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Health and Wellbeing

Val’s Dog Training Tips – How to Look After Your Shelter Dog


How many of you love the idea of rescuing a shelter dog, helping save a life or helping a dog get off to a better start in life? I am sure many of you would say you do, and do your best to help as many dogs as possible. So I’m going to talk about what you should expect when you take on the responsibility of a dog that is in a shelter/found on the street.

Firstly lets answer some basic questions:

1. Why is the dog in the shelter in the first place?

A lot of the time we have absolutely no idea why the dog has been brought into a shelter. Sometimes they are lost and their owners can not be traced, others are just abandoned, or the authorities for any reason may have seized them. Sadly some breeders dump the dogs once they are of no use to them (not making them money). It could be some clever person who thought it would be nice to see what a real life birth is like, didn’t realise that their bitch would have 10 puppies and now they can’t find homes for all those puppies, who are coincidentally very noisy and pee and poo everywhere, so they try to sell the pups, and dump the rest at a shelter.

2. How can we help a dog we know nothing about?

Not knowing the dog’s background means we need to assess the dog. Through observation, we can identify some basic information on a dog: whether it is afraid of people, if it’s aggressive, if it is friendly with dogs or people, what motivates them. But of course, not knowing their history poses a problem for most of us who work with rescue dogs. We have no idea why or what has caused them to be dumped, or why they have become fearful of people, or why they have any aggressive issues. Not knowing their background means we need to work harder to learn about them to be able to match them to the right homes later as well as provide them with the right attention while they await their forever homes.

3. What can shelters do to help?

Most shelters will thoroughly assess a dog and find out its temperament. After this, they are able to match the dog with a suitable owner.

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Consider why your dog might have been left at a shelter or abandoned

There are millions of reasons why someone might abandon a dog or give them up to a shelter. But many of these relate to behavioural problems, which are often only a result of an owner not putting the time and effort into training their dog, and can easily be fixed with a bit of hard work. These factors, and the reasons behind them might include:

  • Excessive jumping: previous owners might never have taught this dog an alternative way to greet people, so why should he stop jumping?
  • Excessive barking: possibly as a result of boredom.
  • Lead aggression: the over excitement of getting the lead on or the frustration of not being able to meet another dog.
  • Aggression towards humans: this could occur because the dog is very insecure around people, and has never been shown how to cope with this.
  • Food and toy guarding: possessions like toys/food/people are valuable to a dog, and if no one teaches them an alternative to resource guarding, how will they know what to expect?
  • Aggression towards other dogs: the dog may have been attacked by another dog in the past, or had a previous owner who would over react in a way that created an aggressive reaction out of their dog who then learnt that being aggressive was a normal behaviour, or could have been used for illegal fighting.
  • Destructiveness: bored dogs will find their own entertainment!

Some of these issues need a bit more work than others, but remember you are not alone, you don’t have to face these issues alone, there is plenty of help and support available to you so that you can successfully help a shelter dog!

When you bring your dog home

When the dogs are brought in, they are often very very stressed out and even after a few days in kennels, the dogs continue to be under a lot of stress. Being in a kennel is not a life for a dog.

Dogs are social animals and they NEED human interaction, physical and mental stimulation and an environment that is not stressful. For this reason, a lot of the time, the dogs behave differently once they have left the kennels and begin to settle into their new home. They may go back to their old habits – possibly the same bad habits that landed them in the shelter in the first place. For this reason, I would like to make you all aware that when you rehome a dog from a shelter, you must be prepared to put in some hard work to iron out any problems you encounter.

Many rehoming centers have trained staff that train and rehabilitate dogs prior to adoption and offer help and support after the dog has been adopted. This is to ensure that the dogs are not brought back and to make sure they settle into their new life with the best start possible. It is almost a certainty that you will face some ups and downs with your newly adopted dog. But don’t give up on them at the first sign of trouble, a little hard work at the beginning goes a long way for these dogs. They need your help, they need your guidance, otherwise they will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s up to you wonderful people who want to adopt a shelter dog, to help turn their lives around and give them the best life possible.

Even if you decide to shop instead of adopt- don’t think it will be an easy ride just because its a “clean slate”. As a dog owner, it is up to you to lead the way and show them how to behave in our human world.

A very important part of saving lives is to take the right steps to PREVENT problems from developing.

Read more: Val’s Dog Training Tips: How Dogs Learn!


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About the author

Val's K9 Training

Val's K9 Training

My passion for working with dogs keeps me motivated to continue learning to achieve the highest standards possible with regards to Canine behaviour, training and welfare. I have had over 10 years’ experience in working with dogs, and I now work as a professional dog trainer. More recently I have been working closely with All Dogs Matter and helping them out at their shelters by caring for the dogs awaiting adoption and providing them with training and conducting assessments to help match them to the right owner.
To find out more, visit

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