Two Paws Up: Training and bonding with a rescue dog

Our last dog, a docile German Shepherd, lived to be 13 years old, so it had been a while since we had to shop for a new canine companion. In those long-ago days, we simply went to a shelter (in this case the MaxFund) and picked one out to take home.

Today, not only does every shelter have a website, so do all of the breed rescue groups, prison dogs and guide-dog school dropouts. Then there's Petfinder, a sort of clearinghouse that allows you to specify breed, gender, compatibility with children, cats and other dogs, and geographic proximity to your zip code.

We ended up with Lionel, a smallish chow mix whose compelling story on Petfinder (he was left on the side of the highway in his pet carrier) made him seem tragic and deserving. In retrospect, we should have known what was coming; he was high-spirited, completely unsocialized, and, in fact, had never been inside a house or had any training whatsoever. But the raw material was there - he had a very sweet disposition and loved to learn new things.

Within the first week, we enrolled in a good, basic obedience course at WagWag Enterprises. There is really no substitute for this - going to class provides socialization with other dogs and helps the dog learn commands in a different environment than your living room. Plus, when you see all the other canine quirks that your classmates are dealing with, you don't feel so alone.

Dog training theory in the new millennium is all about positive reinforcement, and, as our instructor Lisa explained, is based on scientific, empirical studies of dog behavior. Giving treats and verbal encouragement for good behavior worked wonders with Lionel, who is now not only well-mannered (mostly) but happier.

In addition to obedience school, I consulted several books, my favorites being those by Patricia Mcconnell and the classics by the Monks of New Skete.

Other recent titles include:

30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog: The Loved Dog Method (2010) by Tamar Geller

Train Your Dog Positively: Understand Your Dog and Solve Common Behavior Problems Including Separation Anxiety, Excessive Barking, Aggression, Housetraining, Leash Pulling and More! (2013) by Victoria Stilwell

Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows 1000 Words (2013) by John W. Pilley with HIlary Hinzmann

The Heartbeat at Your Feet: A Practical, Compassionate New Way to Train Your Dog (2012) by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma

Juvenile Delinquent Dogs: The Complete Guide to Saving Your Sanity and Successfully Living with Your Adolescent Dog (2012) by Sue Brown


Dog Whisperer by Cesar Millan

Home School Dogs by Brian Kilcommons, Sarah Wilson and Jim Mckiernan


Petfinder's Tips for the First 30 Days of Dog Adoption

Cesar's Way

Training Your Dog from the ASPCA

Tips from the Humane Society

Written by Lisa on November 27, 2013


Anonymous on November 27, 2013


Very inspirational. Thank you!

Cesar on November 28, 2013


Lionel is a lucky dog!

Leigh Ann on November 30, 2013


Rescue dogs are THE BEST! they so appreciate being in a loving home...and know what is it to be dearly loved. Thanks for the great blog, Lisa--Lionel is really cute--thanks for sharing your experience in his rehoming process.

Liz Shartel on December 14, 2013


Are you the ones who want to have a fundraiser in Jan at BEACONS creative community space?

If so, pls call me right away. Thank you!


DannBarbery on February 17, 2014


It's pretty hard to be honest to train a rescue dog most especially if you are not so aware of the history or background of the Fido. Although you can ask about the behavior of the dog to the shelter personnel but it's really hard to predict. Anyway, rescue dogs are great companion as well you just have to love them as if they are really your kids.


I'm sure that's true in many cases, but a lot of highly specialized service dogs, such as those at Freedom Rescue, come from shelters. I'm glad that Coloradans do such a great job of spaying and neutering that we're able to take in shelter dogs from other states.

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