Rehabilitating an Under-Socialized Dog? What You Need to Know

If you adopt a dog that is under-socialized either from a shelter or rescue organization then you are a doing a truly wonderful thing. These centers are under immense pressure with the number of pets that they have to cope with, so you will not only be saving a life, but also freeing up their time to help save other lives.

Some people may think that taking on an under-socialized pooch will be too much and I’m not going to paint a rose-spectacled picture; It can definitely be challenging, time-consuming and you often need the patience of a saint! BUT hopefully, if you follow the guidelines in this article, it will not be too difficult and please believe when I say that it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had and the end result is more than worth the effort.

However, you always need to bear in mind that your new furry friend may not have had much human contact (if any!), so you will need to give them time to adjust to their new surroundings.

Not surprisingly, they may have a fear of people and noises that we simply take for granted, such as the vacuum cleaner, television, passing cars and so on. Some may not be house trained either, so you will need to show a lot of love and understanding, particularly in the early days.

Many rescue centers are absolutely brilliant in trying to get their charges trained to a very basic level whilst they are in their care, but that isn’t always possible.

Starting from Scratch

If your new pet is under-socialized then they will not understand a number of things about living in a home with people:

  • If you try and pet your pooch they may resist – in fact any handling or holding could be a problem for them.
  • You shouldn’t expect them to know about going for walks on a leash or taking treats from your hand.
  • It is very unlikely that they will obey any commands that you give such as coming to you when you call them.
  • If you give your new furry friend a toy to play with they probably won’t know what to do with it!
  • Sometimes they may revert to a previous unwanted behavior so you will need to retrain them again.

If you persevere and show patience and love it is very likely that your furry friend will improve. Sure, their breed, age and unknown life history can all influence the speed of this process but NEVER GIVE UP ON THEM!  The more attention you give them, the greater the bond will become and you will be rewarded with their unconditional love for the rest of their lives. Don’t expect overnight success – it will take time – sometimes even months!


You need to consider the safety of your furry friend, you and your family and any other family pets. Your new dog will probably be scared when you first bring them home. They will be tempted to run away and may even try to bite you or another family member.

1. Don’t let your Pooch run away

I know it might be hard to understand why they would even contemplate running away from their new loving family, when you have just “saved” them but sadly, we have no way of knowing what neglect and abuse they suffered prior to their initial rescue and the emotional, psychological or physical impact it has had on them.

To prevent your dog from running away make them wear a collar with ID as well as a harness that fits properly. Always attach a leash to the harness or collar so that you can grab hold of it if your dog tries to run. Take extra care when letting your pooch loose in your home. Restrict access to certain rooms and make the family aware that they need to close doors behind them.

If you are travelling in your car then open the windows slightly for air. Keep the leash on and take a hold of it before opening doors. You can take the crate with you in the car for added safety.  In your yard use the exercise pen. Even if your yard is fenced off your dog may still be able to escape.

2. Biting Prevention

Not all under-socialized furry friends will try to bite but some might, purely as a natural defense mechanism to their fear or protection of what they see as theirs. 

You need to get to know your new pet quickly and if there is a biting situation, keep calm, figure out why it happenedand avoid that happening again e.g. Did someone try to move their food whilst they were eating? Did someone try to take away their favorite toy? Was someone too noisy and boisterous around them?

At the beginning, wear protective gloves when picking up your dog. If there is no biting after a while you can stop using the gloves.Alternatively, you can wrap your pooch in a towel to hold them. Avoid placing your head next to theirs. If you have another dog at home then they can be a good role model. Take everything slowly.

The Initial Days

It is very important that your new pooch is not overwhelmed when you first bring them home. They need a place where they can feel safe and secure. So, choose a single room for their designated sleeping area, make their bed (and/or crate) as comfy as possibleand then let your dog get used to their new surroundings. Expect accidents and use puppy pads – even for adult dogs!

It is best to place a collar or harness on your new pet and have a leash attached in the early days. Remember that your new best friend may not respond to any commands, so you will probably need to grab the leash to control them.

To train your pooch to go outside to relieve themselves, it’s often best to pick a common spot in the yard. You can even use an exercise pen so that the space is limited. The key is to be consistent and patient with your house training and this will pay off in the end. Build up a routine and go outside with them each time after they have eaten.

Day to Day Living

Introduce one thing at a time and do this slowly so that your pooch has time to adapt. Start off by feeding your dog from your hand. You want to build a bond and this is a great way to do it. Crouch down low and sit with the food in your extended hand.

Gradually introduce your furry friend to busier areas of your home such as family rooms and the kitchen. You can use an exercise pen in these rooms so that your pet feels safe. Don’t use the crate as this is their place of safety and security.

If you have other pets introduce them one at a time. Watch out for any fighting when you do this. If you have another dog then they can really be a good role model. Your new pet will probably be used to or more trusting of other dogs but not people.

Further Socializing and Training

When you feel that your furry friend has settled in, it is best to work with them a few times every day for a few minutes. Keep this momentum going for the best results.

Keep going and avoid plateaus. Once your furry friend is comfortable around the house, introduce them to new challenges such as walking outside and meeting other people and dogs. Introduce everything slowly and avoid pushing your pooch.

If you’re finding the training a bit overwhelming or you don’t feel you’re making progress, seek help from a professional or enroll in a dog training class. As well as helping with their socialization skills, it’s good fun and a brilliant way of having quality time with your furry best friend – which is exactly what they crave!

Consistency is key!It will be hard enough for them to get to grips with commands and routines, so make sure the rest of the family and friends give the same commands and do not encourage bad habits that you are trying to correct.

Last, but not least – remember that IT IS POSSIBLE to teach an old dog new tricks!!


Wishing you and your canine companions the best of health!




Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team 


Follow Us on: