14 ways to get your Rescue Dog to trust you


If you’re thinking of adopting a rescue dog or indeed already have one then you will be needing to know what to do to help the new member of your family start to trust you. In many situations, the dog has been neglected and even abused in his past life. You can’t blame him for being wary, it may be all it’s ever known. It’s up to you to get your new best friend to start to trust again. So, check out these 14 ways to get your rescue dog to trust you!

What are the best ways to get your rescue Dog to Trust You?

  • Remain Calm
  • Keep your distance
  • Don’t start at the dog
  • Play with your rescue dog
  • Allow her to sleep in the same room as you
  • Feed her yourself
  • Be patient
  • Regular walks
  • Spend time with her
  • Teach obedience
  • Don’t use rewards as a bribe
  • Groom her
  • Be happy
  • Be consistent

1) Always Remain Calm!

Initially, any kind of sudden unexpected movement may trouble your dog, causing anxiety and stress levels to rise. I know I’m going to use those words a lot throughout this article but it won’t take much at this early stage to trouble her, unfortunately.

Talk to your family and make sure they all know why you’re doing this. It’ll be difficult for the children to get them to slow down and not make sudden movements but just do your best.

Try not to raise your voice at anyone at home, don’t have the television or music on too loud. Remember that this won’t be forever. This little (or maybe large) dog will be very nervous, won’t know what to expect and thinks life is horrible.

You’re going to change things, you’re going to show them that the life they knew is now over and this is the start of a new one. It’ll take a bit of time, sure – but that initial time when you’re both bonding will be a time that you will never forget.

2) At first, not too close

Give her some space. I know that you (and your family if you have one) will want to spend as much time as possible in close proximity to the new arrival but don’t crowd her out. Now if she (I’m going to assume she’s a girl throughout this article, it gets messy otherwise and I have to refer to her as ‘it’ which I really don’t like) comes to you, that’s different.

Let her make the first moves and if she comes close enough for you to stroke, then do so.

Remember to do things slowly and when you raise your hand to stroke her, do so slowly. The last time a hand rose near her something else may have occurred and she may still associate the movement with this. Give her a fuss if she’s there, speak gently and affectionately but do so confidently. This will reassure them that they are with someone who is in control and who will (they will eventually realize) will protect them.

If they move away, let them. Don’t try and call them back, let them go where they feel safe and they will know when the time is right to approach again.

3) Don’t stare at the dog

ways to get your Rescue Dog to trust you

When you make eye-contact with them, don’t keep it for too long. This is quite important in the early days when you’re trying to make her feel comfortable and reduce the anxiety levels that they are no doubt feeling.

You don’t need to jerk your head away suddenly, just meet their gaze for a couple of seconds, blink and whilst your eyes are shut, look away. You may find if you stare them out they will end up cowering and back-off, possibly ending up in a corner of the room and undoing a lot of the good work that you’ve already done.

You’ll find this easy and you’ll remember to do it. Children are more complex creatures (I used to be one) and no matter how many times you ask them nicely, they will forget and forget the rules.

They won’t be doing it deliberately do let’s not be too hard on them, they are as excited as you but have less control and all they want to do is play with them and take them out for walks. All this will happen soon tell them.

4) Play with your rescue dog

The fun stuff! A critical part of the bonding process of course. No doubt you would’ve been so excited during the build-up to collecting your rescue dog you may have already bought quite a few toys already.

Now is the time to bring out these bad boys and start having some good times. Let them dictate the play at first and don’t try and force them. You’ll know when they’re ready. Make sure you have some toys they can use with you.

Get a variety of toys for them to play with, things they can fetch and things they can chew. This is where you start introducing some friendly obedience, during play.

Such as rewarding them with a big tickle and attention when they bring something back or not if they don’t. This is such a crucial step in her first steps to a normal life. They may not have known fun before now, it will be all new and it will be you giving it to them, what a great feeling, right?

5) Allow her to sleep in the same room as you

ways to get your Rescue Dog to trust you

Okay, so this one might be a bit controversial and not everyone will agree with it. Let her into your room (if she doesn’t want to be away from you) at night-time. This is all so different for her and she will be scared. If it’s reassuring for her to be in the same room as you at bed-time (or maybe even on the bed) then so what?

If this wasn’t a rescue dog then I wouldn’t suggest this but she needs comforting, reassurance and the knowledge that the one thing she’s starting to trust (you) is there is she needs it.

Don’t worry about her wanting to do it forever and it becoming awkward later in your life together. When she feels more comfortable with the rest of the house and generally more relaxed with the situation, it will become a lot easier for you both.

You can then gradually reduce the number of times it happens until it no longer occurs at all. But believe me, you will then miss it!

6) Feed her yourself and make it personal

Part of the bonding process between the owner (and family) and the dog is feeding time. It’s important that you get this right and you can really make a big difference here.

Make this personal and feed her yourself. Take your time and let her see you prepare her food and then give it to her personally. A lot of people suggest doing this all by hand but I don’t know if that’s really necessary.

Just show her that you’re making it and when you put it down, don’t leave. Stay with her whilst she eats, this is important. Any dog likes to feel safe when they eat and with a rescue dog, potentially even more so. You may not know what they’ve been through before or whether they were able to eat regular meals.

You may notice that at first, they gulp their food down and this may make them sick. They may not have had many opportunities to eat regular meals previously so when they get a chance they wolf it down quickly in-case it gets taken away from them.

This is fine though, you don’t need to try and slow their eating down as this will happen naturally over time. They will come to understand that when you make them the food and give it to them they feel safe and reassured. They will slow down over time.

7) Be Patient (let them come to you)

There’s no need to rush her. Let her dictate the speed that she wants to progress things. If one evening she doesn’t want attention and just wants to stay in her area, then let her.

The more you let her know by doing this that she’s allowed to spend time here and doesn’t have to engage in things she doesn’t want to, the happier and more content she will become. You’ll see results a lot quicker if you do this rather than interrupting her time relaxing and calling her over.

You may think, as she comes to you after you call her, that this is she wants. But it might not be. She might just think that if she doesn’t do what she’s told something not very nice might happen. It’s a reflex action for her. So let her be, until she wants to come to you.

However, when she does come to you make sure you make a fuss of her. Get down to her level, remember to not stare and offer her a toy or two to play with. If she’s not interested and wanders off, that’s fine, let her. She’ll be back but in her own time.

8) Regular walks

ways to get your Rescue Dog to trust you

Consider waiting a week or two before you do it if your rescue dog is particularly nervous. When you feel the time is right, start taking her out for regular walks. I can’t say how often you should be doing this as that depends on the breed of dog but try and schedule it at the same time every day.

Depending on her temperament you may need to consider putting a muzzle on her, these aren’t as problematic as you might think and she’d soon get used to it. Rather this than have a small child run up to her whilst you’re out and the dog gives her a little warning nip.

You’ll need to keep an eye on your dog during this walk. What’s her demeanor? Is her head and tail down? Is she shaking? If so, don’t push it. Just go for little walks at first and always make sure you walk close to her. Talk to her whilst you’re walking as this will reassure her.

You’ll probably see her glancing up at you quite regularly, just to check that you’re still there! Try and avoid locations initially that will have a lot of people and animals. You will introduce her to this environment later but there’s no need yet, one step at a time.

9) Spend a Lot of Time with Your Rescue Dog

Now, this is a tricky one as it might not be possible but when you get a rescue dog you really shouldn’t leave it for hours by itself. It will become nervous, anxious and you could see their personality go noticeably in the wrong direction if you do this.

You need to spend a lot of time with her and only leave her for short periods of time if you absolutely have to. At an early age, you need her to trust the whole family so get everyone to chip in.

One person should lead and be the primary focus for her but others can take it in turns to feed her and when she comes over then they can also interact and play. Try not to crowd her though, remember what we said about giving her enough space.

If you’re around her enough she’ll begin to feel a lot less anxious and this won’t take long. It’s a big commitment taking on a rescue dog and there are many sacrifices that you will have to make. The rewards most definitely outweigh these though, by a long shot.

10) Teach obedience, and rewards

After a few weeks, when she’s started to get used to you all and trusts you a bit more than she did at first you’ll need to start introducing obedience. This isn’t a bad thing at all and actually, the dog will expect it, it’s comforting to them.

You don’t need to be really firm but you need to teach her what’s good and what’s not so good, rewarding her for the good things but most definitely not punishing her for being bad. If you think smacking is acceptable, please reconsider! It serves no purpose, however, if you’re reading this post then you’re most likely the type of person who wouldn’t even consider doing this.

There are better ways to promote obedience these days. Yes, reward when they do something for you of course. If they don’t do it, just don’t give them the treat. They will soon learn (and enjoy it) that if they do these simple things then they will be rewarded. I’m talking about sitting when commanded, for instance, when they do – give them a treat.

What you’re doing here is gaining control (which they need from you) and also if you’re out on a walk and you need them to stay still and not run off, then you’ll be able to do this. They’ll obey as they know they’ll get a nice reward and they’ll also be aware that if they don’t – they’ll get nothing! You’ve got to be consistent though.

11) Don’t use Rewards as a bribe

Yes, don’t use rewards as a bribe. Unlike some of the things that I do to get my son to do something. Literally the other day I had to pay him to play cricket with me, it’s a long story and I won’t bore you with it but I wanted to get him off the PS4 for a bit!

Use the reward system wisely. If you’re giving them willy-nilly for all kinds of things it will reduce the value of them and you’ll find you won’t get the results you used to. Be strict in how you administer them and do it sparingly. Remember, they need to deserve it!

12) Grooming Your Rescue Dog

This is an opportunity, like feeding time, when you can bond with your rescue dog. Of course, it depends on what breed you have how often you need to groom her. But even if you don’t have to, you should do it regularly.

This is a time when you and your dog spend time together. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy it as it’ll make the whole experience easier. If they really don’t like it then back off a bit, do it every other day rather than every day. As long as it’s not hurting them then it won’t do them any harm and they’ll get used to it soon enough.

Whilst we’re talking about grooming – don’t forget to take care of their teeth. This is easier if you start when they’re a puppy! Take a look at the article to find out exactly how you should do this.

13) Be Happy

ways to get your Rescue Dog to trust you

I don’t know how true this is but apparently, dogs can pick up on our moods. Whether this is true or not, it’ll make you feel better. Whatever problems life is throwing at you, get over them when you’re around your rescue dog. If you’re moping around the house then they’ll detect that something isn’t quite right and it will make them anxious. You know what usually happens though?

If you’re feeling down then you’ll find spending time with her will genuinely make you feel better. You know this already as I bet you’ve already experienced it! Sit with her, watch her tail start to wag as she spends time with you. You will soon forget what your problems are.

14) Be Consistent

In whatever you do. Mainly discipline though. You shouldn’t reward her for something she did on Monday only to not do so on Tuesday. So think carefully before you start your rewarding system as you need to get it right at the beginning, not work it out as you go along.

You and your family need to work as a team and discuss how you’re going to approach different behaviors and make sure you act as one.

A Final Note

It has made me realize how many similarities there are between raising a child and a rescue dog. Let’s think about it, you’re teaching them the difference between right and wrong.

You’re feeding them good food and not letting them eat any old rubbish. You make sure they get enough exercise and they behave themselves in front of others. You form bonds and a mutual respect and trust as you both age.

Bringing up a rescue dog and providing it with a life it could once not imagine is one of the most beautiful things our species can do for another. It’ll transform your life, it will make you happy and your family. There are lots of sacrifices that you will need to make but they are small in comparison to the job you’re doing and what you will get out of it.

Thanks for reading this article and thanks for setting an example for others.

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences and those of my family and friends .

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