Shelter Dog Training Tips

A shelter dog can make a great pet, but many of them come to shelters because they had behavior problems to begin with. They can also be undersocialized and shy. Thus, it's important to begin a positive training program that allows your shelter dog to flourish.

Be Positive

Many shelter dogs have been abused or neglected, so punishment may cause them to shut down or react aggressively. You want to develop a relationship based on trust, so use praise, rewards and consistency instead.

Alpha dogs in the wild never lose their temper. Since most dogs don't understand why you're mad, even if you think they are acting "guilty," they begin to distrust your temper. Instead of punishing after the fact, which doesn't work anyway, restrict your dog's freedom in the first few weeks and spend time teaching him where to relieve himself and on which objects to chew so he understands.


Even if your dog is past the critical socialization window of 14 weeks, all shelter dogs can benefit from positive socialization. Find out what your dog's fears are. Once you make a list, start developing a positive association with those items.

For example, if your dog barks at other dogs, stand far enough from another dog that yours shows interest, but doesn't bark. Now, tell him what to do. Ask him to look at you and sit if he can. Reward for all these behaviors. Gradually, move closer to the scary object, giving more treats the closer you get.

If your dog reacts, calmly walk the other way and ask your dog to start working again as soon as he can. Keep sessions short and positive. If you can end a session with no reactions, that's a success.


Teach your dog how to look at you when frightened by handfeeding for a week or two. Before each handful of food, say, "Look." Then, move the treat to your eyes. After two to three repetitions, say it and don't move your hand. If your dog looks at you, praise and reward.

Once your dog can do that successfully in every room of the house, move it outside. Practice in the yard until your dog is successful. Then, begin moving to places where there are more scary things to distract him. Again, progress gradually and focus on no reactions.

Curing Common Behavior Problems

Many dogs are surrendered simply because their owners never taught them to behave, so they became out of control as adolescents. All dogs need lots of exercise, so be sure to provide the right amount. Then, when you get home or are watching television, you can expect your dog to be calm.

When you walk in the door, ignore your dog if he jumps. Don't look at him, talk to him or correct him in any way. Even though you may not think so, you are inadvertently rewarding him. As soon as he lands on all four feet, praise and pet. If he jumps, turn away.

If he nips during play, yell "Ouch" loudly and redirect to a toy. If he nips again, yell, even if it doesn't hurt, and storm angrily from the room. Return in a few minutes to try again. If you do this consistently, nipping will desist quickly.

Shelter dogs can make excellent pets if you provide them with exercise and teach them how to behave in a positive manner.