Back to CWH home page

Advice for Helping the abused dog

From OZdogs:

Sprite is about a year old and is a border collie/corgi mix.  She was found tied to a fence on the side of a deserted road.

She is the sweetest, most affectionate dog you can imagine but she has a deep phobia of other dogs.  This fear rules her life.  However, she is happy around people and never shows fear of them.

Sprite began showing fear of my dogs so I kept her by herself for a couple of days to let her settle in.  When I introduced her to the other dogs however, she threw herself on her back, rolling her eyes and drooling.  She urinated and shook.  This behaviour continued as soon as she got anywhere near another dog (she wouldn't even go anywhere near where the dogs had been sleeping).  The strange thing was, as soon as I got her by herself, with the door shut she seemed almost outgoing, certainly not timid or fearful.

I had never dealt with a dog-phobic dog before, plenty of fear aggression and fear of people, objects and situations but never one of her own species.  I tried to keep her away from the other dogs while building her confidence around people.  She learned that downstairs was a safe place, with plenty of hidey holes, a huge 'den' for her.  Once she was happy there I put my old, gentleman huntaway foster, Sam in with her. He is the kind of dog that doesn't even notice other dogs around him!  She had 4 rooms down there to 'escape' from him if she wished.

During the day I would put Sam in with her and at night I crated her.  After just over a week she came running up to say hello to me and when Sam followed her, she just backed away calmly, gently mouthing and averting her eyes, no rolling or urinating.

I don't know if I dealt with her properly, but it seemed to work, and I was very lucky to have old Sam to help me.  She will still go out of her way to avoid other dogs, but will now enter a room (on tip-toes) that Sam is in (not the other dogs yet) and creep to the other side to go to sleep.  If he gets up she quickly removes herself.  It's early days yet and I want her to trust Sam before moving on to another dog.

I am letting her control her own recovery now.  I'm not pushing anything with her.  Every day I see an improvement, or a few steps back, but as long as shes moving I don't mind!

I think with a dog like Sprite, or any phobic, submissive dog, the most important thing is not to push anything.  I always gave Sprite a way out, somewhere to retreat to when things got too much for her.  Without making her fear worse, or justifying her fear, I tried to let her prove to herself that encouters with dogs aren't always what she imagined.  Sprite's phobia was deeply ingrained, and I'll never know what caused it.  I felt the only way for her to work through it was to figure things out for herself, offering an escape route and not pushing her to work it out.  I didn't really do much, Sam and Sprite deserve all the credit!

With a phobia, you can't take control of the dog and force it into situations.  Trust is needed, but IMHO, you can't walk a dog through every step of the fear.  Coming from a background of working dogs, I don't teach dependency to my dogs.  A dog that can't handle a situation by itself is not a happy dog. He will 'glue' to your side so *you* can deal with the problem, not him.  I have a velcro dog, but she does not depend on me for assurance at every step.  I love velcro dogs, as long as they can handle situations without me.

A rescue with a phobia is a challenge, but with patience and a passive role in the recovery, it can be resolved.  I don't know if this method is tried and true, I suppose nothing is in the world of rescue.  It worked for my dog, and my circumstances.  This is how I would tend to deal with a phobia, allow the dog to make the choices.  Some people will disagree but I believe assess each dog as an individual, maybe this wouldn't have worked if Sprite was older, or she had completely lost her faith in life (I've seen that in other rescues) or she was aggressive but it did work.

All I know, is that she is beginning to trust, she is making progress and one day she will be a happy, outgoing and confident little girl.

Good luck

~Kristin (OZdogs)

Back to Helping The Abused Dog page

Here's a contribution from Dax O'Buff, holistic behaviorist/trainer and host
to 6 dogs, 3 of whom were rescues from abusive situations.

Consistency -- The First Gift to Give An Abused Dog

(caveat:  severe cases of abuse belong in the hands of experienced and knowledgeable behaviorists.)

Trust does not come easily to an abused dog.  Depending on his circumstances, he may have learned to react to the abuse by fleeing, fighting, or freezing.  Although the three reactions are different, the first step in reaching these dogs is to provide them with something they can come to trust:  a consistent schedule.

People who advocate immediate formal obedience training for such dogs overlook the fact that dogs need to be able to think and react in order to understand what is being taught.  Fearful, untrusting dogs cannot think of anything except escaping what is frightening them.  Some will try to run away at any opportunity, or create opportunities to run.  Some will demonstrate aggression.  Some will simply turn their backs and refuse to see what is going on around them.  Rehabilitating them will take a very long time and is best done by someone who understands canine behavior.  It is not an overnight process.  With a severely abused dog it may take months before you see the first glimmer of light in eyes that have had no soul shining through them.

