7 min read


Can Dogs Feel Abuse?



7 min read


Can Dogs Feel Abuse?


To understand if a dog can feel abuse, you might need to ask a person who has endured the trauma of being emotionally and physically mistreated. The shelters are full of abandoned, abused dogs that have no concept of human compassion or kindness. These forgotten pups are likely to think the world is a very bad place. 

Thanks to the caring souls who volunteer their time freely at shelters and rescue organizations, these despondent pups are given a chance to know love and happiness. The stats for dog abuse are scandalous and too often connected to domestic violence in the home. Animal welfare groups scream from the rooftops - it’s time for monumental change. This epidemic of dog abuse tarnishes our moralistic standing as humans.  Dogs can feel abuse and will exhibit the effects in a variety of ways.


Signs a Dog is Feeling the Effects of Abuse

There are distinctive signs a dog will present if a previous owner has abused them. A woofer that has known emotional abuse may cower when approached or lay down with their tail lowered - in a protective, submissive mode.

Volunteers at shelters see this every day and know the signs so well. Dogs arrive looking worse for wear, displaying the psychological scars of their former life. They are frightened and depressed with little trust for humans. They may cry a lot and shrink into the corner of their pen, avoiding contact with people trying to help. This is the sad sight and plight of too many gorgeous dogs that deserve to be treated kindly and with respect.

Some pups turn the other cheek and become aggressive as a result of abuse. This style of dog is not so easy to rehabilitate, as they can snap and attack at any time. These poor pups get bad press, but that’s hardly fair when they’ve been made to endure the frustrations of a lesser soul.

This “bad boy,' mutt will snarl when approached, barring their teeth, as if to say “back off!” Although, surprisingly, this scary stance is likely to be fear based. This terrified pup will be in flight mode with a rigid body, ears back and hackles up. They’ll stare you out and dare you to hurt them again. It could be that they were tied up when the abuse took place and felt helpless.

The side effects of abuse include separation anxiety and food aggression, both serious issues that require patience and re-training, When an abused dog is left alone, they may tear up the house and cause problems by barking and whining. This upset pup will pace up and down while panting profusely or shaking in fear. Aggression around the food bowl can be a sign a dog has been hurt in the past and can lead to excessive growling or biting.

Dogs who have been subjected to abuse arrive at the shelters and rescue organizations. a mere shell of the puppy, born to be loved. They need constant reassurance on the road to recovery as they wear their pain in various ways. Some react violently to loud noises while others can be petrified at the sight of a look-a-like abusive owner. If you’ve adopted a shelter dog with a harsh background, they may hide, as they fear being hurt.

Raising your hand or touching a dog where it has been hit can trigger aggressive behavior. The tone of your voice might cause them to bite, plus seeing a chain or stick could reactivate a traumatic memory. Many mutts urinate constantly while others bark and howl in protest.

Body Language

Here are signs a dog can feel when they are being abused:<br/>

  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Cowering
  • Howling
  • Low Tail Carriage
  • Back Hair On Edge
  • Ears Back

Other Signs

Here are more signs a dog has endured physical or emotional abuse:<br/>

  • Barring Their Teeth
  • Hiding From People
  • Aggressive Behaviour
  • Depressed
  • Acting Submissive
  • Urinating
  • Crying

History of Dog Abuse


There was a time when animal cruelty went unpunished, until the advent of laws and organizations dedicated to protecting those who had no voice. The first signs of change were seen in the early 1800’s with the UK's Cruelty to Animals Act, followed by Germany and India. It wasn’t until 1966 the animal welfare act was signed into law in the US.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded in the 1800's and inspired others to lead the charge in protecting pets, horses, and livestock. Since then, shelters and rescue organizations have put up their hand to support the fight against animal cruelty. They rescue abandoned or lost pets and re-home them where possible. Most are non-profit groups who rely solely on the kind-hearted souls of planet Earth to lend a pawsome hand.

The very first animal shelter in the US was thanks to Caroline Earle-White, who created the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1867, as a haven for animals in need.

