How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust

Hard
1-12 Months
General

Introduction

So you've decided that your house is missing the warmth of a canine companion. In efforts to do the right thing, you make a trip to your local shelter to see what pooches are in need of a home. As you're looking, you see the saddest pair of eyes you've ever seen staring out back at you. You know in your heart that you've found your fur-baby, but you still get a little twinge of anxiety when the worker tells you that this dog has been abused.

Defining Tasks

It takes a huge heart and plenty of patience to adopt a pet who is a victim of abuse. Those who have been able to take on the task can vouch that there are few things more rewarding than bringing the joy back into a dog's life. So rest assured, your efforts will not be in vain to gain the trust of one of these shattered souls.

Because every dog and every situation is different, the time it takes to win over an abused pup is really all over the map. Some victims bounce back surprisingly fast, while others never fully recover from their past experiences.

Unfortunately, abuse happens to dogs of all ages. Older pooches have a lower chance of being adopted, so more rehabilitation happens in young to middle-aged dogs. That being said, young dogs generally have a longer road to recovery than canines who were abused at older ages.

Getting Started

Before you bring one of these babies home, you're going to want to be prepared. Your success will depend on how comfortable you can make your new family member, so keep that in mind. It's good to come into this relationship with the following:

  • A Calm Temperament: Dogs feed off of their owner's emotions. If you are uptight and nervous, any interaction with an abused fur-buddy will be tense. Calm yourself down before picking up your new pooch, and practice speaking in a low, quiet tone of voice.
  • Some Alone Time: Many, if not most, abused dogs will only become more distressed if there are multiple people or animals in their new home. Allow your new family member to have a quiet space where you both can slowly get to know one another.

Lots and Lots of Treats: Especially during those first few interactions, you're going to want to reward any contact the dog is willing to initiate.

Top-Quality Food: A lot of abused dogs have never been fed an appropriate diet. Many are even malnourished or super deficient in certain nutrients. Invest in a high-quality dog food or look into feeding your furry friend a balanced raw diet to combat any damage that has been done by a poor diet.

Realistic Expectations and Tons of Patience: It's best not to get your hopes up when working with an abused animal. Recovery looks different on every dog. But also do your best not to get discouraged either. As long as you are providing the pup its best possible life, your efforts are worth it.

Below are a few different methods you can use to build trust with an abused dog. You may need to try a few before you find what works the best in your situation.

The Beat Their Fears Method

Most Recommended
5 Votes
Beat Their Fears method for Trust
Step
1
Identify stressors
Pinpoint what bothers your new pooch the most. Do your best not to induce extra stress figuring this out; it's best to identify their fears through observation.
Step
2
Expose your dog
Come up with a way to expose the dog to their fear in a totally controlled manner. Allow the pup to face their fear in a small way. Do not force them into the situation or push them toward what is scaring them.
Step
3
Encourage
Give the dog treats and or praise throughout the experience so that they associate good things with what once scared them.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat the exercise on a regular basis and consider increasing the amount of time that the dog is exposed to their fear if they begin to show improvement.
Recommend training method?

The Spend Time Alone Together Method

Effective
2 Votes
Spend Time Alone Together method for Trust
Step
1
Choose a spot
Pick a quiet room away from any commotion in your home. De-clutter the space, but leave a dog blanket or bed, a dish of water, and a chair so that you have somewhere to sit.
Step
2
Get together
Bring your new addition into the room with you and close the door. Sit in the seat and occupy yourself while the dog does his own thing.
Step
3
Reward!
Every now and then, place a dog treat near where the pooch is playing.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat this daily until the dog is comfortable approaching you.
Recommend training method?