Emotional appeals to the dogs in this fearful state are fruitless.  They cannot be felt by the dog, or worse, may be interpreted by the dog as reinforcement of the fearful behavior, making the fear more deeply ingrained.  The better way to approach them is for the handler/fosterer/new owner to quietly and confidently take on a leadership role.  Come up with a schedule and stick to it.  Breakfast at a certain time each day, fed in the same spot, followed by a walk outside, followed by free time in a securely fenced area (keep a long line on any dog that will not come when called) -- whatever your personal schedule, keep it consistent.  Let it be the first thing your abused dog can come to count on.  Knowing that a certain thing will happen at a certain time will give the dog some confidence and is the first step in bonding with you.

In an extreme example, you may have to move the dog from its crate to the outside fenced area using a rabies pole.  As the dog comes to expect to be let out at a certain time you may be able to use a leash instead of the pole, dropping it and letting him drag it when he gets outside.  Eventually, the leash becomes a short tab on the collar, and the dog is going in and out on his own.  This is the beginning of trust.  And incidentally, it is also the foundation upon which later obedience training can be made.  Depending on the dog, you might want to incorporate some clicker training here, if the dog is not frightened by the sound of a clicker.  If it is frightened by the sound then you can give it a gentle word, such as "Yes!" in place of the click.  Once the dog is outside in the yard, you might want to place a yummy treat in the back of the dog's crate.  Then, when you let the dog inside, and he's heading into his crate, you say "in", and click just before he eats the treat. (You will find more on crate training dogs  on my website.)  Again, though, let the dog guide you.  Do only what he can tolerate without becoming stressed.  Some signs of stress are panting, licking lips, yawning, and tail clamped between the legs.

While you are being the abused dog's leader, you want to present to him a friendly but somewhat aloof manner. Try to remember your posture, and don't appear submissive to him by bending over or crouching down to his eye level.   If you do that, he will feel that he has to become the leader, since you are obviously failing at the job, and that will just make him feel more insecure.  Later, much later, when he has regained his confidence, you don't have to be so vigilant.

If the dog can tolerate it, an excellent method to help him bond to you is the umbilical method.  This is where the dog is attached to a leash and the leash is attached to you.  The dog is your shadow as you go about your daily routine.  You are there to show him house rules, and you do it firmly but kindly, with no emotional overtones.  Treat your abused dog like a cat:  let him be the first one to make an overture.  He might interpret sudden fast moves as an attack, so think about slowing down for a while.  Try not to yell at the kids or your spouse because your abused dog will think you're yelling at him.  If there are kids involved, teach them the rules and don't leave them unsupervised with the dog.  Let the dog sleep in a crate next to your bed.  If necessary, keep a leash on him, and poke the leash through the crate wire so that you can have immediate control over him.   Be very observant and very aware so you can positively reinforce any step toward a wanted behavior.  For example, if the abused dog happens to glance up and meet your eyes, you want to smile and give gentle praise or a treat.

Positive imaging can also help.  Dogs are mirrors of our own emotional state and quite often you can change a dog's behavior by holding and projecting a positive image of the behavior you want.  See your new dog as being confident and greeting strangers in a friendly manner and you might find him calming down when in a crowded area.  You may want to try giving him a homeopathic remedy or flower essence to help him find an emotional balance.  Certainly, you will want to put the dog on an optimal diet, the first line to restoring mental and physical health.

Change comes slowly to the abused dog.  With patience, kindness, good diet, and most important, consistency, healing of body and mind will come to the abused soul.  Dogs are wonderfully forgiving creatures who will, more often then not, respond to humane treatment by learning to trust again.

Back to Helping The Abused Dog page

From Sabrina:

I adopted a SEVERELY abused Catahoula Leopard Dog mix in April of this year. I wasn't planning to adopt a dog, but was at the local county animal shelter to help someone else choose a dog. When I walked by this dog's cage, he went into a tail-wagging, wiggling frenzy! I stopped and he frantically licked my hand. I asked the prisoners who work at the shelter if I could take him out of the cage. Even though it is their policy to let people meet dogs if they request it, the prisoners said they did not want to let this particular dog out because he was "too wild". I was surprised, but after observing him, saw that he was afraid of everyone else and would act agressively toward them. He still behaved as if he knew me and would not take his eyes off of me as I walked around the shelter.  Of course, I was hooked! There was no way I could leave him to be euthanized, because I knew no one else would adopt him!