The abuse of our dogs and other animals is unfortunately nothing new, as the Roman Empire forced animals to fight each other in the Colosseum. Many ancient cultures put dogs on a pedestal, worshiping them as gods. The modern world has seen a shift in thinking, as some nations have no animal welfare laws and dogs are a commodity, not a companion.

The New York Times featured an enlightening inside-view of animal cruelty and how law enforcement agencies are now working closely with animal cruelty organizations. There’s a growing belief that all kinds of violence including the horrendous sport of dog fighting, is the job of all humanity to see those responsible brought to justice. Dogs are family members we created over thousands of years, so it’s our duty to protect their lives as we would another member of our clan.

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Abuse


Science has been under the judicial microscope for their testing of animals, but has also contributed to a new awareness about how dogs think and feel. Skeptics that believed dogs were not capable of feelings have been proven wrong. 

Our wonderful dogs are emotional and can feel elements of empathy, jealousy, and loss. It also looks like they can remember a lot more than first thought, plus they can sniff out an earthquake, tornado, or even cancer. They become heroic service dogs for the police, blind, and mentally impaired. It’s time to honor dogs and keep them safe.

Today, scientists are in over-drive checking out our pups with a study featuring 69 dogs thought to have endured abuse and comparing them to 5,239 pet mutts. The mistreated pups showed classic signs of aggression, and fear toward strangers. They also displayed attention-seeking behavior. The study likened the dogs to children who have been emotionally neglected. That’s interesting, considering our pups are believed to have the thought process of a 2 to 2-1/2-year-old child.

The study featured on “Companion Animal Psychology,” continued with 53 dogs that had been adopted. The new owners were happy with their choice - proof that dogs who have known a fearful background can find happiness.

Training Tips for Abused Dogs


The recovery process for a darling dog that has been emotionally or physically abused can take awhile, as first, you have to win back trust. That’s a big ask for a wee Maltese who's known a bully or a loyal lab whose been horribly neglected. Like people, our dogs can feel abuse and once all the injuries and bruises heal, the psychological damage is still to be addressed.

Taking on a pup whose view of humans is marred can be a real challenge, but helping a dog to rebuild trust and live a well-rounded life is the ultimate reward. If you are going to adopt a shelter pup with an abusive past, set up a doggy space so when they arrive, you can show them their special place. Timid dogs will make an instant beeline for the open-door crate, while dogs that have been chained or locked up will run a mile. Knowing what was done to the dog can be a great help, but when dogs are found abandoned, it is not always easy to know what happened before their rescue.

When communicating with a mistreated pup, always use a soft, gentle tone as they have probably known the complete opposite. You are re-training this weary woofer to appreciate human kindness and love, so always be aware of hand movements, gestures, and never punish them. There can be no style of force training, as your pup is likely to shut down emotionally. Keep things light and breezy in the early days and let this forgotten pup recover at their own pace.  

Your heart may do a flip when you see them play with a toy for the first time and willingly wag their tail. Take them out for walks, but be aware sights and sounds might set them off, so try to avoid dog parks where bullying might occur. Food treats are a great incentive for a pup that has never been rewarded for anything and they will encourage good behavior. The mission is to turn bad experiences into nice ones and inspire a healthy attitude toward people and other dogs.  

There are dogs with an incredibly forgiving heart like Oogy, a Pit-bull who was tied to a pole and used as bait for fighting dogs. "Animals Abused & Abandoned," explained how he endured terrible injuries, losing his right ear and part of his face. Rescuers discovered this dishonored dog and while he was recovering from surgery, a family decided to adopt him. Oogy became a national celebrity appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show and even had a book written about him. His perilous start heralded a life of love and compassion.

Dogs like Oogy are sitting in shelters right now, confused and depressed. If you have time, patience, and a willingness to help those in need, look no further than your local dog shelter to do some real good.

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Safety Tips for Adopting an Abused Dog

  1. Don't expect much when they first come home.
  2. Make a place they can retreat to when they feel stressed.
  3. Never punish an abused dog.
  4. Talk to your pooch in gentle tones.
  5. Reward with treats and praise.
  6. Let them go at their own pace.
  7. Make sure your pooch gets plenty of nutrition and exercise.

Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/04/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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