The Praise With Clicks Method

Least Recommended
3 Votes
Praise With Clicks method for Trust
Step
1
Study up
Learn the ins and outs of clicker training. Read articles and talk to experts to get comfortable with the technique.
Step
2
Get equipped
Get yourself a “clicker” and some treats.
Step
3
Observe and click
Watch your pet closely, and hit the clicker as soon as you witness a good behavior.
Step
4
Reward!
Follow the click with a treat so that the dog knows that the clicker means “good job!”
Step
5
Repeat
Keep doing this! Clicker training is great for abuse victims because it helps build good behaviors without using harsh corrections.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Daisey
AnimalBreed object
5 Years
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Question
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Daisey
AnimalBreed object
5 Years

Daisey comes from an abusive and neglectful environment.

I rescued adopted her in May 2020. She is afraid of everything but is getting each week.

She is on rx spray for a yeast infection in her paw pads. She licks the front of her arm/leg. What should I do to help her?

She is a great sweet girl. Thank you.

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Question
Zues
AnimalBreed object
2 Years
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Question
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Zues
AnimalBreed object
2 Years

We have had Zeus for a year and he goes readily for walks with me he has to be encouraged and leaded out by my husband. This has gone on for the whole year , despite his walking him daily .

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I actually suggest working with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues for this. This is hopefully a simpler issue, but body language and interactions between them at the beginning of and during the walk needs to be observed to see if it's something he is doing, a need for more respect and trust to be built through other types of training, or something in the environment or about the walk that pup is nervous about that needs to be overcome - perhaps pup feels safer with you if so. This likely has to do with their relationship in some way, so someone needs to be able to observe and do a little detective work. He might try practicing regular obedience training with pup daily for 20-30 minutes, using Lure Reward type training to help build trust or respect between them that could be needed. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bear
AnimalBreed object
10 Years
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Question
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Bear
AnimalBreed object
10 Years

Bear has possesion aggression from living in shelters his whole life. He also has a bit of pain and fear aggession from weak joints and mistrust. I was shocked by this when petting him accidentally on a painful space on his arm, he snapped and barked. He then snapped and barked from regular petting on his face. We had an incident last night from me moving his crate so i think we have some mistrust now. Hes only 3 days in my care. He loves people and other dogs. Will we ever get to a place of trust again where he can be comfortable with not only me, but other humans and dogs. I will always warn them now about his legs and just petting the top of his head and back

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kerry, If the pain can be better managed, pup can likely recover with some training, but pain management is something I would speak with your vet about because that will largely determine how much progress pup can make behaviorally. With pain better managed, starting with areas that are not sensitive I suggest working on desensitizing pup to touch using daily meal kibble. At first, simply approach pup and toss a treat when they stay calm. Practice until pup enjoys you approaching. Next, reach your hand toward pup's direction like you are going to touch but don't touch and toss a treat. Practice until pup is happy with that over the course of several sessions. Next, gently touch an area of pup's body they enjoy while feeding a piece of food at the same time with your other hand. As soon as the treat is gone, the touches stop. Continue with various area of pup's body, starting with areas they enjoy and progressing slowly. For example, touch a shoulder and give a treat. Touch their chest and give a treat. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold their collar and give a treat, muzzle and every other area that isn't sore very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Avoid anything that would cause pup pain. Go slow enough pup can relax during these exercises, only touching a new area as pup becomes comfortable with the current touches. Have pup wear a basket muzzle you have desensitized them to ahead of time if you feel pup may bite. The basket muzzle should be such that pup can open their mouth while wearing it to be able to receive treats you pass through the holes or lick the end of a straw dipped in peanut butter or liver paste. Avoid Xylitol in Peanut Butter - it's extremely toxic to dogs. The muzzle introduction should also be done slowly with a nervous dog like yours, likely over the course of a couple of weeks, even though this video shows it being done in one session with a less nervous dog. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s If you feel overwhelmed, the issue isn't improving, or things are getting worse, I suggest hiring a professional trainer with a lot of experience with fear, trauma, and aggression, who comes well recommended by their clients to help you in person. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Scooby
AnimalBreed object
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Scooby
AnimalBreed object
3 Months

