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

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
7 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

ribbon-method-3
Effective
6 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?

The Spend Time Alone Together Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
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?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jack
Labrador/Great Pyrenese
6 Months
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Question
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Jack
Labrador/Great Pyrenese
6 Months

Jack was dumped along a county road with his siblings at about 8 - 10 weeks. A neighbor found them and over a course if a week she finally got them all corralled. We adopted Jack a week ago. He’s sweet and extremely calm. He will just lay in front of or inside his dog house all day and night. Only coming out on his own to eat or relieve himself. We coax him out several times a day and take him for a walk on his leash. As soon as you take his leash off he heads strait back to his house.
How do we socialize Jack and get him out of his box?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tammy, Check out the video series on shy dogs I have linked below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-CCJxF-9U4&list=PLXtcKXk-QWoivpkvXgqhAC44tlofiw-CS&index=4 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Azula
Pitbull/weimaraner
5 Months
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Azula
Pitbull/weimaraner
5 Months

She whines, all the time. When she’s bored, when she’s excited, when she wants something, when she doesn’t like something which quickly escalates to screeching. She pees when she gets scared and sometimes for no reason in the middle of the room after being taken out. It seems like all she cares about it is attention but then when she gets scared by something she’ll run away and pout somewhere which is usually when she ends up peeing for no apparent reason. We’ll be playing with her and then someone will accidentally push her too hard or move too quickly and she’ll screech and run away. We don’t know what to do as we’ve never dealt with something like this before. She doesn’t act like an abused dog that doesn’t like being touched, but she will scream and run away or pee about literally anything

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alex, First, I would make sure there isn't a medical issue making certain touches sensitive - like an ear infection, undiagnosed bone fracture, ect...I am not a vet so refer to your vet about that. Many breeds will power through injuries and seem fine most of the time, until something specific happens to indicate it. Pitbulls are known to be physically tough and power through injuries, so I would just make sure there isn't something undiagnosed going on. My own retriever had a bad ear infection we missed at first because she didn't make much fuss about it. I know of others who have had tooth or bone injuries and acted fine most of the time. Second, some dogs are just more emotionally sensitive and vocal. I know of many who scream when they dislike something, not because they are hurt but because they are just overly sensitive in anticipation of something happening. Often desensitizing helps in these situations - where you gradually practice gentle versions of the things pup is overly sensitive to now, but give a reward every time pup tolerates it calmly. Keep these touches and experiences very gentle at first to ease into the real situation. She is probably a dog who would benefit from more structure and calm routines in general. Some dogs have a hard time self-regulating, and need additional structure and boundaries to facilitate that for them. Commands like Place, Out, Down, Quiet, Heel, Leave It, Drop It, Off, Stay, Sit, and incorporating those commands into pup's day, are some examples. For instance, during the walk pup could heel instead of just walking in front. Pup could practice being on Place for 1 hour (working up to that gradually) while they chew a chew toy there. Pup could be asked to Sit, Down, or Wait before giving dinner, tossing a treat, or even petting. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Gismo
miniature poodle
4 Years
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Question
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Gismo
miniature poodle
4 Years

The dog came from an abused home. Doesnt want me near him (male). And barks incessantly

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mark, If pup will take food from you, work on associating your presence with food - whenever you enter the room, pup comes over, or they stay calm around you, gently toss pup a piece of kibble throughout the day when you are home. Ration pup's kibble into a couple of ziploc bags for each of you and you can feed pup their entire daily food this way. Also give it time. Once pup is completely comfortable with your presence, you can work up to getting pup used to touch using those same bags of pup's kibble - except now, give pup a piece each time you gently touch them somewhere - like a shoulder, ear, collar, ect...Only touch for as long as it takes pup to eat the food, then remove your hand until the next treat is given. Will pup let you put a collar and leash on them? If not, when pup is okay with your light touch, work on introducing a collar and leash gradually. Simply sprinkling treats around both on the ground for a while, then holding them and letting pup eat food out of the hand holding them, then loosening the collar all the way and holding a treat through it - until pup will willingly put their head all the way through, then feeding pup treats while their head is in the loose collar while you tighten and loosen it to get pup used to that feeling. You may need a second person for the last part of the training - you will gradually introduce it over the course of several days - going at a pace pup can handle. Example of how you will do the collar (but more gradually in your case) with harness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Leash introduction: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash More trust building once pup is okay being closer to you - the section on shy dogs and humans: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Once pup has a relationship with you, I would desensitize pup to what they bark at. Barking video series - desensitization: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a You may also need to work with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like fear, for specific issues or if you find pup isn't making progress, to tailor a training program to you that's based on how pup is responding in real time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mo
Great Dane
2 Years
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Question
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Mo
Great Dane
2 Years

