6 Things Your Foster Dog Needs to Know

And That You Can Teach Him

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Rescuing a dog is the most satisfying thing, but sometimes you find that even an adult dog is a blank slate.  Fostering a dog before it is adoptable can be the perfect interim process.


Rescued dogs may come with a lot of baggage; starvation, abuse, or just plain old neglect can create trauma that takes a long time to recover from.

You can help your foster dog to become more adoptable by making your home a safe and secure place, and by starting some training to help him become a good citizen.

After they undergo their initial intake at a rescue organization and have a veterinarian check them over, often they need a place to recover their health, have medications if prescribed, or any injuries dealt with.

Then they'll be ready to be adopted into a loving home as a pet.

Here are six skills to start with; many dogs know a few tricks (sit pretty, high five, catching a frisbee and so on) but these are not going to make his life better by improving communication. 

Everything on this list should be taught using Positive Reinforcement. No coercion or aversive methods are used in the teaching of any of these skills.

1) Polite walking, or loose leash walking will help with getting enough exercise, and to teach respect.  A dog with this skill is going to find a good home faster than one that pulls in every direction, and is impossible to take for a walk.

In addition to the actual walking, training them to be calm when you put on a harness or collar and while you attach the leash are also teaching moments.

2) Installing an off switch and making it possible for a rescue dog to relax and not feel threatened is a crucial part of making him feel at home. 

A dog that knows how to go to a bed or designated place and chill out is a dog that will get enough sleep - puppies need 23 hours of sleep every 24, and adults will sleep 18 hours in a 24 hour period.

Often, rescue dogs need to decompress in order to acclimatize to a new environment - like Alice in the picture above, this is evident when they are flat out on the floor for an hour or two at a time.

3) Pee on command - there is nothing worse than going on an outing to try and socialize an underexposed dog, only to find that your rescue dog is needing to urinate.

The discomfort of the dog is paramount, but it's also necessary to abide by the rules of a facility and not allow a dog free rein to empty his bladder. 

Going on cue is easy to teach, with the dog on leash to go outside every half hour or so to begin with.  Simply say the cue quietly when he assumes the position, keep it calm and quiet, no big celebration, just a simple 'good dog' is enough to mark the occasion.

Use this skill every time you go outside, to really entrench the notion.

4) Leave it, or 'Zen' - the ability to look away from the treat in your hand, and figure out how to get it, without jumping or biting.

Hold a treat in your closed hand after showing it to the dog, then when he looks at your face, give him the treat. 

The second stage is to show him the treat, and keep your hand open.  Say 'leave it'. If he goes for the treat, close your hand. If he leaves it, give him a treat with the other hand. Practice this in many different places, with many distractions.

This helps him generalize the cue, and avoid the horrible catastrophe of him eating something off the ground he shouldn't. Many foster dogs are used to fending for themselves, so this will be hard for some.

5) Following a lure; hold a small treat in your fingertips, close to his nose. Don't let him get it at first, but move your hand away, encouraging him to follow it.

This technique can be used to help him gain an understanding of many things; how to get off a bed or couch, how to get into a vehicle, jump over an obstacle or weave between your legs.

Eventually, he may enjoy parkour, a fun way to climb obstacles and jump over things on command, a great way to do an activity together.

6) Recall, or come when called. Build value for his name; call him, when he looks at you, toss a treat.  Eventually raise the criteria - to get the treat he has to come up to you.

Teach a nose press to make it more interesting for him; hold your hand out upright as he approaches, let him sniff it, then give a treat.  Move into higher criteria of bumping your hand with his nose before releasing the treat.

You may wonder why I didn't include such common things as 'sit' and 'down'. The reason is that those types of activities are easy to capture, as they happen every day.

All training sessions will be short, only a few minutes each, and incorporated as part of his everyday life. Have fun bonding with your new dog, and getting him accustomed to living in the human world. Don't be discouraged, this could take a long time.

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