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 Spend Time Alone Together Method

Effective
0 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 Beat Their Fears Method

Effective
0 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 Praise With Clicks Method

Effective
0 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

Question
Freya
Staffordshire
1 Year
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Question
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Freya
Staffordshire
1 Year

So recently my husband and I adopted a dog. She was adopted as a stray so the shelter wasn't able to provide us any information of her past. We think she was abused or neglected as far as attention goes. She is skittish and quiet. She does not bark. Overall, she is a very good dog despite our lack of knowledge on her. Now, I am writing because I want to make sure I make her comfortable with us and I want to instill my authority. She has recently been ignoring my commands. Mainly at dinner time - she refuses to eat her food and insist on following us for table food. I want her to eat good, but I don't want to have to feed her nothing but table food or scraps. what can I do? Also, she will go to her bed and chew on it aggressivley, what could that be? I'm thinking a replacement technique for something, but I can't even imagine for what since there's no stimulus that causes her to do it - at least not that I know of. I read it could just be because she's bored or anxious? Do you have any tips that can help us gain her trust and respect for us as her "alphas" so that she listens to our commands and starts eating her own food??

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
81 Dog owners recommended

Hello Freya, I would recommend teaching Freya the "Place" command and enforcing it very consistently. Have her lay on her "Place" at meal times so that she never expects to be given people food. After you are finished eating your meal, then put her own food down and release her from the place command to go eat her food. By that point your food should be put away and her only option is to eat her own food. She will also be learning to patiently wait for you to finish your food before she is fed at the same time, which will be good for her self-control. She might protest being ignored by continually trying to get up or by barking at first. Expect that at first and be ready to firmly send her back to her own bed. You can also purchase a chew proof leash called VirChewyLy and attach one end of it to somewhere by the "Place" and then clip her to it so that she cannot get off of the place. Do this until she forms a habit of staying there during meal times and no longer tries to get off, then you can work on enforcing her staying on the bed out of respect for you without the leash when she is less resistant and has learned not to expect food from the table in general. Right now while you are feeding her her own food during your meal time, it is normal for her to resist eating her own food because she wants to keep room in her stomach to eat yours, just in case you give in and give her some or she is able to steal some. Feeding her after you eat, making her wait on her place during meal times, and never feeding her from the table should help her eat her own food when you do give it to her. If she continues to be picky even after that, then consider switching her to another dry dog food. Some dogs will be picky because their own food bothers them due to an allergy to an ingredient or a specific formulation that doesn't agree with their stomachs. Often switching to another food will help. Look for a food that is a decent quality and has a different recipe. Make the switch gradually to avoid upsetting her stomach however. It does not sound like this is Freya's issue, but if she continues to be a picky eater after you have added the place command and changed her feeding schedule, try switching foods then. For the bed chewing give her an interesting chew toy to concentrate on while she is on there. She is young enough that it is normal for her to have a need to chew still. You can also place some of her own dry dog food into a bowl with water, let it sit out until the food turns into mush, and then loosely stuff a medium or large classic Kong toy with it. This will get her more interested in her own dinner and give her something to alleviate boredom with while you eat your own food. You can also make several of these ahead of time with multiple Kongs, freeze all of them, and then simply pull them out of the freezer at meal times while she is on her place. The bed chewing could be anxiety related but it is more likely that she simply enjoys the chewing with her age, and it helps her to relieve boredom. Giving her good chew toys like food stuffed toys and deer antlers will help with the boredom. To help her break the habit that she thinks is great fun, look into purchasing a more chewproof bed while she is young. PrimoPads makes firm kennel pad beds that withstand chewing well. Cot type beds are also good options. Once she is older, has developed a habit of chewing toys and not other items, and is less likely to chew, then you can reintroduce stuffed beds and see how she does. https://www.primopads.com/ To work on her general respect toward you without being overly harsh with her check out the article that I have linked below and focus the most on the "Obedience" method. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you For her "Place" you can use anything visible that is large enough for her to lay on. Something like a cot or PrimoPad will be more comfortable, but a mat or towel that is a clearly defined area will work. You simply want something that is big enough for her to lay on, stand on, or sit on. She can be in any position but she cannot get off of that place until she is release when you tell her "Okay" or "Free". Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Emily
Great Dane
17 Weeks
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Question
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Emily
Great Dane
17 Weeks

