Dog training vs. rehabilitation

By Thomas A. Beitz

It’s not unusual for me to get a call from a frustrated dog owner looking for help training a rescue dog. After the first few weeks of the honeymoon period they discover that their new canine companion is literally out of control. I’ll start out by asking a number of questions pertaining to the dog’s history. I often find that the dog has been in four other homes in the last six months and the new owner felt compelled to rescue the dog because they didn’t think anyone would adopt the dog given its history.

Typically, a dog with this type of history will need more than your normal group dog training class can offer. There is a reason why a dog like this has been in four different homes. Nearly 80 percent of the time, dogs are surrendered as a result of an unresolved, long-standing behavior problem that the previous owners were unable or unwilling to deal with. That is not to say that an attempt to train the dog was never made, but that whatever may have been attempted was inadequate in resolving the problems. 

Obviously, you get what you pay for with most things in life. Taking a problem dog such as this one to a group training class may actually make the problem worse depending on the problem. Some private training classes focus on specific behavioral problems, while other training approaches take a holistic approach. My 20 years of experience has proven that targeting one behavior problem without dealing with the whole dog is far less likely to accomplish any significant result.

Many times an unruly dog may respond well to a combination of obedience training and behavior modification when done simultaneously. The purpose of the obedience aspect of the training is to provide the dog with specific exercises which help the owner to establish an effective means of communicating with the dog. My observations are that misbehaving dogs are always disobedient dogs. Teach them how to obey and many of the behavioral issues fade away without ever having to address them head on.

But now and again I’ll come cross the type of dog I mentioned earlier in this article who actually needs more than a holistic approach to training. This dog needs to be rehabilitated. Rehab is significantly more training. The dog is high-maintenance, which is to say it is going to require a lot of your time and effort to see the dog’s problems resolved. A dog like this may require months or even years of consistent effort and focused attention to see the dog turn around. 

If you are considering adopting a dog, I think you should do your best to find out the history of the dog and consider how much time and effort you are willing to put in to save the dog. Many well-meaning people have seen the depressing commercials on TV of abused and neglected dogs only to go out and adopt a nightmare. Everyone has a different level of commitment to a dog like this and it’s just best to know on the front end what you’re getting yourself into. 

Tom Beitz is a canine behavior specialist and owns Smart Dog Solutions. He conducts private lessons in the home as well as boarding school programs for the busy family. He can be reached at (716) 628-0651 or found on the web at