After the required 3 day waiting period, I picked him up. It took 2 prisoners to wrestle him into my car. He was fighting to get away from them the whole time, and once they got him in the car, he was determined to escape from the car. I took him directly to the vet for a check-up, shots, etc. The vet told me that  I might not be able to keep him because he was so uncontrollable. She also said it was obvious that he had been severely abused, was afraid of people and was very ill. He was in such bad shape that she thought he might only have a 50-50 chance of living. He weighed only 41 pounds and should have weighed approximately 60 to 70 pounds.

I took him home, put him in a huge wire cage in the family room, and started nursing him back to health. We had to keep him in a cage when we first got him because he apparently had never been in a house before. He would run wildly, trying to escape out of the house. He would run on top of tables, over sofas, and into windows. He was not housebroken either.  One night he was so ill that I had to sit up with him all night. The vet told me that I needed to take him to the animal emergency room immediately if his condition worsened, because she wasn't sure if he would live through the night. She didn't recommend leaving him at the clinic because he was so terrified that she thought the stress would only make him sicker.Thankfully he survived and began to gain weight.

We had him 2 weeks before he trusted us enough to let us pet him. (Once I got him home from the shelter he forgot that he had acted as if he knew me.) If there were any sudden movements or loud noises, he would snarl, growl and show his teeth. He was afraid of everyone and would act aggressively, although he NEVER tried to bite us. Our son is grown, so my husband and I are the only ones living in the house. I would have been afraid to have a dog like him around small children.

In the beginning, he was so sick that I hand fed him. This helped to get him to trust me. He was still afraid of people, but it was obvious that he was starved for attention and wanted affection. He would come up behind me if I was sitting on the floor and lean on my back. If I moved or turned around toward him, he would run off. One day he actually put his head in my lap, even though he still had his rump in the air. As soon as I touched him, I could feel him tense up, but he let me pet his head. Gradually, he calmed down more, but was still wild in the house. It sounds crazy, but we
would have to leash him to heavy pieces of furniture in each room of the house. We wanted him to get used to being around us in the house, but if we didn't tie him up , he would run thrashing through the house, and even knock us down with his frantic running. At night, we would have to leash him to the bed to keep him from running in circles all night.

He is extremely intelligent and with a consistent schedule, was housebroken quickly. He was destructive like a new puppy, even though the vet said he was approximately 1 year old. We had to replace all of the screen around the screened porch, install a new door on the porch, install new lattice around the bottom of the porch, put in a new french door in the sun room, pour a concrete pad under the backyard gate to prevent digging, replace all of the window sills and baseboards in the sun room (destroyed by his non-stop chewing), have new window treatments made for the bay window (he ripped the old ones down with his teeth), and repaint the kitchen because of him.

He had every bad habit a dog can have, such as door lunging, lunging on a leash,continuous jumping, nipping, and food grabbing. He was literally a wild animal. I told my husband I might as well have trapped a mountain lion and brought him home! With a whole lot of patience, and hours of work every day, he eventually calmed down enough so that we could begin to walk (mostly run!) with him in the neighborhood. The exercise made a huge difference in his behavior. He started to enjoy getting petted even more and would come up to us asking for attention.

When we had a semblance of control over him, we enrolled him in obedience school, The trainer told us to do an alpha roll and pin him every day to "show him who was in charge". This frightened him and he started to growl and show his teeth every time. The trainer insisted that we continue to do it because she said that "he did not trust us enough to let us dominate him." She said if we didn't get control of him, we would have to destroy him. I was not willing to give up on this dog and started trying to find other sources of training information. I read the Leer dog training website and noted that he recommended AGAINST the alpha roll. I searched until I found another trainer who was willing to get inside of this dog's head.

With gentleness and patience, she showed me how to train Riley. By the end of the class, a 5 year old girl was able to make him heel, sit, shake hands, go into a down stay, roll over and do tricks!!!!! It took hours of work every day to train him and a lot of experimentation. The trainer would suggest different methods of training him on new skills. Some of them worked and others didn't. If he wasn't responding as he should, she would suggest new ways of working with him until we found a way to make him do what was required. Riley needed a different approach than most of the other dogs in the class. I had to firmly take control of him because he was always looking for the opportunity to be dominant, but I had to control him without scaring him. I was so proud when he won a prize at the end of class because he had learned more tricks than any of the other dogs!

