How to Get your Rescue Dog to Trust You

Saturday, February 22, 2020 08:57:00 AM America/Los_Angeles

Are you considering opening your home to a new furry member of the family? Rescue dogs can make wonderful, loyal, and adorable pets. However, there is a transition period when you're both getting used to each other. Remember that a rescue dog may have been in a neglectful, unstable, or even abusive former home. These pets may be distrustful and act out with a number of behaviors including:


nervously chewing on themselves

bursts of hyperactivity

loss of potty training skills

hiding from people

poor sleeping patterns

excessive reaction when startled

overeating or under-eating

These behaviors may be hurtful and concerning, but they are the dog's natural response to the bad situation he used to be in. However, you can earn his trust and help him turn this behavior around. It requires consistent boundaries, gentle attention, and meeting the dog's needs.

Fundamental Strategies for Building Rescue Dog Trust

Stay Calm

Dogs can sense fear, anger, and stress. They react based on your cues. By staying calm, you encourage the dog to calm down as well. If you feel your frustration rising, leave the room for a few minutes while you collect yourself.

Respect the Dog's Personal Space

Sometimes, a frightened or overwhelmed dog calms down when ignored. Don't look directly at him and don't go near. Ask visitors to do the same.

Determine your Dog's Petting Style

Some dogs, especially at the beginning stages of a relocation, are high-strung. For these animals, get their attention and ask permission before petting. Other dogs are cuddle monsters who desperately want to be held and comforted. Read your pet's body language to figure out how to handle them.

Give the Dog His Own Space in your Home

It's important to give the dog his own space that he can retreat to. This builds a sense of safety and helps with sleeping habits. You may want to get him used to snoozing on a dedicated doggie bed in his corner, or in a properly sized crate.

If you crate train your dog, never use it as a punishment. Don't lock an agitated or misbehaving dog in it. You want the dog to associate the crate with a place of safety, not fear.

Eliminate Distractions

If your dog is easily startled, try to reduce loud noises and sudden changes for the first few weeks. Some ideas include:

keeping the TV on at lower volume

avoiding shows with gunfire

speaking softer than usual

reducing the number of visitors

Make Yourself Look Smaller

Crouching on the ground makes you look less intimidating and easier to approach.

Let the Dog Approach You

You can try enticing the dog with treats or gentle words. However, if your new pet isn't yet at a stage where he'll come within arm's reach of you, don't push it. Be patient and you may be surprised how quickly trust is built.

Have Fun With the Dog

Depending on the stage of bonding with your rescue dog, this might include:

offering the dog his favorite treat

playing with balls, a frisbee, etc

long sessions of belly scratches and ear rubs

letting the dog sleep at your feet, if that's your pet ownership style

taking the dog on a walk around the neighborhood

Directly Address Bad Behaviors

Now that you have the general trust-building steps down, it's time to address any lingering problematic behaviors.


If your dog isn't housebroken, or those skills have slipped, it's time to look at your dog potty options. These include taking the dog to the bathroom regularly, placing potty pads around the house, or investing in an indoor potty for dogs such as Bark Potty. A few tips:

Kindly and firmly address accidents on the spot.

Give your dog plenty of positive reinforcement when they potty in the right spot.

Clean up messes promptly so the scent doesn't linger and confuse the dog on where he should be going.


Nip this behavior in the bud as soon as possible. You can try disciplining your dog immediately through verbal correction. You may also find it very helpful to enroll him in a behavioral training course. Be sure to let the instructor know ahead of time that your pet is a rescue dog. The instructor may need to adjust how they interact with your animal. While you're at it, remember to reward good behavior along with scolding for bad behavior! That will let the dog clearly know what they're doing right.


Overweight and underweight dogs both face health challenges down the road. If your new pet refuses to eat or overeats, it's important to find foods and feeding schedules that can help them. You may need to work with a vet to perfect their diet and improve their health.

Sleeping Cycles

Disrupted sleeping patterns can create a number of health and behavioral problems. Deal with this by building a nightly sleep schedule. Take your dog to his bed every night at the same time. Consider creating a sleepytime ritual like speaking soothingly to them while rubbing their ears, or playing the same gentle music every time. Consistency is key here. They will start to associate that ritual with bedtimes and drift off without trouble. The next day, you may wake up to a happy, trusting dog!