We got Izzy on April 2nd. She was abused (kicked and hit is what we were told) in her past home. When Izzy is on a couch or bed and she doesn't want to get off, she will ignore you calling her and wag her tail. Then after many efforts, we will have to take her off and she as soon as we grab her, she will start peeing (still wagging her tail and staring). If she doesn't want to go in her kennel when we leave and ask her to go in, she runs to the couch and wags her tail while staring and we have to go through the process again. Same with going outside to go potty when it's raining (she hates the rain, but we live in WA so it is always raining). Some days she will go into her kennel no problem. But other days she won't. I have trained all my dogs I have had my self dealing with Separation anxiety, fearfulness, sassy dog syndrome (lol). But this one, I just don't know what to do.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
81 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emily, To avoid the peeing while still enforcing your rules, purchase a drag line and leave it attached to Izzy's collar whenever you are at home. A drag line is simply a four or six foot leash that does not have a loop or handle on the end, so it is less likely to get caught on things. If she is likely to chew on it, then you can purchase a chew proof one from VirChewLy or a similar company. You can also make your own by purchasing a thin metal tie out line, with rubber coating covering it, and then use wire cutters to cut the line into a six foot leash. If the end is sharp bend it against itself and use a metal clamp piece from a hardware store to keep it there and cover the rough end. Work on the "Off" command with her with treats, and the "Room" or "Kennel" command also with treats, and then after she knows those commands, when it is time to enforce them and she will not listen, quietly pick up the leash end without touching her and move her off of the couch or into the crate. If she obeys you when you tell her to move then give her a treat, if she does not and you have to move her, do not say anything to her, simply move her off of the couch and remain calm. With consistency and calmness Izzy should learn that she has to comply but because you are not touching her her anxiety and submissive peeing should decrease. You can use this same tactic for taking her outside. Simply grab the leash and tell her it's time to go, then take her out. If she pees in the rain, then praise her and give her five small treats, one at a time, to help her like it better in the future. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Indigo
Boxer Pitbull Terrier
1 Year
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Question
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Indigo
Boxer Pitbull Terrier
1 Year

I've only had the dog for a week tomorrow (Monday). She's pretty skittish. It wasn't until yesterday Shes barked for the first time. Today when I took her for a walk near where I work I saw several interns from work and She started barking at people. It makes me nervous that she might become aggressive once she becomes comfortable around me. Is there anything I can do to help her not to bark when she meets people specifically Men?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
81 Dog owners recommended

Hello Bekah, She is likely barking out of fear. Many fearful dogs will act scary to keep people that they are afraid of away from them. The best way to prevent fear aggression is to deal with the fear. What you can begin to do is to make the presence of new people a very positive experience for her. Whenever she sees a new person, when she is still acting calmly while they are at a distance, praise her and offer her treats for looking at the person calmly and for looking at you for direction. As she begins to get more confident, then you can gradually decrease the distance between her and the strangers, keeping her far enough away still while you reward her, for her to feel safe and remain calm. Overtime that distance should gradually decrease. It is important to remain very confident, upbeat, and happy yourself while you interact with her and praise her. Do not baby talk or sound nervous or angry but simply confident and happy. If you can get friends or family to help you then you can also utilize their help to build her confidence. To do this, have them come over one at a time to your home or meet you in a public place, as if he or she is a stranger that you are meeting. Have your friend stand still and ignore your dog while talking to like normal in a calm and friendly voice. Allow your dog to approach him when she is ready, while your dog is investigating, have your friend toss treats onto the floor near her while ignoring her still. When your dog is acting very confident around that person then your friend can gradually increase giving her normal eye contact, talking to her, and eventually touching her gently. Allow her to initiate the interactions as she warms up though, so that she will feel safe. Have as many people as possible help with you, one at a time, focusing especially on men. If at any point you feel like she does have a true aggression problem, then I would contact a local trainer in your area with experience in dealing with fear aggressive dogs. Somewhere with multiple trainers might be the most helpful because they will be able to utilize lots of new people, who are all experienced in dealing with dogs. These new people will be strangers to your dog even though they are trainers, so can help with the socialization also. Best of luck in training, Caitlin Crittenden

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