How to Retrain a Rescue Dog

Use treats, praise and patience to retrain your rescue dog.
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Bringing a rescue dog into your home is a good way to add a new pet to your family. Occasionally, your rescue dog will develop bad habits or behaviors and will need retraining. Bad behaviors in dogs are generally caused by stress, anxiety or fear. Slowly desensitizing your dog to the source of the stress will gradually rid your dog of the negative behavior. Rescue dogs can be sensitive and trying to force them to accept a situation too quickly or punishing them for negative behaviors will create more fear and stress. Work on your rescue dog's retraining slowly to build trust and self-confidence. You will see better behavior all around.

Step 1

Make a list of your dog's behavior problems, including specific details for each issue. For example: Fido barks at strangers who try to pet him.

Step 2

Select one behavior issue to work on at a time. Working on more than one behavior can confuse your dog or place it under too much stress to learn effectively.

Step 3

Prepare your dog's favorite treats. Select a special treat, known as a "high value" treat, to give your dog during training sessions.

Step 4

Set up a practice scenario without the dog present based on the behavior issue selected in Step 2. For example: if Fido barks at strangers who try to pet him, have your assistant be someone the dog hasn't met before.

Step 5

Introduce your dog slowly to the practice situation, making sure there are no signs of stress or anxiety. Example: If Fido is comfortable sitting near a stranger with no physical contact, begin there. If Fido needs several feet of room to feel comfortable, begin there. Signs of anxiety include panting, ears held against the head, cowering, trembling, avoiding eye contact and tense body position.

Step 6

Give your dog treats and praise for reacting calmly. Your dog's ears, face, body and tail should be in relaxed, natural positions.

Step 7

Decrease the distance between your dog and the subject of the practice scenario slowly, constantly watching for signs of stress.

Step 8

Continue to give treats and praise to your dog for a positive, calm reaction to the scenario.

Step 9

Repeat steps 6 through 8 as many times as necessary, gradually progressing toward the main behavior. For example: Fido is now comfortable sitting next to the stranger. At this point, have your assistant attempt to pet Fido. Your assistant should offer treats at this point, if Fido seems relaxed.

Step 10

Repeat steps 4 through 9 with several different assistants in several different locations to retrain your dog to accept new variations of the scenario without the previous behavior problem. Continue to praise and reward your dog for positive reactions.

Step 11

Repeat steps 2 through 10 for each behavior area in which you want to retrain your dog. You should slightly modify the training for each behavior area.

For example: Fido jumps up on visitors to your home.

The modified practice scenario: Keep Fido on a leash next to you and let him see as visitors come into your home. Stand far enough away from the visitors with Fido that he remains calm and is not jumping. This may be across the room or even in a different room. Steps 5 through 10 would be repeated, this time giving treats and praise when Fido remains calm and does not jump, bark or try to pull you to the visitors.


  • Some dogs react to stress by biting. Use precautions to protect yourself and your assistants. A muzzle might be necessary during training sessions if your dog has a known history of biting. Seek professional help in cases where aggression is present.


  • Some behavior problems such as hyperactivity, destructiveness and constant barking are the result of boredom or pent-up energy. These are natural qualities of dogs and can't be untrained, only managed. Before starting a training regimen, provide vigorous exercise and/or mental stimulation (with puzzle toys or treat dispensing toys). If your dog is still exhibiting these behaviors after sufficient exercise, begin the training regimen, as there likely is another source causing the bad behavior besides boredom.

  • Retraining for bad behavior requires consistency and practice.

Items You Will Need

  • High-value dog treats
  • Assistant
  • Muzzle (if necessary)