Training your new family member starts the moment you bring them home. Rescue dogs often come out of the shelter with an intensified need for human contact. The first few days are critical in developing a strong bond between you, your family and your new furry friend. After spending time in a shelter envrionment sometimes even the most well behaved dog seems to have forgotten everything it knew before entering the shelter. Remember that not matter the age of your new dog you will need to train them and one of the most effective ways of doing this is by attending an obedience class.
Shelters can be very traumatic to dogs especially those that once had loving homes. Of course some dogs deal with this better than others and eventually every rescue dog will overcome whatever bad habits it may have picked up while in a shelter.
This section of the website is dedicated to dealing with some of the more common problems we hear about from our adoptive familes. We hope to provide you with some of the tools and support you need to turn your rescue dog into a champion!
There are approaches for discouraging jumping up that we consider unwarranted and inhumane. These include kneeing the dog in the chest, knocking them over, stepping on their hind feet, or pinching their front feet as they jump up. These procedures are meant to inflict pain and are likely to teach the dog to fear people.
The "Off" Exercise
Teaching "off" is pretty easy for most dogs. Sit down with your dog and show them that you have a treat tucked in your hand. Hold your hand out as though you plan to give them the treat but keep your hand closed around the treat so they can't get it (or even taste it). When they reach with their mouth to nibble at your hand, say "off" in a clear voice (shouting is unnecessary). If the dog pulls back away from your hand, immediately say "yes", open your hand, and reach out to let them take the treat. If they don't pull back when you say "off", move your hand toward their nose and give them a gentle "bop". They should retract their nose from your hand then, at which point, you say "yes" and feed them the treat. The goal is to entice them to pull away from your hand, so you can then reinforce the pulling away behavior. The bop needs to be firm enough to cause the dog to pull away but not so firm that the dog becomes frightened or hurt by your movement.
A common mistake that people make is to pull their hand away from the dog rather than waiting for the dog to pull away from your hand. That won't teach them the behavior. Once you get it right, your dog should only need a few repetitions before they instantly pull back when they hear the word "off". If you are too rough with your bop or your dog is especially sensitive, your dog may become hesitant to take the treat from your hand. Be sure to occasionally offer the dog a treat from your hand and refrain from saying "off". Simply say "yes" and reach toward the dog. That will help the dog learn that he needs to listen for the word "off".
Once your dog is consistently pulling away from your hand when you say "off", require that they wait a second or two before you give them the treat. When you first do this, the dog will likely pull away, then jump back up to mouth or paw at your hand. Say "off" and bop again. Repeat until the dog is able to wait the 1-2 seconds before receiving the treat. This teaches the dog to control himself. Eventually work up to 30-60 seconds of the dog waiting for permission to take the treat.
The next step is to teach "off" while you are standing. Stand up, show the dog the treat in your hand, and wait for them to jump up on you. If they aren't inclined to do this, just step outside your front door for a few minutes. Come back in, holding your hand, with the treat, in front of your body. When the dog runs to jump up on you, say "off" and deliver the bop to his nose. They will recognize that this is still the same game, and pull away from you. They will most likely sit. The instant they pull away, say "yes" and reward them with the treat. Repeat this training with you coming in the front door, the back door, the yard, and anywhere else the dog is likely to jump on you. Make sure all family members and regular visitors get involved in the training too. Now your dog actually knows what you mean when you say "off".
Now the dog is ready
It is much easier and kinder to teach your dog not to jump on people by doing "setups" rather than waiting to train the dog on the fly. There are two reasons for this. One, you will be ready mentally to direct your dog on what they are to do. Second, dogs learn best through repetitions so you can plan to repeat the lesson a few times in a row.
Option 1: Come in the door and stand still, with your hand held up in front of and close to your chest (use the same hand as you used to teach "off"). As your dog runs toward you, say, "sit" in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say "yes" and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat (Need ideas? Try a piece of dried liver, a slice of wiener, a chunk of cheese, a piece of leftover chicken or steak). Praise the dog while you feed them (even if they then try to jump up on you, just remind them to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say "off" in a firm and clear voice, tuck your hands up tight by your chest, and turn your back on the dog. Stare at the wall or the ceiling. While you face the door, repeat "sit" and be patient. When the dog finally sits, say "yes", turn, reach down and give the treat. Turn and go out the front door, wait 5-10 minutes, then come back in and repeat the procedure. If turning away from the dog doesn't work (i.e. the dog keeps jumping up on your back or side), step back outside and close the door in the dog's face for 30-60 seconds. Open the door and say "sit". If the dog sits, great! Come inside. If the dog does not sit, close the door again and wait another 30-60 seconds. Continue repetitions until the dog has been successful at least 6 times. By "success", I mean that the dog sits before even trying to jump on you.
Option 2: Come in the door and stand still, with your hand held up in front of and close to your stomach (use the same hand as you used to teach "off"). As your dog runs toward you, say, "sit" in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say "yes" and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed them (even if they then try to jump up on you, just remind them to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say "off" in a firm and clear voice, and bop them on the nose with your hand in exactly the same manner as you did while teaching them "off". Say "yes" when they pull back and then tell them to "sit". When they sit, say "yes", praise and reward.
