woman using Positive reinforcement training with her adopted dog

This post has been specially written for the #Train4RewardsBlogParty which we are honored to participate in for the first time this year.

Adopted dogs are my sweet spot. I adore training them and educating their humans about their dog’s unique training needs so every adoptive family gets their happily ever after.

There’s a moment after one adopts an adult rescue dog where you wonder, “OMG what have I done!?!” I call this DOA: Dog Adoption Overwhelm and my specialty is turning that overwhelm into harmony.

One out of every ten of the approximately 1.6 million dogs adopted each year in the U.S. (so about 160,000 dogs yearly), are returned to the shelter for “bad” behavior such as soiling in the house, barking, chewing furniture, reactivity, hyperactivity and many other basic disobedient behavior.

The key thing you need to know about these dogs is that they are not unusually misbehaved; what they are is universally untrained.

That’s right, a full 96% of dogs who are returned to the shelter after adoption have received ZERO training while in their adoptive home.

Yup, these stressed out dogs who found themselves homeless and alone in a shelter through no fault of their own and were lucky enough to get adopted and have a new chance at life weren’t given even basic obedience training, let alone time and space to settle into their new environment before being expected to magically have perfect behavior.

Dogs aren’t robots. They are living feeling sentient beings.

Here’s why this matters:


Adopted dogs need special training because they have gone through a rough patch (abandonment, homelessness, possible mistreatment, etc.) and are now in a place where all the rules may be different and the stakes couldn’t be higher (i.e. behave as expected or you may find yourself back at the shelter).

Now we come to why adopted dogs need Positive Reinforcement Training and no other kind.

At Creature Good Dog Training we believe that the only appropriate and humane way to train any dog is through positive reinforcement but we also know that dogs with a history, whether or not that history includes abuse, are especially vulnerable to aversive methods and will thrive on positive reinforcement training.

Here’s why:

  • Positive training creates a foundation of trust and has a focus on building the dog’s confidence that rescue dogs need in order to open up and express their true personalities.
  • Positive training can start right away, even while the dog is settling into their new environment because it is gentle and the treat based nature of the reinforcement provides easy interactions with their new family that contribute to a strong dog-human bond.
  • If your dog is triggered by something in his new environment based on past life experiences, the use of positive reinforcement training methods are less likely to exacerbate his reaction and more likely successful if counter-conditioning is called for.
  • Positive reinforcement training is also easier on the people. Adopting an adult dog can be overwhelming at times (remember DOA above?). Using positive training methods help the humans bond with their new dog faster and keeps everyone’s energy low key so that overwhelm can’t get a real foothold. It’s much easier to deal with challenges on both sides if you have been steadily solidifying your relationship and building trust.
  • Positive training is scientifically proven. Positive trainers base their methods on the latest in dog behavior and cognition science. So much has been discovered about dogs in recent years that has led to our increased understanding of how they think and learn. Just as physicians no longer use bloodletting to treat humans, science has taught us that traditional aversive methods are the “bloodletting” of dog training.
  • Positive training feels better. Think about it. Would you rather get a cookie for doing something correctly or a smack for doing something wrong when learning a knew skill? Cookie, of course! Well, so would dogs. Encouraging your dog to repeat behaviors that you like by rewarding her with yummy treats is a much more effective and enjoyable way for you and your dog to work together.
  • Positive reinforcement training is fun. It’s more like playing a game with a partner than a traditional “master” and “pupil” dynamic.

To recap:

Remember that just because a dog is an adult when you adopt him or her, doesn’t mean they come fully trained (not robots). They may have been trained in the past and only need a refresher but they may need basic training as well.

Positive Reinforcement Training is the ONLY training method you want to use with your adopted dog. Trust me, you will both be so much happier.

Training is what keeps adopted dogs adopted so please train your dog!

Adopting a dog at any age (yours & theirs) can be stressful all around. Positive training will help keep you from experiencing overwhelm, especially if you start implementing right away to build your new dog’s confidence, learn about each other and create a deep and lasting emotional bond.

As always, if you are a new reader, welcome! and be sure to sign up for our free resource library & weekly dog training Q&A email Family Dog Love.