How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust

How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon1-12 Months
General training category iconGeneral

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

The Beat Their Fears Method

Most Recommended

8 Votes

Ribbon icon

Most Recommended

8 Votes

Ribbon icon
Beat Their Fears method for How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust
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.

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.

3

Encourage

Give the dog treats and or praise throughout the experience so that they associate good things with what once scared them.

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.

The Praise With Clicks Method

Effective

6 Votes

Ribbon icon

Effective

6 Votes

Ribbon icon
Praise With Clicks method for How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust
1

Study up

Learn the ins and outs of clicker training. Read articles and talk to experts to get comfortable with the technique.

2

Get equipped

Get yourself a “clicker” and some treats.

3

Observe and click

Watch your pet closely, and hit the clicker as soon as you witness a good behavior.

4

Reward!

Follow the click with a treat so that the dog knows that the clicker means “good job!”

5

Repeat

Keep doing this! Clicker training is great for abuse victims because it helps build good behaviors without using harsh corrections.

The Spend Time Alone Together Method

Least Recommended

2 Votes

Ribbon icon

Least Recommended

2 Votes

Ribbon icon
Spend Time Alone Together method for How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust
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.

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.

3

Reward!

Every now and then, place a dog treat near where the pooch is playing.

4

Repeat

Repeat this daily until the dog is comfortable approaching you.

By Amy Caldwell

Published: 09/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

Have a question?

Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Oso

Dog breed icon

pekapom

Dog age icon

Two Years

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found this helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found this helpful

Hi, I just adopted my dog, Oso and he is very nervous. He was not treated well in his last home and now struggles to trust humans. Even if I try to go up to him, he will show his teeth or whine. He hangs out in the corner near the front door and only comes out for food. It is a very sad situation and we need help.

Oct. 4, 2023

Oso's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would spend the next month focusing on her relationship with you. You will need to work on him getting used to the outside world also, but that will be a gradual progression. Sit down - so that pup is calmer, and toss pup his dinner kibble one piece at a time without making eye contact. Do this as often as you can. Keep enough distance between you for pup to relax enough to eat the food. As he gets more comfortable, decrease the distance by tossing the treats slightly less far, so that pup has to come closer to you to eat them. Watch pup's body language to determine when pup is relaxed enough to decrease the distance - don't rush this process but do practice often at the current distance. You don't just want pup to get as close as possible, you want to watch his body language to help him actually relax before decreasing distance, so he is feeling better about you. When pup will come within a foot of your chair to eat the food and is relaxed at that distance, start to practice this in other positions like standing up, sitting on the ground or laying down. When you change positions, you will likely need to go back to tossing the treats further away again because the new position will probably make him nervous. Once pup will go up to your chair when you are sitting or in one of the other positions and is even more comfortable with you both in general, put on a harness or martingale type collar that pup cannot get out of on pup. Spend time slowly introducing the harness or collar using the method from the video linked below once pup is comfortable enough to get closer to you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title When pup is comfortable with everyone, then also move onto teaching him to enjoy physical touch and handling too. Use puppy's daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of puppy's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold his collar and give a treat. Touch his tail gently and give a treat. Touch his belly, his other paws, his chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. When pup is okay with all the touches, then add in lifting. Put your hand on his belly and chest and give a treat without lifting. Do that until pup is comfortable with that, then move onto lifting just and inch then putting back down and giving a treat. Gradually add height as pup improves, keeping these lifts small and short at first. When pup is more comfortable with you, then I would work on desensitizing to outside. Choose a secure, front-clip type harness or martingale type collar. Ideally, practice this in a fenced in area since pup may be a flight risk. Clip his leash on the harness on at first just find a calm spot to sit and hang out, bring a book if you want, and just stay there for at least thirty minutes to let pup take in that area without the constant change of a walk. When pup is okay with that area after lots of practice, start adding in new locations around your neighborhood to do this in. Pup may be too nervous to take food at first, but if he isn't, you can practice tricks and commands with treats, let him find them in the grass (be sure it hasn't been treated with pesticides or a driveway doesn't have oil or anti-frost type spills), or bring a couple favorite toys stuffed with yummy treats to help him relax. When pup is okay with multiple locations in your area, then start walks. Keep walks short and calm at first, giving treats whenever pup is relaxed, focusing on you, curious and brave about new things, or trying to decide whether to be afraid or okay with something - to help pup decide to be brave instead. Don't reward unwanted responses though, try to distract and keep your attitude calm, confident and upbeat - never worried or soothing, but act the way you want pup to feel - happy and confident. Check out the article linked below as well. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ If you aren't seeing improvement, I highly suggest working with a trainer because additional training may be needed, and you may someone who can monitor how pup is doing and tailor the training plan based on that. Be careful not to put too much pressure on her, corner her, or surprise her - a fearful dog is likely to bite and you don't want to get bitten. If you feel you can't train safely, go ahead and get professional help to guide you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 10, 2023

Dog nametag icon

Freddo

Dog breed icon

kelpie/Lab Mix

Dog age icon

One Year

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found this helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found this helpful

The dog (male non neutered) was adopted at 2 months and returned to the adoption agency at current age 1yrs old. There was abuse during the adoption period and limited training. I have had the dog for 6 days, his behavior has been friendly and we have made progress on leash training, however. He recently exhibited aggressive behavior (once last night/ the other this morning - both feedings happened after long walks)... in the most recent interaction(this am) I was carrying a computer and he lunged and growled at me and bit me .. he is in the crate - wondering how to manage this given abuse?

Sept. 7, 2023

Freddo's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would start by having a professional who is very experienced with fear and aggression evaluate him in person. Abuse and likely a neglect in socialization, can lead to various types of aggression; how aggression is addressed depends a lot on the types present more than just the history of abuse. I suspect there is resource guarding, fear based aggression, and probably generalized aggression all present. Resource guarding is often addressed by building respect through obedience command practice with a basket muzzle in place for safety- where pup learns to respect you because of a mental working relationship, rather than rough handling. As well as trust through counter conditioning with safety measures like a back tie leash, where pup is rewarded each time they stay calm when you pass their food, progressively decreasing the distance and increasing the amount of interaction, i.e eye contact, speaking to them. Fear based aggression involves reading the dog's body language cues and taking that into account with the space and contact you give the dog, as well as using rewards to pair your presence and interaction with good things. This should also involve safety measures being in place while interacting. General aggression where the dog has learned to use aggression to control the actions of someone to either avoid something they find scary, move the person away, or simply get what they want - like keeping you out of a space or from doing something they don't want you to do, is addressed by combining several things, including counter conditioning for calm behavior, structured obedience, having the dog work for everything they get, and consistent follow through on commands and household rules - through the use of certain safety measures or tools that keep everyone safe. None of this is unfortunately simply, so I recommend working with a highly qualified trainer or animal behaviorist who can guide you in that process, help desensitize Freddo to wearing a basket muzzle so you can train and interact safely along the way, and teach you how to read Freddo's body language. Ask the trainer a lot of questions about their experience with such cases and check their reviews or references to make sure the trainer is qualified in this area - many trainers don't specialize in aggression. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 6, 2023


Wag! Specialist
Need training help?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

Install


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.