Rehabilitate your rescue dog with these helpful tips

rehabilitate your rescue dog

Adopting a dog has immense rewards. Depending upon their history, it may take time to rehabilitate your rescue dog. After Cooper passed away I knew I’d eventually adopt again.  He was a stray and I never had to pursue dog training. He naturally figured out his way around the house and where to go to the bathroom. I found a poodle mix named Abby from the NorCal Poodle Rescue who came from a hoarding situation. With her rough start, I knew I had more work to do with her. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how long it would take for her to trust me. Rehabilitating a dog like Abby, from a hoarding or puppy mill situation takes time and patience.

rehabilitate your rescue dog
Abby on Adoption Day

Her rescue told me that she was turned into a shelter after being kept outdoors with very little food or water for about 2 years. By the time I adopted Abby in July, I was her 7th home in 7 months. She won’t walk through most doorways in my home and is scared of most sounds. It has taken most of the 3 months to potty train her and she’s still not entirely trained. Abby hasn’t wanted to go on walks which made potty training difficult. She’s only been willingly going on walks for about a week now.  Abby is becoming more familiar with the neighborhood and all of it’s sounds so she’s not as nervous as before.  I’ve had her for almost 3 months now and I see progress in her every day.


Your dog may have been in a cage most of their life and receiving no touch or attention. They don’t know how to a normal dog or trust people. You’ll need to be patient and be gentle in your approach.

Abby, like most animals from a puppy mill or hoarding situation, is scared of people, is afraid of the outdoors, noises and has had difficulty with potty training. She doesn’t know how to be a dog. I bought her toys to play with and after initially not understanding them, I recently found her biting and showing interest.

I was told Abby may not want to be held, but that has not been an issue. She also accepts treats from my hand which isn’t always common for a rescue dog. It may be behavior she learned from her foster families.

Other issues you may see are not accepting petting, walk on stairs, understand simple commands, or being able to walk on a leash.


If you find out your dog has a history of biting (or simply want more protection), you may want to purchase welding gloves. Another option would be to create your own doggie burrito and wrap your pooch in a towel.

Make sure your dog always wears a collar, ID tags and a harness that fits. They will continue with the only behavior they know which includes running if they see an open door or gate or a space in your fence. Do not let your dog loose in your yard, use an exercise pen or tie to prevent a “jailbreak.”

It is advisable to crate your dog in your car and only crack the window slightly. It doesn’t take much room for a dog to escape from a window. The crate will also serve you well when potty training. Make sure to always have your dog leashed in the car and have it attached to something like a seatbelt. Before opening the car door, ensure the dog is leashed because they may attempt to escape.

Sweet little Abby today

Your dog may bite

Abby was returned to the rescue for biting her original adopter.  She was incredibly scared and one of her adopters continued to pressure her to like him and she displayed her feelings.

Her original adopters didn’t maintain a good boundary and didn’t have patience with her so she reacted. Progress is made bit by bit and even then regression is likely to occur.  It is not a good idea to get close to a dogs face.  A fearful dog is not used to being kissed or cuddled so they could snap.

If your dog does escape, do not chase them as they will only run faster. They are already afraid and being chased will only make it worse.

Once your dog is home

Feeding your dog by hand is a great way to start building a bond. They won’t automatically feel comfortable eating whatever is put in front of them so place bits of food in front of them, but don’t stare. You can even place food down, walk away and then come back and check to see if they are eating.

It is a good idea to have another dog for your rescue to dog to emulate. They often bond with other dogs first because that is who they spent all their time with. In my case, I have a bunny rabbit and at first, all Abby wanted to do was be near Niblet. She is now comfortable all over the house, but she took to Niblet immediately.

When I first brought her home I created a pen and placed her crate inside. She stayed in there for a few days and then I let her out to explore the house. During the day she stayed downstairs while I was at work and then when I got home we went upstairs. I inadvertently created a schedule, but it turned out to be a good thing. It helped get her acclimated to the house by limiting her space and also for potty training purposes.

Abby and her buddy Niblet

The work doesn’t stop

Abby has made great progress in the house, but we still have more work to do outdoors. She hated going outside for a couple of months because she wasn’t sure who she’d see. We can now go on walks and she’ll walk by people instead of stopping in fear. I’m sure she’s still uncomfortable, but I’m glad it’s not stopping her. You’ll have to work with your dog every day to make him/her comfortable. They need to learn how to be a dog.

She has the basics down, but I know I still need to help her get over her fear of doorways and people. Those won’t happen overnight. Your list may be different, but it’s still going to require a bit of work every day.

While it may be daunting to adopt a dog with a hoarding or puppy mill background, it is also very rewarding. With lots of love and patience, your fearful dog will hopefully realize they are home and become the best friend you hoped for. Let your dog guide you. If they aren’t ready for progress, they’ll tell you. Change is not guaranteed but it is possible!


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