How Hard Is It to Train a Rescue Dog?

How do I know if I’m ready to rescue an animal? What if they don’t adjust? How do I make the transition go as smoothly as possible? How do I introduce them to my other pet? These are questions you may be asking yourself when going through an adoption process; I know I did!

Little did I know on a rainy Saturday in September of 2017, I adopted my Miniature Poodle Baxter from the SPCA in St. John’s. At the time, I was working at another animal hospital that performed all surgical services and medical care to the animals under the SPCA. Tuesday morning of that same week,  when I went in for my 8:00 shift, all the animals were all checked in for surgery. Usually, I visit all the surgical patients in the morning which is when I first spotted Baxter. He caught my attention right away; my grandfather has a dog named JJ that is a Poodle X and had all the same markings and colours as Baxter. He was sitting inside his kennel, wagging his tail, jumping with excitement, and started running in circles when I went to open the kennel door. In those few minutes, I knew I couldn’t part with him.

At the time I just had my Maltese Toby John; I always wanted to have another dog at some point, but I wasn’t looking/prepared at the time I met Baxter, it just felt like it was meant to be. At the same time, I was worried how Toby would feel about having another dog in the house; he has some aggression issues and could become dog-reactive. The day I first met Baxter, I messaged the volunteer coordinator at the time at the SPCA (I was also a volunteer at the time) and told her I was highly interested in him. I expressed my concerns, and she informed me that a one-on-one introduction at the shelter would be an excellent first step for both dogs. So, Thursday of that same week, I brought Toby to the SPCA to meet Baxter! They met outside in the large fenced in kennel area, they sniffed each other a lot, then went about their own business. We then took both of them for a walk together, and to my surprise, everything went smoothly. When Baxter first came home, he and Toby mainly just sniffed each other. The SPCA worked closely with me and understood my concerns. They are great at providing tips and tools that you may need.

The precautions I took when introducing Baxter to the home was to make sure both dogs were supervised at all times, took them for walks together once a day, and didn’t force any interactions or contact. I brought both dogs outside in the yard as soon as I brought Baxter home. A friend of mine suggested this, and it worked out really well. I wanted to make sure both dogs were comfortable as possible; they didn’t actually start playing with each other until 2 months after Baxter came home. I expected this given the fact that it takes Toby a long time to warm up to other animals.

In my case, both dogs adjusted perfectly, although taking some time. I even prepared myself for if they didn’t get along, and if I wasn’t able to meet Baxter’s needs. I wanted Toby to continue to live the most stress-free life as possible, and I wanted Baxter to go to a forever home that had a positive environment. I was fortunate enough that everything worked out!

The hardest part going through the adoption process with Baxter, for me, was the unknown. What was his medical history?  Does he have a chronic medical issue? Where did he come from? How was he treated before, and did he have any behavioural issues? Baxter did have an ear infection that was being treated for when I adopted him, and Poodles had their common breed issues (I discovered through research). I enrolled Baxter in the Trupanion Pet Insurance program to cover my basis for medical treatment from a physical and behavioural aspect. Baxter was kennel aggressive at first and did have severe separation anxiety for the first 3-5 months after I adopted him, and was very destructive when left alone. With medication, behavioural modification, and close observation by his doctor at the time, he has improved drastically. I learned that it is better when he has the comfort of another dog with him. He still takes his anxiety medication, and soon we are going to attempt to wean him off, which I did not think was possible until recently. He is also on allergy medication long-term; he is very itchy and prone to bacterial infections. It’s important that when you adopt a dog, you have to be willing to put the work and time in, just like Baxter needed.


I’ve had Baxter for over a year now, and he has a new fur sister named Daisy; she’s a 1-year-old Labrador Retriever. Daisy’s really helped with bringing Baxter out of his shell; I’m still learning new things about him every day. This past summer we did a lot of hiking. Baxter loves to swim! His recall is excellent, and he is good on/off the leash. He finds comfort in Daisy, follows her, and learns from her. He loves other dogs and people, cats might be his favourite. He’s a regular at a local daycare and loves to go to Canadian Tire with his dad! We are also considering enrolling him in the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program later this year.

My advice for anyone in the adoption process is to research the breed their adopting. Prepare yourself for the adjustment period (the transition into your home may take a while), be supportive and encouraging (you must be willing to work with the animal), pay close attention to the pets you already have for any signs of stress/anxiety, and of course, be patient. Support and love are key!

Written by: Chelsea Corrigan