There is quite the stigma behind shelter dogs and their ability to become service dogs. At Wounded Paw Project, we are working to break that stigma with our shelter dog rehabilitation services.

While each pup is different the basic rehabilitation and training processes follow the same formula. First, it is important to take a look at the physical, mental, and emotional trauma that some of these dogs have experienced. Much like a soldier coming home from war, many shelter dogs have been victims of trauma. Every day animal rescue organizations and animal shelters bring in victims of neglect and abuse and it’s important to start the shelter dog rehabilitation process right away.

shelter dog rehabilitation
Abandoned dog

Shelter Dog Rehabilitation

The process of rehabilitation for these pups starts right at the moment of intake.


The first thing that happens after a dog is brought into a shelter is an intake exam. This exam works to determine the physical and emotional state and temperate of the animal. These exams can take anywhere from an hour to a few weeks. This initial assessments helps shelter staff decide what the next best steps for the dog is. Dogs that show little to no signs of physical or emotional trauma are fast tracked through the process. However dogs that do show signs of more trauma such as being shy or defensive will have to start relationship based training programs to help them during the shelter dog rehabilitation process. Typically behavior consultants, vet techs, veterinarians, shelter leaders, and volunteers all play a part in determining what the next best steps for the dog are.


After the intake is complete and any pressing medical issues are addressed, the shelter staff and volunteers will begin taking steps to overcome any emotional or behavioral issues. For example, dogs who suffer from aggression and anxiety will typically lack basic obedience skills.

However, the most challenging problem to overcome during the shelter dog rehabilitation process is fear. Shelter dogs can be fearful for a number of reasons, some of which include a lack of socialization and negative or traumatic experiences. Some dogs with fear issues tend to shut down or run away while others will bark, lunge, and sometimes even bite. With shelter dog rehabilitation processes these fear based responses can be changed into a more positive one.

There are a few remedies and techniques that are used to rehabilitate dogs. For example, when it comes to calming these canines sometimes natural hormones such as melatonin and lavender oils can be extremely helpful. Another option is a thunder shirt or a snug fitting shirt that will give them a feeling of comfort. It is important to remember that not every dog is the same and that shelter dog rehabilitation isn’t a one size fits all process. The most important thing to do is to find techniques that make the dog feel relaxed and comfortable while making sure to use positive reinforce to to instill these calm emotions and behaviors.

Next Steps

In many cases shelter dog rehabilitation at the shelter itself is just the beginning. It is often the responsibility of the adoptive parents to ensure that this training is continued. However, some shelter dogs make the perfect candidates to become service dogs for people in need. Meaning that instead of being adopted right away, our team at Wounded Paw Project will begin to further there rehabilitation and training with us. This training consists of not just emotion based practices and temperament but also specialized treatment for specific disabilities.

Shelter Dog Rehabilitation and Service Training

The shelter dogs that are proper candidates to become service dogs will then begin a whole new process of training. This training works in tandem with the shelter dog rehabilitation process because maintaining their emotional stability is extremely important. Service dogs have to go through extensive training in order to be able to perform disability related tasks.

These dogs however are more than just medical aids, they also become your best friend. This is why continuing the emotional training that takes place during the shelter dog rehabilitation process, along with specialized training is extremely important.

Examples of Service Dogs

When it comes to determining the best candidates in the shelter to become service dogs there are a few characteristics to look at for. During the intake process shelter staff should look out for dogs that are

  • Able to retain information
  • Willing to please
  • Are quick to learn
  • Ready to follow their owners closely and everywhere
  • No reactive to public and strangers
  • Calm and friendly
  • Socialized
  • Alert

Not all of these traits have to be present right away however. Some of these traits can be learned and instilled during the shelter dog rehabilitation process. There are a few different jobs and categories that service dogs can be trained for.

  1. Guide Dogs: these pups go through specific training in order to help people who are visually impaired. They help to bring a new sense of freedom and safety to their owners by
    • Retrieving and carrying some objects
    • Helping avoid obstacles and moving vehicles
    • Locating people or objects on command
    • Signaling any changes in elevation
  2. Hearing Dogs: hearing dogs work to assist people with hearing impairments by:
    • Warning people to any approaching vehicles
    • Alerting their owner to sounds or the presence of other people
    • Carrying messages
    • Retrieving dropped objects
  3. Service Dogs: shelter dog rehabilitation is the first step in training these pups to become service dogs. Depending on the future owner’s disabilities and needs will determine the exact training the dog will need. Some of the tasks that these shelter dogs can be trained to do as they work to become service dogs include:
    • Provide deep pressure therapy
    • Open and close drawers, cabinets, and doors
    • Detect allergens along with low and high blood sugar levels
    • Help people get dressed and undressed
    • Interrupt flashbacks and prevent any self harming behaviors through tactile stimulation
    • Assist people into the upright position
    • Help with insomnia and interrupt nightmares
    • More feet and arms onto wheelchair footrests and armrests
    • Will assess the owners safety and guide them away from stressful or triggering situations
    • Prevent falls and provide stability when needed
    • Find places, vehicles, or their owner when they are disoriented
    • Call 911 in case of any emergencies
    • Bark or search for help on command
    • Identify and alert to symptoms that are occurring

Making Service Dog out of a Shelter Dog

The temperament of shelter dogs depends entirely upon the environment they came from. Imagine being removed from your home, or being abused and neglected, you would be a bit fearful too. These fears can easily be assuaged with shelter dog rehabilitation practices. Thus allowing for the dogs who have the right temperament to stand out and be trained to help people with disabilities. If you are interested in learning more about how we train these shelter dogs into service dogs give us a call today!