10 Ways To Get Your Rescue Dog To Trust You

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The most important thing that we have to understand about rescue dogs is that they were, most likely, raised in an improper way, with conditions that were terrible. Many will come from a puppy mill and do not actually feel human love until they meet you. Obviously, there are also those unwanted situations in which the rescue dogs were handled in an improper way, hurt, mistreated, starved and abused. So here’s 10 ways to get your rescue dog to trust you.

sad dog

A rescue dog will most likely be:

  • Scared
  • Shy
  • Overprotective
  • Afraid of being alone
  • Looking for affection and running away at the same time

Many have misinformed expectations when they go to the shelter or to a pet rescue facility to adopt a dog. They think that the dog will be really happy and trained from the moment they get home. This is rarely the case because of the way in which the dogs were treated and neglected in the past.

Adopting a rescue dog is a huge responsibility, one that you should never take lightly. You will want to learn everything that you can about dogs and it is a necessity to take care of that lovely being just as you would of a baby, especially during the first weeks or months, based on the abuse that the dog went through.

There are so many things that have to be said about getting the rescue dog to trust you. The relationship between the dog and the owner needs to be based on trust and in order to gain that trust you will have to put in hours of work.

Here are 10 things that you always need to remember about dealing with rescue dogs.

Stay Calm and Show Respect

dog hiding under blanket

One of the worst things that you could do is to yell at a rescue dog. Chances are he has been yelled at his entire life and all he wants is love and give love. Also, it is so tempting to greet that new, lovely dog with a lot of energy. Unfortunately, your temptations have to be put in check.

When you get close to the dog and you are excited, the dog will feel that. Normally, the reaction is to have the dog jump on you but with the rescue dog, the flight or fight instinct is activated. You are a stranger and humans have been hurting him for a long time.

Treat the dog with kindness and respect, no matter what happens. You want to be calm and if he makes a mistake, you want to show him that it is not ok without ever raising your voice. You are fighting a war with months or years of abuse. Rescue dogs do not trust humans. There is a strong chance that you will be the first one. Without calmness and respect it is impossible to get that trust that the dog can give you.

Try to learn all that you can about the history of the dog. You want to know what he is afraid of, what you have to avoid and what the rescuers can tell you about what can make his life easier.

Give the Dog the Space He Needs

dog coming to human

You love the dog and you want to be around him at all times. This is normal. The problem is that dogs need space. They need it in order to feel free and happy. Unfortunately, the rescue dog most likely never had a lot of space. Many are kept in cages and some do not even see sunlight until they are rescued.

Safety is of paramount importance when dealing with a rescued dog. He needs to feel safe. Before you will be able to train him and even get him to eat, he needs to feel safe. This safety comes from having his own space, the one in which he will feel safe at any point of day or night.

Make sure that you offer a space that is only the dog’s, a place where he can do whatever he wants, especially when you first bring him home. Try to pick a part of the home that will not get in your way but that will show him that there is activity around the house and that nobody hurts him. As an example, dog-proof a corner of your living room. That will be his safe space. Crates are normally great but some owners prefer exercise pens or one of the many comfortable dog beds that can be bought online. Make sure that nobody interferes or gets in his space. This is especially difficult with children but vital to establish trust.

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Show the Dog that You Will Protect Him

woman consoling dog

Trust is a two way street. We think about dogs protecting us but with rescue dogs, we need to first protect them. In order to establish that trust that you want, you want to prove to the dog that you will protect him from harm. This does not mean that you have to stage elaborate trickery or do something really special. All that you really have to do is stay calm and react when you see that the dog is afraid or something feels uncomfortable.

You can do this with ease when you first take your dog for a walk. This is where many will come to you and will want to interact with the dog. Always see what the dog does. If you see that he is uncomfortable, step in between him and the person/dog that disturbs him. This is more than enough to prove to the dog that you will protect him.

In a similar fashion, when you see the dog waking up agitated from a bad dream, slowly go to him and show him that you are around. As you can see, dealing with rescue dogs is a lot like dealing with babies and similar rules apply. Just like babies, rescue dogs have to feel that you are there for them.

Do What the Dog Loves To Do

dogs head outside car window

Building trust is just like dating. You learn what the other person loves and you try to do more of it. Getting the rescue dog to trust you is in large part based on the dog being comfortable with performing actions with you. Every single dog has some things that he likes. Some will love to ride in the car like this pooch above while others will love to sit on your lap.

As time passes and the rescue dog starts to loosen up, you will discover some things that will always make him happy. It can be as simple as eating a chicken bone or running after a ball. The trick is to identify an activity that makes the dog happy and then doing that activity as often as possible. The great thing about this approach is that you can actually use it in training.

Does the dog like to eat that chicken bone? Hand out a chicken bone after he learns to execute a command. Does he love to play with a ball? Let him play with that ball for as long as he wants after he does something that you want him to do. This makes him happy, comfortable, shows him that you love him and helps you train him.

