Rescuing a dog is a great feeling – you just saved a life. You want nothing more than to shower your new best friend with love and attention. But often that life comes with baggage and he may not be ready to receive your kindness just yet. He needs to trust you first. Here are a few ideas of ways you can help bond with your rescue dog so that he will come out of his shell and you can gain that trust faster.
Reward for BRAVERY
This is so important for the dogs that are super nervous in their new home. Any time they make the choice to interact with you, praise them. If you think petting will not be enjoyed at this point, then don’t do it – just use your voice or a piece of kibble as a reward to let them know that interacting with you means good things. If he shies away or acts fearful, just ignore him – don’t try to grab or force him to stay – and when he starts to return, praise again. Remember, for many rescue dogs people have been a source of pain and fear – you need to counter-condition that by pairing yourself with good things.
Get out and PLAY
The power of play is pretty incredible when it comes to getting a scared, nervous or shy dog to interact with you. The key is to not scare them, so don’t act all excited and silly at first. Even a loud squeaker can scare some dogs, so starting with a soft toy tossed gently just a foot to see if they retriever it, or offering them a toy to tug can be the best way to begin. And some dogs won’t play at all. But if they do, it can often be a great way to break that ice.
Training really helps increase your bond with a dog because you are learning to communicate with each other. This is especially important for rescues dogs that have been neglected or abused. They never understood the rules at their previous home or why they were treated the way they were. Training can help your dog feel more secure because he will understand the rules and get rewarded when he does right. This goes a long way to make a dog feel confident in a new place.
Give them a SAFE SPACE
One of the biggest issues rescue dogs have to overcome is never feeling safe – especially those that were abused or spent a long time alone at a shelter. Feeling safe helps a dog relax and relaxation leads to feeling brave enough to interact with you. A great “safe space” is a covered crate. It simulates a den and gives your new dog a place to get away from everything. When he is in there, don’t bother him. It’s a sign he wants to be left alone. Obviously, as your relationship grows, you will get to the point where you can go get him and it’s no big deal. But at first, you want your dog to understand “hey, when I go in here they leave me alone, I am in control of my own body for the first time in my life. That’s pretty cool.” When your dog starts to feel this way, he will become more confident when he is out and more likely to interact with you (because he knows he can escape, he won’t feel trapped or fearful).
Pay attention to what they LOVE
Get to know your rescue dog. Does he seems to love his ears scratched or maybe hate it? Does he love a good massage or certain type of treat, like carrots? If you know what he loves, you can use these to strengthen his trust and bond with you. Likewise, you can avoid doing things he dislikes – at first – that
might scare him off. Of course, eventually he needs to get over those fears as well, but you need to start slowly and build up that bond before you try to do something your dog is really terrified of – for example a bath.
Doing these things can really help your new rescue dog trust you faster, which will help build a strong bond. Many times rescue dogs are returned to shelters because they cannot settle in with their new families. These simple tips can help make sure yours is successful in his new home.