How Do I Get My Rescue Dog to Bond?

Published: 5/11/2021
It is estimated that 44 percent of pet dogs in the United States are adopted from a shelter or rescue, while 5 percent are taken in as strays. If you’ve decided to welcome a rescue dog into your heart, congratulations! You will be rewarded with lots of love, loyalty, and laughter. 

Bringing home your newest family member is just the beginning; now it’s time to build a bond with them. While it’s easier to gain the trust of a puppy, it might take more time with an adult or senior dog who may have developed trust issues due to past experiences. Still, it’s definitely possible to bond with an older canine who had a life before you. Here are 7 tips for forming an unbreakable bond with your rescue dog.


1. Give your dog time to adjust.
Be patient as your new canine companion adjusts to their environment. There are a lot of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells to take in, so they’re probably feeling overwhelmed. It may take your rescue dog 7-10 days to settle in, maybe even longer. During the adjustment period, they might sleep a lot, retreat to a secluded area, become hyperactive, or seem aloof. This is all normal. Don’t rush the process, and keep physical contact affectionate, but brief. Trust that with time, effort, and love, your pooch will eventually come out of their shell.

2. Use the power of touch and talk.

A lot of rescue dogs have trust issues with humans as a result of their unfortunate past. Make your furry friend feel safe by touching and talking to them. While it’s important to give them space as they adjust to their new home, they also need to feel like they are part of the family. Most canines love being petted, but you may need to start slowly with a rescue. Observe how they respond, and adjust your actions accordingly. 

Hand-feeding is also a great way to gain your pup’s trust. If possible, do this for every meal during their first week, and then a few times the week after. Speak softly to your dog while you hand-feed them, and they will quickly associate you with good things!

3. Put on your dog trainer hat.
Whether you sign up for obedience classes or take the DIY route, training your rescue pup is essential in building and strengthening your relationship. You’re not just teaching your pooch to sit or stay; you’re also learning how to communicate with them, they’re learning to listen to you, and you’re giving each other your full attention. And the more you work together, the more comfortable your dog will be in interacting with you. Once your pup has mastered the basics, move on to more advanced commands to keep challenging their mind.

4. Grab the ball and leash.
Walking and playing don’t just allow your pup to release excess energy—they’re also furrific bonding activities! Get to know your rescue by taking them on walks and getting in a few rounds of fetch or some other game each day. Keep in mind that you have to be fully involved during playtime. Sitting on the couch while distractedly tossing a ball isn’t going to cut it; your dog will know when you’re committed in the game and when you’re not putting in the effort. Really play with your dog, and they will start associating you with pawsitive emotions.

5. Reward good behavior.
Use positive reinforcement to build your rescue dog’s confidence and make them feel loved. Reward them whenever they do something you deem acceptable and want to encourage, and they will repeat that behavior. The reward can be a treat, praise, a toy, or a chance to play a game—different dogs enjoy different things, so find out what your pup considers rewarding and don’t hesitate to bestow it upon them whenever they deserve it. This will strengthen your dog’s trust in you to reward them for good behavior.

6. Stick with a routine for your dog.
Dogs thrive on routines; they like knowing what’s going to happen next, so establish a routine as soon as possible and stick to it. Maintain a consistent walking and feeding schedule (enlist the help of a dog walker if needed). Remember to include playtime and training in your rescue’s daily routine as well. Your pup likely faced a lot of uncertainty before you brought them home. Showing your reliability will give them a sense of comfort, help them relax, and let them know that they can depend on you.

7. Include your dog in daily activities.

After the initial adjustment period, be sure to include your rescue dog in your daily life. Save a spot for them on the couch and watch a movie together. Let them “supervise” you while you do some yard work. Bring them along when you’re picking up take-out. Explore a new walking trail together. Take them to the pet store and let them pick out their own toys. 

Don’t forget to let your other two- and four-legged family members join in too! Doing little things together is a puptastic way for the whole family to bond. 

Your rescue dog may seem standoffish at first, but as long as you put in the effort in getting to know them and give them time and love, they’ll eventually come around and become the best friend you could ever ask for!

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