He doesn’t wanna walk ahead of me and won’t walk if I try to only stay behind him and encourage him to go ahead he gets really scared and he’ll just sit or lay down I’ve tried the choking method which doesn’t seem to work to get him to listen I’m going to try the clicker but I really just want him to stop being scared he’s literally scared of every person even ones he already knows when they come to re-meet him because he’s been beaten so bad he was physically abused In his last home he had no space and no personal area he had a dog bed and then I got taken away when the cat peed on it he’s come a long way but it’s now at a frustrating point where he seems to think I’m going to abuse him and just cowers and peas

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brandon, I would use a long spoon, like the kool-aid spoons a long wooden spoon or a lick stick (as long as those things weren't used to beat him - in which case get creative with using something long he doesn't associate with that), and smear peanut butter (avoid xylitol sweetener - it's extremely toxic to dogs), or liver paste (usually healthiest option is low sodium or sodium free), or soft cheese on the end of it. Let him lick it as he keeps moving next to you. As he relaxes while licking, slowly inch him forward by moving the stick a bit more in front. Check out this youtube channel for additional tips on fearfulness. Unfortunately fearfulness of this level does take time to address. Look for small improvements to stay encouraged. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtcKXk-QWoivpkvXgqhAC44tlofiw-CS Shy dogs article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ When you are around something pup finds a bit scary always try to act upbeat and confident yourself, like it's no big deal. Sometimes if you do a silly dance and get goofy that can help pup take their cues from you and get excited about playing with you and get over a fear more quickly too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mu
Chiweenie
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Mu
Chiweenie
3 Years

Was abused cowers when approached. Won’t eat dog food. And isn’t house trained. I’m determined to get him out of his shell and to trust again. Hw doesn’t seem to like men?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Deborah, I would spend the next month focusing on his relationship with you. You will need to work on him getting used to the outside world also, but that will be a gradual progression. Not taking food is a sign of stress. I would simply calmly co-exist with pup, ignoring and avoiding direct eye contact for the next week, until they relax enough to be a little more interested in food. I would try mixing pup's kibble with tasty food, like sodium free liver paste, plain chicken, or potentially a little goats milk. Check with your vet for any nutritional or health concerns in choosing what to mix it with. When you feed pup, I would feed them in a closed room, or if comfortable with a crate - a crate, so pup is more willing to eat without you around at first. For pottying, until pup can walk on a leash with you or use a crate, I would set up an exercise pen and cover the floor of it with disposable real grass pads, having pup stay in there at night and when you are away and whenever it's been at least two hours since pup last went potty. Once pup is okay with your presence, then I would switch to tethering pup to yourself or crate training to get pup to start going potty outside on the grass out there. Once pup is less stressed and more interested in food again, sit down - so that pup is calmer, and toss pup him dinner kibble or something he loves that's healthy, like plain chicken, one small 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. Avoid suddenly reaching out to touch pup or that can set him back or lead to a fear bite if done too soon. 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 lying 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 in general, put on a harness or martingale type collar on pup that pup cannot get out of, since pup is a flight risk while fearful. 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 and allow gentle touch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title When pup is comfortable with everyone who lives in the home, then also move onto teaching him to enjoy physical touch and handling too. Use pup's daily meal kibble or the chicken/healthy treat 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, and going at pup's pace. When pup is more comfortable with you, then I would work on desensitizing to outside. Using the harness or collar you have been desensitizing pup to, 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. If pup prefers play, then offer play in addition to or instead of treats. Pay attention to what pup loves and use that. 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/ For the fear of men, you will recruit gentle male friends or a training group with male trainers to practice the same steps you are taking to get pup used to use, one new person at a time gradually. 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. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Success
Avacyn
German Shepherd
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.

2 years ago
Success
Dynasty
Mini Pincher
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

2 years, 1 month ago
work with your dog and try different food to see which one your dog likes best. try to let your dog come to you more so of you come to it.
Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd