Brown and tan dog sitting on the grass with training halters

Are Adult Rescue Dogs Harder to Train Than Puppies?

Are you thinking about getting a new dog and weighing the benefits of getting an adult dog over a puppy? Puppies are always adorable, but there are other considerations such as how much training your new pooch will need. Puppies will have no training but adult dogs will typically have some training.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some older pups may have already been house-broken and some shelter and rescue dogs may have never been trained for anything. But these are the outliers and not typical.

Raising any dog is a lot of work, especially in the beginning. But as a general rule adult rescue dogs are not harder to train than puppies. They just require different training than a pup. In fact, they may be easier because most adult dogs have been housebroken and might know some basic commands. Puppies, on the other hand, are like a brand new slate with very short attention spans. Let’s break this down and take a closer look at what is involved.

Training Differences Between Adult Dogs and Puppies

Photos by Judy Swayne

Puppies

Puppies will always need to be potty trained and need frequent monitoring. They have very small bladders and need to pee a lot, usually 3-4 times a night and also during the day. Energetic pups who run around a lot also get really thirsty and drink more water, which increases the urgency to pee!

Although puppies sleep a lot, they also wake up a lot! So be prepared. They need to be monitored constantly in the beginning and probably crated or placed in a safe, tiled room with a child gate when you are away. Puppies are very playful and curious and love to chew on all kinds of things–especially the things they shouldn’t get into!

There is nothing more adorable than a sweet new puppy. But they are a lot of work, and hard to keep up with. They have no clue about household rules, the difference between inside and outside, and what you expect of them. Puppies also have very short attention spans, which can make training a little challenging in the beginning. They can also be biters! See my post about how to deal with puppies who bite a lot.

My sister, Judy, who just adopted Sadie, a really sweet Golden Retriever at 8 weeks old, kept Sadie’s bed by the door the first several nights to make a quick exit for frequent potty breaks. The first night, Sadie peed 7 times, the next night it was 3-4 times, and finally, on her third night, Sadie slept for 7 hours. And, my sister, who was sleeping on the sofa next to her, finally got some sleep as well!

Puppy lying by sofa with pee pads strewn around the family room.
Puppy is finally asleep under the blanket with pee pads everywhere!
Photo by Judy Swayne

Adult Rescue Dogs Are More Cautious About New Situations

“Puppies come with an open mind and an open heart. They love to explore and test everything. Rescues can be more fearful of many new things and want to ‘see’ how they work first before committing to engage.”

Judy Swayne

New rescue dogs, Charlotte and Georgia looking a little tentative in their new home.
My two rescued siblings looked a little tentative on the first day in their new home.

Dogs end up in shelters for a variety of reasons due to no fault of their own. In most cases, dogs in shelters have been in homes, have been housebroken, and have learned a few commands. Additionally, they have longer attention spans and can usually focus better than puppies. So, training an adult can be easier. But any newly adopted dog will need some time to adjust and get used to his new home. Show him where to relieve himself, but save the heavy-duty training for later.

Be sure to see my post Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog as well as Your Rescue Dog’s First Night–Where Should She Sleep? Dogs who have been rescued from severely traumatic situations will need more time to adjust and decompress.

My sister Judy is raising three dogs–one who was adopted from a local shelter, another was adopted as a puppy from friends and her newest Golden Retriever puppy who was adopted from a reputable breeder. One of the dogs from the shelter was an older dog and the other one was a puppy. This is what she has to say about her experience, “Puppies come with an open mind and an open heart. They love to explore and test everything. Rescues can be more fearful of many new things and want to ‘see’ how they work first before committing to engage.”

All Dogs Need Training!

Any dog, rescued or purchased, will need training. Dogs need to learn about our rules and expectations. Just keep in mind that it is important not to rush into training. When your dog first arrives show her where she should potty, eat, and sleep, then give your new dog a chance to get used to you and your home. Both puppies and adult dogs will probably need to be crated and confined to safe rooms initially until they learn how to behave properly in your home. Just be patient, consistent, and kind.

Around the three-month point for both puppies and adult dogs, you can begin more structured training. I think it is a good idea to take all dogs to obedience training classes, which are structured specifically for puppies as well as older dogs. This will help any new dog learn basic commands, and how to socialize, and will be an important part of your bonding process. You can check with your local American Kennel Club to find classes in your area. Most dogs really want to please us, but they need to first understand what we want them to do. Obedience training is as much for owners as it is for our dogs!

A key difference between puppies and older dogs is that an adult dog may have learned some bad behaviors or ways of coping from his previous experience. Therefore, some of his prior learning may need to be undone. If your new dog has some challenging behaviors such as biting or aggression, you may need to get help from a professional trainer or the rescue facility staff where you adopted him. See my post, about antisocial behavior for some more insights. Your local vet may also be an important resource and advisor.

Dogs Can Also Learn from Other Dogs and Foster Families

Rescue facilities that specialize in saving dogs from horrible situations such as illegitimate breeder puppy mills or abusive situations, often place rescued dogs in foster homes prior to adoption. Foster parents are trained to help dogs recover and decompress, so they can more easily be adopted. Foster families make a huge difference in a dog’s ability to integrate and adjust to his new forever home. Dogs who have been fostered are much less likely to be returned to the shelter due to behavioral or training issues.

Foster parents and forever parents find that having other dogs in the home can often be an advantage. The dogs will need to be slowly and carefully introduced to one another. But once they have adapted to each other, dogs already in the household can show the new dog the “ropes” regarding where to pee, eat, and play. Younger dogs or puppies will naturally follow the leadership of an older dog, similar to the way a mother will teach her young pups how to behave.

Older dog teaches puppy how to play tug of war.
Six-year-old Mini teaches puppy Sadie how to play tug of war.
Photo by Judy Swayne

Final Thoughts

All dogs, both puppies, and adults can be trained. It is rare, however, when a rescue dog cannot be re-trained or re-programmed. It just takes more time and patience and love. Remember, some of these unfortunate mutts have learned that people can not always be trusted. Whether you have purchased a new puppy or adopted a rescue dog, she will need your love, attention, and guidance. In return, your sweet pooch will be loyal, loving, and happy to live in your home.