How to Rehabilitate an Abused Dog
Despite doing your best to bring home the perfect adopted dog, somehow you’ve ended up with a maladjusted, abused dog. Whether you’ve taken on a behavior case out of the goodness of your heart or you were duped into adopting a quirky little guy who had a “rough start,” you’re probably wondering what on earth to do now. So here are tips on adopting an abused dog. The first thing to understand is if your adopted pet was a victim of dog abuse, be it neglect or physical abuse, there’s a range of difficult behaviors you’re probably seeing, most of which will be fear based.
Fear based behavior is a term used to describe your abused dog’s reaction to unwanted and frightening stimuli. Your adopted dog may choose to avoid the situation by retreating or trying to hide, he may cower and pee submissively, or he may be so scared that he decides to attack. It’s important to note that any adopted dog showing fear based behaviors has the capacity to become aggressive as a result of extreme fright. If you have small children or an active household, it is dangerous to adopt an abused dog with these issues.
Patience is going to be vital to making any kind of progress with your adopted abused dog. If your adopted dog is untrusting of you, you’re going to have to wait for him to come to you for affection. In the meantime, establishing a routine will be the most comforting thing you can do. Getting your new dog used to feeding times, walking routes, etc., will help him start to trust you. Exercise and outside time in general is a great way to bond with your abused dog as well, especially if he’s not ready to play or be petted yet. Set up his bed so he has a safe place of his own to retreat to. Avoid providing high value treats like pig ears or meaty bones until you know whether or not your new dog guards toys or food.
Be vigilant while watching for triggers that set off your adopted dog’s fear based behaviors. If your adopted dog was in an abusive home, making loud noises, sudden movements, or even walking into a room unannounced could be frightening. Try to be mindful of these triggers and reward improvements in behavior, however small they may be, with a few small treats. If the triggers are more concrete (i.e., fear of garbage bags, certain types of footwear, or other household objects), you can try to desensitize the dog gradually, but not until he has settled into your home and has become comfortable with you.
Essentially, when adopting an abused dog, you need to resign yourself to the notion that he may never be “a normal dog.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t coexist happily. Do your best as an owner to ease your dog’s anxiety, but know that he may not ever fully recover from the trauma he has experienced. Your dog is going to need time, patience, and a lot of forgiveness. Knowing what types of stimuli sets off your adopted dog’s fear based behaviors will be crucial to your ability to create a life together. Managing those behaviors might entail avoiding those stimuli altogether if desensitization or other behavior modifications don’t work. In other words, if your adopted dog Frosty attacks white sneakers because he was kicked by someone who wore white sneakers, life together might mean you will be saying goodbye to your Keds, but Frosty will surely thank you for it.