jumping and chewing its own toys instead of your belongings."
The sooner you start teaching your dog, the faster the bond between you will strengthen. Schultz notes that positive training helps the relationship get off on the right foot. She also counsels owners to enroll dogs in a reward-based training class as soon as possible.
At Schultzs shelter they encourage new owners to enroll in training school within 30 days, offering them a discount for doing so. Having new owners in class allows Schultz and other shelter staff to help ease the dog's transition into its new home. She says, "Positive training teaches dogs appropriate ways to get what they want and helps build a strong bond with the new owner. We can check in with them at least weekly that way to make sure everything is going okay." The training classes allow Schultz to help owners resolve any problems with the new dog before things get out of hand.
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