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How to Get Your Rescue Dog to Listen to You


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Published: 9/28/2021

Training your new canine compadre to be on their best behavior isn't easy, and that goes double for rescues. It's not uncommon for rescue dogs to have past trauma, making them less trusting and less likely to listen to their new pet parents. 

That said, helping a rescue pup live their best life is one of the most rewarding experiences a pet parent can have and is well worth the extra effort. And there are plenty of dogs that need help, with an estimated 3.1 million rescue dogs entering animal shelters each year in the US alone. 

One of the best and first signs your rescue pup trusts you is when they've begun to listen to your commands. So how do you get your rescue dog to listen to you? Here are a few tips and tricks.

#1. Be consistent, calm, and patient

The way you approach training your dog goes a long way toward whether they'll listen to you. Many rescue dogs are fearful and have anxiety, so erratic and inconsistent behavior could worsen their mental health and make them unlikely to listen. 

The chances are everybody in your household will train and interact with your dog a little differently. Call a house meeting to ensure you're all taking the same approach. 

For example, you'll want to ensure nobody's using your rescue pup's name negatively and that they're getting treats and praise consistently. Dogs like a pack leader who's calm, confident, and assertive, so try to convey this energy to your fur-baby. 

It may also take your rescue a long time to build trust and listen to you. Whenever you're trying to teach your dog something new and they're not picking it up as quickly as you expect, don't get frustrated and stay patient. Yelling or getting angry will only cause setbacks and may ruin the trust you've already built with Baxter.

#2. Identify their triggers

One of the best ways to get your rescue dog to listen to you is to identify their emotional triggers. There could be a memory from your dog's past that causes emotional distress, and you may be triggering it without realizing it. 

If your pooch seems particularly stressed in certain situations, they may be suffering from separation anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Identifying these disorders can go a long way toward helping your pup live their best life.

Pay attention to your dog's body language to see if there's something in particular that scares them. For example, your pup may cower when around men in hats, or they may not like extended eye contact. Identifying what causes your pup stress will help them listen better and learn commands quicker.

#3. Consider your stance

If your dog doesn't like being approached, you can adjust your stance to make them more comfortable. If a dog has been physically abused in the past and is very skittish, they may not like being approached head-on. As a result, they might hide and not come when called.

In order to get closer to a rescue dog who's fearful and has an abusive past, take a side-on stance. You should also crouch and avoid eye contact — this will make you less physically imposing. 

Approaching side-on is seen as good dog etiquette, and your pooch will consider this stance polite and non-threatening. By taking a side-on stance, you're much more likely to get close to a fearful rescue dog. Getting close should help you build trust, which in turn will get them to listen to you.

#4. Use fewer verbal commands

Dogs don't use words to communicate and don't always find verbal cues and sweet-talking as comforting as we might think. If you find talking to your dog like a baby doesn't have the desired calming effect, you might want to change your approach. 

Hand gestures can come in very handy when teaching your dog commands like "sit" and "give paw" and can replace speaking completely if you find your dog is scared of talking.

Watch your dog's body language when you talk to them — if you find their ears are down and their tail isn't wagging, they may not be a fan of talking. To get your dog to listen to you, try using gestures and body language to get them to listen.

#5. Let your dog make the first move

Pet parents often think that you can solve a dog's problems by showering them with affection and attention. With scared rescues, it's often best to let them make the first move. 

Never force an interaction with your pup, and reward them when they show bravery and come up to you. This reward will usually be a treat, but you can also try a quick pet and praise. 

By not forcing your fearful furry friend to interact with you, you'll slowly build trust. While this may be slow going, you're much more likely to build a trusting relationship with a fearful dog, which means they'll listen to you in the long run. Forcing a rescue to interact with you may damage your long-term relationship.

#6. Use high-value treats when training

Treats are a key part of training any dog and getting them to listen to you. Rescues tend to be a little more difficult than other dogs, so you may need to break out the high-value treats more often. 

Most pups can't resist a dollop of peanut butter or a piece of hot dog and will do whatever they can for these sought-after treats. While most dogs will react well to a generic dog treat, you might have more trouble enticing your rescue. 

While you might be tempted to break out the high-value treats when the going gets tough, you'll need to resist this urge. Most high-value treats are very fatty and will make your pup pile on the pounds if used too liberally.

If you've tried every trick in the training manual and your rescue is still fearful or won't listen, consult a professional. A certified dog trainer or canine behavior specialist can provide expert advice and use approved methods to improve your bond with your fur-baby.

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