Option 3: Come in the door and stand still. As your dog runs toward you, say, "sit" in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say "yes" and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed them (even if they then try to jump up on you, just remind them to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, tuck your hands up tight by your chest, stare straight ahead and walk into the dog. Typically, the dog will jump backwards. When all four feet are on the floor, stop moving, and ask the dog to sit. If they do, say "yes", praise and reach down to give the dog a treat. If they do not, step into them again. Please understand that the objective is not to step on the dog's feet or to kick the dog. If this method does not work after 3-4 attempts, it probably won't so try one of our other suggestions instead.
Option 4: For this method, you need to recruit a family member or friend to help. Have the dog drag his 4' or 6' leash (not a retractable leash) or a rope attached to his collar. Your helper should stand next to the door, on the inside. Come in the door and stand still. As your dog runs toward you, say, "sit" in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say "yes" and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed them (even if they then try to jump up on you, just remind them to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say "off" in a clear voice. The helper should grasp the leash and apply pressure down toward the floor at the same time as the dog is jumping up. Tuck your hands up tight by your chest. Both you and the helper should repeat "off" as the dog is pulled downward. Ask the dog to "sit". If they do, say "yes", praise and reach down to give the dog a treat. If they do not, apply the downward pressure again. If you do not have a helper, you can step on the dog's leash just prior to the dog jumping up on you, but this technique is difficult to coordinate.
Option 5: Despite all your best efforts, some dogs are simply too excited when greeting people to ever be able to hold a sit. For these dogs, the best bet is to redirect the dog to grab a toy. Keep a favorite toy by the door at all times. As the dog comes running toward you, say, "get the toy" and point to it. Pick it up and wiggle it if necessary. If the dog runs around, shaking the toy, praise them. Once the dog has dropped the toy and calmed down, cue the dog to sit and pat them so that they remain calm. Eventually, the dog will just automatically run around and find a toy before coming to the door to greet you!
Generalize the Training
Once the dog learns to sit to greet you, make sure you teach the dog the same lesson with family members, regular friends, and strangers. Teach your dog at the front door, at other doors, on the street, at the dog park, and anywhere else your dog meets people.
A dog-training party at your home is the best way to accomplish a lot of training with other people. Invite people to arrive at 15-minute intervals. Advise people on how they should behave with the dog before they arrive. Spend 15 minutes working with one guest at the door, until the next one arrives. By the end of the day, your dog will have received plenty of repetitions with a variety of people. The first few guests might be challenging but by the time the 5th or 6th guest arrives, the dog should be catching on to the idea of sitting to greet!
Loud noises, such as fireworks, thunder and traffic, are one of the most frequently cited fears given by dog owners. It is natural for some dogs to be fearful of loud noises, but some dogs are so traumatized by thunder, fireworks and other loud noises that they are completely unable to function.
Dogs that display excessive fears or phobias such as these can be a danger to themselves and those around them. Dogs may manifest their fear in self-destructive ways, like slinking under the couch or the bed and getting stuck, for instance. They may also react in ways that are destructive to the home, such as urinating or defecating on the carpet, chewing up favorite items, or barking incessantly. These reactions are often worse when the owner is not at home.
One thing that is hard for many dog owners to understand is that soothing or stroking a dog that is displaying fear is exactly the wrong thing to do. While it is natural to try to calm a fearful dog, to the dog you are rewarding it for being afraid. The dog likes the sound of your voice, likes your petting, and concludes that he has done the right thing by acting afraid. This only makes a bad situation worse.
The best strategy when the dog displays fear when there is a thunderstorm or a fireworks display is to simply ignore the dog. It is of course important to watch the dog to make sure he does not hurt himself, but otherwise just ignore him and let him work through the fear on his own. When you go away, be sure to make sure there is nothing the dog can get stuck under, since fireworks or a thunderstorm can pop up at any time.
A dog that is severely afraid of thunderstorms and other load noises may need to be confined to a single room, or even a crate, for a period of time. After the dog feels safe in his “den”, he may be able to deal with his fears a little better. It can be quite a struggle to teach a dog not to be afraid of thunderstorms, firecrackers and other such noises, but it is important that the dog at least be able to control his fears without being destructive to himself or his environment.
Much as magicians use sleight of hand to hide their tricks, so dog owners practice the art of distraction to take their dog’s mind off of their fear. For instance, if your dog is afraid of thunderstorms and you know one is on the way, gather some of your dog’s favorite toys and get ready for the misdirection.
Of course, your dog will probably know the thunderstorm is on the way before you do. When you see your dog start to display fear, take a few of his favorite toys and try to get him to play. Very fearful dogs may be reluctant to play, but it is important to try nevertheless. Often a few treats can be a good distraction as well. Try buying one of those balls that you can fill with treats or biscuits, and encourage your dog to chase it.
Try playing with your dog every time a thunderstorm is in the forecast. This can start to implant good memories, and these can sometimes replace the fear memories that caused the dog to be afraid of thunderstorms in the first place.
Desensitizing your dog’s fear
Desensitization is a highly effective way to deal with phobias and fears in humans, and it can be very effective for dogs and other animals as well. Desensitization involves introducing the dog to small amounts of whatever noises frighten him. For instance, if the dog is afraid of thunder, try tape recording your next thunderstorm and play it back slowly when the dog is relaxed. Reward the dog for not showing fear responses. If he does show fear responses, do not comfort or soothe him but just ignore him.
This kind of desensitization training can be remarkably effective for some dogs, but it will take lots of patience and hard work. Fears of thunder and fireworks are not always easy to cure.