The Happy Puppers

Training Rescue Terriers: a complete guide

Training rescue terriers

 A guest post by Amy Green from

I’ve always been a fan of terriers. It must be a combination of their inquisitiveness, high energy and eagerness to please. But they are not always so easy to train – the biggest challenges come when you try to train them outside and there are so many distractions! Terriers are very active dogs that need a lot of exercise and attention. They can be destructive if left alone too long and aggressive if they are not socialized. Today’s blog is all about training rescue terriers.

Training rescue terriers

Introduction to Terrier Breeds

Terriers such as Patterdale terriers and Jack Russell terriers are such fun to have around. Most terriers were originally bred to hunt foxes and badgers underground. This is where their strong prey drive comes from. Running after small furry things is an instinct that is difficult to wipe out in a terrier! Terriers need owners with an active lifestyle who have a lot of time to spend outdoors. Being training minded is also important for terrier owners, especially when you rescue.

Pups or Rescue?

I have owned four terriers in my life now, most of them Jack Russell mix breeds. My first two I had from pups and this meant that they were well socialised as young dogs and also that they were easy to train with recall. As a general rule, puppies are easier to train on recall than adult dogs.

The issue is that there are so many abandoned and unwanted dogs that it doesn’t make sense to keep breeding puppies. I believe that if you have the right environment and training experience to adopt a dog then you should adopt rather than encourage more breeding. This, of course is not without its problems!

Problems with Rescue Terriers

Let’s start with the positives – rescue terriers are very loving and loyal towards their owners. With the right training, love and support they make excellent family pets. However, there can be certain issues with rescue terriers that can be a challenge such as…

Settling in period

It is very important that when you rescue a terrier you give them a good settling in period. For the first 3 days they can appear quite ‘shell-shocked’ and not move out of their bed. They need at least 3 days where they are given space – let them come to you don’t overwhelm them with too much attention at this time. Make sure they constantly have everything that the need including an abundance of food and water.

After the first week your rescue terrier will start to feel a little more comfortable and at this point you may start basic obedience training and start to bond more with your dog. After 3 weeks he or she will start to settle more and trust you. At this point you will have started playing with and walking your dog on a daily basis.

Remember that it may actually take up to 3 months to fully trust you and settle into the new home. Only at the point should you start testing them in potentially scary situations such as dog parks or busy traffic areas.

Handling Aggression through reassurance and Positive Reinforcement Training

Dogs that demonstrate aggression usually have a trigger and it often stems from fear. Dog aggression can be influenced by past experiences so it’s important to know what went on in your rescue dog’s life before if possible. Have they previously been run over? They may freak out around traffic. Have they been abused by a man in their previous home? They may show aggression to men they don’t know.

This was the case for Blake, our Patterjack. He came to us from the RSPCA with a history of living in a household with domestic violence. We suspect that the woman was frequently beaten and possibly so was the dog. Blake was very scared of any movement from my husband in the beginning. He would bark at him just for coming down the stairs. They bonded well as my husband gave him food and treats daily and over time Blake learnt that he wasn’t a threat.

We do still need to give Blake space when there is a strange man around! We also continue with the click-treat training in the presence of strangers, starting with the stranger far away and then slowly moving them closer.

Clicker Training

Clicker training can be a great way to train a rescue terrier. First, they need to associate the click with the treat. Spend some time just clicking the clicker and treating the dog within 5 seconds of them hearing the noise. Do this repeatedly around the house for a few days – terriers soon pick up what the click means!

You can then use the clicker to mark good behavior and allow positive associations in places that may be uncomfortable for your rescue dog. We did click-treat at cafes where there were potentially scary strangers. He knew when he was focused on us and being good that the click and treat would follow. It slowly built up his confidence around strangers.

You could use clicker training for many things – getting your dog used to traffic or to other dogs for example. You can also use it to train your dog to be quiet when you want them to – catch them being good and mark the positive desired behavior with the clicker.

Avoid Harsh Disciplinary Methods and Shock Collars

Some trainers promote jabbing your dog in the neck or using shock collars. These are outdated and harsh methods that actually don’t work and may break the bond that you have with your dog. It’s a good idea to favour the positive reinforcement techniques over harsh discipline.

One of the other problems with disciplinary methods are that quite often if you tell off or hit your dog, they don’t actually know what it’s for. For example, if you shout at your dog when he pees on the carpet, he probably did that 15 minutes ago and so he will have no idea what he is being told off for!

Harsh disciplinary methods are extremely detrimental to dogs especially if they are rescue dogs or survivors of abuse. Shouting at them may make them think that the abuse is about to start again.


If you have a rescue terrier, there is a chance that his or her previous owners did not have the time to socialize him or her – or they didn’t know how. This could cause issues of dog aggression or fearful interactions for an adult dog. You should start to socialize your rescue dog but only once he is comfortable with you (after the 3 month settling in period) and only in a safe and controlled environment.

A good idea would be to start in an enclosed field with a dog trainer and their dog. The trainer will then be able to judge whether it’s ok to let the dogs off lead together. 

When you progress to the dog park you can consider muzzling your dog to avoid snapping at dogs unexpectedly and to minimize fight risks. Always do this with the advice of a trainer and get your dog used to the muzzle before he starts wearing it on a regular basis.

Limiting Separation Anxiety

Terriers can be prone to separation anxiety and a good way to limit this is to build them up to being on their own slowly. For example, you might start off with just leaving them for 10-15 minutes. After a few days, increase the duration to half an hour and then an hour. Finally, they will be able to be left alone for around 3-4 hours max.

To focus their minds while you are gone, you can consider leaving them with a stuffed Kong or dog puzzles. Make sure that they are ok being left with these for short periods at first. You might also want to put a dog cam in place to ensure that your dog is not getting up to no good or chewing something he may choke on!

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs?

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