The Ultimutt Dog Walking Guide for Fosters and Rescues

by Mel Lee-Smith, freelance writer and managing editor at Wag!
Published: 12/11/2020

Walking a dog isn't always, well, a walk in the park. That goes double for foster and rescue dogs traumatized by abuse and neglect. Fear, leash reactivity, and lack of socialization are just a few problems you might face while walking a rescue or foster.

To make your journey a little easier, we've sourced some sage dog walking advice from certified dog trainers experienced in working with rescues and fosters.

Be patient and gentle

Patience is key for helping a rescue or foster adjust to their new environment. "Expect this to take time," says dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden. "A year is not unusual."

Learn as much as you can about the dog's temperament and history

Ask the adoption center or humane society about the dog's history and personality so you know what to expect. Some examples of questions you could ask include:

  • What is the dog afraid of? (People, animals, loud noises)

  • Do they have any medical issues that may affect their behavior or activity levels?

  • How energetic are they?

  • What are their favorite activities?

You should also do some homework of your own. Different breeds have different activity requirements. Our breed guides can help you figure out your dog's minimum activity level and average walk mileage per week.

Identify their triggers

Pay close attention to your surroundings to figure out what makes your dog react. Once you know their triggers, you can avoid them in the short-term while your pup adjusts to their new space.

Start slow in a calm environment

Dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden recommends training in a calm environment like your front yard or living room. As your dog adjusts, you can set small walking goals near your home.

Since many rescues and fosters have trouble adjusting to their new environment, you may need to postpone their leash training until they're more comfortable:

"When it comes to training in the first few days, less is more — at least until the dog has acclimated to the new home," says Robert Cabral, dog trainer and member of the Wag! advisory board.

Cabral has a few more tips for helping your rescue or foster adjust:

  • Add some structure to their day.

  • Crate training and hand feeding can comfort your foster or rescue and make them feel safe.

  • Introduce the foster or rescue to current pets slowly and carefully.

Invest in a harness

Because a skittish dog might bolt at the first sign of perceived danger, a collar that's easy to slip out of isn't always the safest option. A harness provides maximum control, safety, and comfort.

Avoid retractable leashes

Although retractable leashes give your dog room to roam, they're also harder for you to control. The pressure of a retractable leash can also make your dog more fearful.

Introducing the leash

High-value treats will go a long way toward getting your rescue or foster comfortable with wearing a leash. For dogs that are especially wary, dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden recommends a traffic leash, which is only one or two feet long. Introduce the leash during playtime alongside their favorite toys to create a positive association. Keep treats handy and let Rufus investigate the leash at their own pace. When your pup interacts with it, give them treats and praise.

Once they're comfortable, clip the leash onto their collar or harness and continue playing with them, letting them drag it around without you holding it. Supervise your pup throughout this process to ensure the leash doesn't get caught on anything. Over time, you can take hold of the leash and tug it gently to get your dog used to the sensation.

For more guidance, check out our guide on training your dog to accept a leash.

Preparing to walk

Okay, so your dog is cool with the leash itself — but when you try to walk, they won't budge. Not even for a tasty treat. What gives?

The problem might be a lack of socialization, says dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden. In response a pet parent whose rescued breeding dog refused to walk on-leash, Caitlin said,

"If she spent most of her life in a breeding kennel, then she lacks socialization and she needs to be socialized before she will walk places with you on her own."

Start off by simply visiting new places — without working on walk training — to get your rescue or foster used to the outside world. Hang out for an hour or so, using treats and praise to keep your dog calm. During this time, you can also work on getting your pup used to the leash and walking a few steps around your living room or yard.

Once you're ready for a bonafide dog walk, Caitlin suggests using a long, non-retractable leash paired with high-value treats and fun activities. A long leash gives your dog some freedom and incentive to explore, while rewards and fun activities help them relax while on-leash.

Throughout this process, keep things low-key with small walking goals. You can gradually increase the distance and duration of your walks as your pup gets comfortable.

When all else fails, call in the pros

Raising a rescue and fostering a fur-baby isn't easy, even for experienced pet parents. Feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew and not sure what to do next? Consult a local dog trainer who's experienced in working with rescues and fosters.

If your pupper isn't ready to enroll in a crowded class, book a single session with a dog trainer near you through the Wag! app. The trainer you choose will plan a personalized training session, which can even take place right in your living room.

Walking your foster or rescue dog: wrapping up

Walking is a small part of the adjustment process. Leash training goes hand-in-paw with socialization and obedience. Which means pet parents of fosters and rescues have a lot on their plate.

Above all else, respect your dog's boundaries while they adjust and train. They've been through a lot in their short little life. And even though they deserve all the love and belly rubs in the world, showering them with affection could overstimulate them and worsen their fear. Let them adjust on their own terms — they'll come to your for cuddles, kisses, and walkies when they're ready.

Need personalized advice about walking a rowdy rescue or fearful foster? Find a dog trainer near you on the Wag! app to ensure your pupper gets the one-on-one attention they need.