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Comfort the Dog When He Is Afraid

dog inside of crate

We touched on this above but we have to talk more about it. One of the really bad myths about how to deal with dogs in general is that fearful dogs should not be comforted. Some say that this is impossible and others say that it will make the dog soft. Both are horrible ways to look at dogs. Once again, think of the rescue dog as a baby. Do you comfort your child when he is afraid? Hopefully you said YES. The same thing should be done with the dog.

One of the greatest things about dogs is that they feel your energy. They feel when you are happy and they feel when you are sad or angry. Emotions should not be seen as behavior. You do not deal with them in the same way. Reinforcing emotions creates a bond between pets and their owners.

It does not take much to comfort a dog that is afraid. Sometimes just a few words and you getting close is all that it takes. For that though, you need to notice when the dog is afraid. Once again, you need to be attentive and you have to take into account what the dog does, how he reacts. It is not that hard to figure out that a dog is afraid.

Let Your Dog Sleep Where You Sleep

dog resting on humans hand

This is a necessity for rescue dogs and always needed in order to establish trust. You at least want this to happen when you first take the dog home and you help him to get settled in. The idea behind this is that sleeping in the same room as the new people in the dog’s life reassures the feeling of home, of having someone that loves him. This is vital in creating any trust between any two people, animals or people and animals.

A common approach is to basically let the dog sleep in the bedroom with you, in the bed if possible or in a dog bed, until fear disappears. This is tricky to assess but if you really listen to your dog, you will figure out when it is time to make a change. If you see that the dog is really upset that he is not allowed in the bedroom anymore, does not feel safe or is unhappy that he sleeps far away from you, in another room, simply let him sleep a little more in the bedroom.

Remember that some rescue dogs are so abused, afraid and damaged that you will have to sacrifice a corner of your bedroom to let them sleep there. This is a necessity in many cases as the dog cannot actually feel safe while sleeping if you are not there. With some abuse victims, getting over trauma takes a long time. Just as with humans.

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Actually Feed Your Dog, Physically, With Your Own Two Hands


Obviously, you know that you have to feed the dog but do you know how you should feed a rescued dog? Most people are surprised to learn that they are doing this important step wrong and that this actually hurts or at least reduces the trust that could appear.

When feeding dogs, we tend to put the food in a bowl and that is about it. That works with regular dogs but with rescue dogs you will notice that they are afraid of it. What you want to do is to avoid free feeding (leaving foods in bowls). You want to make the dog come to you.

Food can be used as a training reward and the rest has to be offered 2 to 3 times per day. Hand feeding helps to establish trust much faster than many other actions you could take. It is the dog that understands you are the one that feeds him. You provide the food. Your dog will love you more and will understand that you care since you give him something that he needs. Taking the time to hand feed a dog will increase the trust that he has for you.

Wait and Make the Dog Come To You

cute dog with human

We have this image of dogs coming to us as soon as we appear, even if we are strangers. Many do that because they are completely comfortable around humans. They were never hurt by bad people. A rescue dog does not have this trust so it should be no surprise to notice that you will call the dog for hours and he will not come with his tail wiggling and a smile on his face.

By now you surely figured out that you want to be patient and you want to be calm. Call your dog and do not feel bad when he does not come over. Just remain calm and when you see that he comes, make sure that you have a tasty treat ready to show him that he did a good thing and that you have his best interest in mind.

There are many different ways in which you can make the rescue dog come to you. See what works and what does not. Just make sure that you only take actions that do not make the dog feel discomfort. When he will feel comfortable, he will come. Till then, all you can do is keep calling and keep showing your unquestionable love.

Reduce Separation Anxiety

sad dog missing human

Separation anxiety is exactly what you think it is and with rescue dogs, it is a really common problem. You want to make the dog feel wanted and secure, as we already said, but you will need to go to work and there are moments when you simply cannot spend time with the little one.

The trick here is to have the dog interact with other people and with other dogs. You can even have him interact with other animals. Just be sure that you oversee the process and that you step in when things become uncomfortable.

When you introduce the rescue dog to the members of your family and you take him out for a walk, he gets to see others and will interact with the other pets that go to the park. This reduces separation anxiety because the dog becomes aware of the fact that you always come back, no matter who is around him. At the same time, the dog realizes that he can trust humans.

Rescued dogs will react differently than you may expect when meeting new people or other dogs. That is why we need to reinforce the idea of you being around at all times. Obviously, you will need at least a leash.

Always be Fun and Have Fun

cute happy dog looking up

This is one of the most important things that you have to do when you adopt a rescue dog. You want to be fun and you want to have a lot of fun with your new friend. Dogs feel what you feel. They understand when you have problems and they will feel when your energy is negative. Having positive energy and interacting with your rescue dog is the fastest way to establish the trust you want.

The problem is that many take training too seriously. They will not laugh and just repeat tasks over and over again. What they tend to forget about is the importance of playing with the dog, preferably with toys. Tug toy sessions during those long “sit training” sessions can enforce and further develop the relationship that you have with the dog.

The internet is filled with articles that talk about play training. Read them and see a brand new approach to training, one that is perfect for the rescue dogs since they need that extra care and attention that is not always needed when you train a dog that does not have problems. Just as with humans, mixing work with fun time works great in getting the work done and feeling great at the end of the day. This does include trust.

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