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Will my rescue dog ever improve?

This is a question I actually hear a lot

And you can probably sense the hopelessness it's coming from just in the question itself.

Rescue dogs typically come with more "baggage" because they haven't necessary had the most well rounded or safe upbringing. In fact, most rescue dogs have been taught that life is unpredictable, the world is unsafe, and there is nothing steady to rely on.

Does that mean they will be fearful, reactive, or nervous forever?

Thankfully no!

This is where proper communication and structure through training will make a huge impact in your rescue dog's life and yours.

For rescues the number one priority is helping them feel safe!

This requires a lot of empathy because just because we know something's ok, doesn't mean our dog knows and feels that thing is ok.

I often see stressed or nervous rescue dogs and humans will try to negotiate with them by saying things like,

"It's ok"

"You'll be alright"

"You're fine"

There is nothing wrong with talking to your dog ( I do it all the time!), but we have to remember that for the most part what we say doesn't mean anything to our dogs unless we give it meaning.

That's why actually when we say these phrases every time something is scary, they can actually start to mean something scary is happening or about to happen!

So we just really have to watch how we pattern things, and try to create new patterns that inspire our dogs to think optimistically about situations that previously made them nervous or fearful, which often leads to reactivity and/or aggression down the road.

So helping your dog feel safe through structure and communication.

How do you do it?

A good place to start is to have your dog on a reliable crating, walking, play, and feeding schedule.

So crating your dog at the same times when your eyes are not on them, feeding your dog at the same times, and exercising and playing with your dog at the same times.

I would also recommend adding in treats and training in all that you do with your dog- because whenever you are with your dog you are teaching them something for better or worse.

This is where crating is immensely helpful to you so you can have a break, and it's also immensely helpful to your rescue who may need help self regulating through this down time activity.

Using clicker training as a way to talk to your dog about what behaviors you like from them, and also associating that food with whatever you do will help you communicate with them so they can learn to trust you, and then they can start to feel confident doing things with you. There is a ton of information our there on how to get your dog started with a clicker or a marker word and it will always be a good way to start "talking" to your dog.

My last word of advice with rescues is to be less hung up on their behavior. So don't worry as much in the beginning about them listening to you or being highly obedient, just focus on building your bond by helping them feel safe by pairing food with the activities you do together. And DO NOT over do the activities or overwhelm them.

If they look nervous or stressed they are not having a good time.

Don't stick around in those situations, go take a break and do something your dog enjoys, and come back to those things in short spurts over time preferably with the help of a trainer since rescues are often going to be more complex to train.

If you're feeling hopeless with your rescue please save yourself YEARS of time and get help with them! Getting help sooner rather than later prevents bad behaviors from developing or deepening down the road.

They will not grow out of it, but they can be trained out of it.

Getting the help you and your pup need is essential to achieving the life you want together and it will be well worth it in the end.

Valerie works with dogs of all breeds and temperaments and focuses on teaching dogs to want to make the choices that we want them to without causing conflict. For their sake as well as yours!

She believes in building deep trust and connection with the animals she works with and has found that this is always the final ingredient in a successful partnership.

To find out more about Valerie you can visit her About page at

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