I just got my 2 month old and I believe he’s been beaten and treated really bad bc once I took him from the owners he took off running so I went after him I found him scared I tried to get him and he bit me on both of my hands to the point I was bleeding the owner said he’s good with kids and never done this before so I was so scared that I had them take him inside my house right when I walk in my house he took off running to the bathroom and didn’t want me to pick him up he hold his pee and poop and didn’t eat for one day the next morning he peed for 3 minutes straight and poop it’s been 3 days now and he still won’t let me play with him like I can hold him love him and all that but he gets scared when I come near then he won’t run or play just a dog with no excitement

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marissa, Check out the article linked below and the section on shy dogs and humans for ways to gradually build pup's trust. Also check out the PDF e-book linked below. Once pup trust you alright, begin the socialization suggestions in that book to help make up for lost time, due to a possibly bad history or a naturally timid personality. Shy dogs: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Free PDF e-book "AFTER You Get Your Puppy" that can be downloaded at the link below. www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Diesel
AnimalBreed object
2 Years
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Question
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Diesel
AnimalBreed object
2 Years

He loves all men but if a woman is petting him he growls but does not show teeth. He is very sweet men but wants nothing to do with women. What can i do to gain his trust. He was abandoned and abused by a previous woman owner

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brianna, Because of the safety concerns with the risk of being bitten, I do suggest hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression and fear to help in person. Look for someone who comes well recommended by their previous clients who struggled in similar areas with their dogs. To gain pup's trust and respect you will want to reward pup for being calm when you are in the same room with them, without giving direct contact. Don't reward pup acting tense, afraid, or aggressive though. You can use pup's daily meal kibble to do this, having pup work for their food by simply being in the same room as you and you tossing a piece at a time when tolerant. When pup is comfortable being close to you, you can desensitize them to being touched by gently touching pup in an area and giving a treat with each touch. Such as touch the shoulder with one hand and give a treat with your other hand. Touch the chest and treat, the ear, back, collar area, ect...Giving a treat each time. I only suggest doing this is pup is no longer displaying any aggression and a trainer is supervising, or pup has been desensitized to wearing a basket muzzle, is on a back tie leash, and the treats are passed through the muzzle's holes. This can still be low stress to pup if a man he is comfortable with gets him used to wearing a muzzle using his meal kibble and a gradual process of slowly warming him up to it, and pup is taught to stay on a Place bed and is completely comfortable being on there because he is used to being rewarded for staying on it. At that point pup could be back tied with a leash with enough slack in it he wouldn't feel it unless he tried to get off Place, and wear a muzzle he is comfortable, and associate the touches with treats to make this fun - while also making it safe for you. When pup is used to being near you and touching you, then I would start to train pup using mostly lure-reward training, practicing things that help with bonding and trust like Heel. Training a dog in a way that builds trust and respect tends to be one of the best final ways to bond with a dog. Due to the delicate nature of the issue I do still recommend doing these things under the supervision and guidance of a qualified trainer who specializes in behavior issues and comes well recommended. Safety and going at a pace pup can handle should be kept in mind - calmness and confidence is the best attitude for you to have to help pup bond also. Some of the following may help also - but again safety needs to be kept in mind, since your dog isn't just shy, but fearful and potentially aggressive if pushed too far. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Training Success Stories

Success
Avacyn
AnimalBreed object
7 Months

My family got Avacyn a couple months ago and she is still afraid of everyone except my parents who feed her daily. We have tried to feed her but she will go all day without eating if she sees we gave her the food. She only goes around my doberman and will pee herself if I approach her. If my siblings approach her, she will bite them. Sometimes she rushes them and will bite them randomly. I cant get near her due to peeing herself when I approach her. We were told that before us, her and her brother were in a cage and constantly hit and underfeed.

4 months, 3 weeks ago
Success
Dynasty
AnimalBreed object
4 Months

I got Dynasty 1 day ago. I believe she was abused. She is real scary and doesn't like to be touched. She won't eat either. Can anyone give me some advice

6 months ago
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