How Do You Calm a Nervous Rescue Dog?

Published: 5/12/2021
Raising a rescue isn't a walk in the dog park — prepare to invest a lot of time, patience, and attention. Need some pointers on calming a nervous rescue dog? You're in the right place! Here are 7 things you can do to soothe your skittish Sheltie.

Create a comfort zone for your pup

Before you pick up your dog from the shelter, set up a space for them away from children and other pets. A crate with plush blankets in a quiet spot will work. Leave the crate door open at first while you're crate training.

While it can be tempting to let your dog explore your home at their leisure, your pup doesn't know the rules of the roost yet. Giving Rufus free roam could lead to potty accidents, destructive chewing, and other undesirable behaviors. Consider setting up baby gates or closing doors to rooms that are off-limits.

Give your dogs space

Don't expect your rescue to adjust to their new "furever" home right away. Depending on your situation, your new pupper may have stayed in a shelter for a considerable amount of time, or bounced between foster homes. They're not sure what to expect from the new environment.

So resist the temptation to shower them with kisses and cuddles. The best way to instill trust is to let them come to you if and when they want to. Don't take it personally if your dog steers clear for the first week or so — this is a big adjustment for them!

Watch your body language

Dogs are emotionally intelligent beings who often mirror their humans' emotions. When you're stressed out, they probably are too. Do your best to stay calm and confident whenever you interact with your dog. Never punish or yell at your dog.

Know your dog's triggers

Does your rescue bolt every time the doorbell rings? Do they hide from loud noises? Pay attention to what sets off their anxiety. For rescues, this could include just about anything and everything.

Figuring out your dog's triggers will take some time, and different triggers require different approaches. It's best to avoid some stimuli altogether, like crowds or fireworks shows. Avoidance isn't the best option for other behavioral issues, like fearfulness of other dogs or people.

Start off slow

This tip builds on the previous one. As soon as you know their triggers, gradually introduce your dog to new experiences. For example, if your dog is nervous around other dogs, set up a pup playdate with another dog in a safe place. (Check out our guide on socializing your rescue puppy for more tips.)

When we say start off slow, we mean it! Introduce one new experience at a time, and keep sessions super short. Reward successful interactions with treats and praise. Use positive reinforcement and gentle encouragement to show your dog they have nothing to be afraid of.

Implement a routine for your pup

Creating a daily routine with set times for meals, walks, play sessions, and potty breaks will go a long way toward calming a nervous rescue dog. Once they know what to expect and when, they'll gradually learn to trust you.

Follow the routine as closely as you can, especially at first. As your dog gets used to their new environment, don't be afraid to mix things up (within reason). This can help prevent separation anxiety in case you ever need to deviate from the routine.

Remember, every dog is different

This is perhaps the most important tip to remember. While you can follow some general guidelines to calm your nervous rescue, what works for some dogs may not work for yours.

If in doubt, consult your veterinarian, a dog trainer, or a canine behavior specialist. Some dogs may need medication, but this is typically a last resort.

Just adopted a skittish doggo? Try your paw at one-on-one training in your home before signing up for an obedience class. Learn more about our digital and in-home dog training services, or download the Wag! app to find trusted dog trainers near you.

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