Riley is now the most delightful dog! He acts like a big silly wiggle and licks everyone to death. He is well behaved and always surprises us with his intelligence. He is no longer destructive (thank heavens!) and acts like a dog instead of a mountain lion.

I would suggest to anyone who adopts an abused dog that they seek professional help and be willing to try a lot of different methods until they find what works for that particaular dog. It took more time than I ever imagined to train Riley and I do admit that I had NO IDEA OF WHAT I WAS GETTING INTO when I adopted Riley, because I had never worked with an abused dog before.

He was definitely worth the time and effort. My husband and I have had dogs for 28 years, but I don't think one has ever touched our hearts like Riley has. He's a one of a kind dog and we're so lucky to have him!

Back to Helping The Abused Dog page

The Dog is currently in an abusive situation:

People often feel very helpless when their neighbors, co-workers, and even family members abuse their dogs. Part of the problem is that dogs are considered property, and as such owner's have much room to treat their animals as they wish. One serious concern in these situations is that if reported, the abuser may turn on the person reporting them. If you are afraid of the person abusing the dog, please, keep your own safety first and foremost in mind when acting. Do what you can anonymously, or with your personal information kept confidential. You may be able to get others to join you, there really is safety in numbers. Another consideration, especially if the person is a family member or your boss, is that you may not be in a position to alienate the person. Here's where gentle education may be the best you can do.

In some states, animal abuse is a felony. In the rest, it is still a misdemeanor, but I can pretty much guarantee that in those misdemeanor states there are activists working to change that. One of the first things you must do is to look at your local laws and see exactly what the person is doing that is illegal. Check this link for cruelty laws, and do more searches, make calls, etc. for more local ordinances.

Animal Cruelty Laws by State

There are several levels of mistreatment and abuse, ranging from over breeding a bitch, confining a dog alone to a yard without enough human contact, to severe, overt, sadistic cruelty. I have noticed in my internet wanderings that abuse seems to fall into 3 blurry categories. There are those who abuse from ignorance, they really just don't know that what they are doing is wrong. They often want to do the best for their animals, but just don't know better. For these people, careful non confrontational discussions or information dropped in their mailbox even anonymously can help. I have an inexpensive favorite puppy book I have given away to several people: Superpuppy. Another way I have found to start counteracting this is to show these people how incredible dogs really are - I have used my Leilah to show the possible bond that dogs can have with their owners. It also gives credibility to my advice, since she is very obedient and attentive, and often the first well trained dog these people see. Teach by example whenever possible. Once educated, these people will either turn around and treat their pets better, or fall into the next category.

Then there are those who don't give the animal credit for being a fellow living being with a full compliment of emotions and needs. They often just don't seem to care, and we wonder why they have dogs at all. These animals seem to suffer more from neglect than outright proactive abuse. They often need to learn that a having a dog can be inconvenient in time and money, and that's part of the price of owning a dog. They often see having a dog as a right, not a privilege and just don't consider their animals' needs often enough.

Lastly, there are those who abuse their animals with severe beatings for the slightest perceived infraction, isolation (which can be incredibly cruel for these pack animals), starvation, or lack of medical attention for serious problems. They may even torture and kill their animals. These people have other serious problems too - you must be VERY careful when this is the case.

In many places, cruelty is only defined by lack of food, water, and shelter, and there's not much you can do if the person is not breaking any laws. Once you find out the laws in your locality, the first thing to do is to document the abuse. Keep notes, use a video camera if you can. Note when you saw the dog without water, or when it was beaten. One law you may be able to use is noise ordinances. Yup, this may be heresy from a dog freak like me, but if that's a way to get an abused animal out of a bad situation, it's an idea to consider. Get with your neighbors or others if you can, and file complaints en masse. You will need to find who to complain to in your area, the police? sheriff? Animal control? ASPCA? Humane Society? all of the above?

One real problem though is what happens to the dog if it is removed from the abusive owner. Sometimes due to health or behavior problems caused by the abuse, the animal is not easily adoptable. The alternative can be death. In some cases, this is a preferable alternative. But, you may be able to find a private rescue organization that can take the dog in and work with him, getting him the vet care and training he needs. If the dog is purebred, contact the nearest rescue organization for that breed, they may be able to help, if only with advice. You may be able to find an animal sanctuary for the dog. Sometimes the person will give or sell you the animal if you ask, just to get the dog off their hands. If you do this, be VERY sure to get everything in writing, that they sign the dog over to you and give up all rights, so they can't change their minds later as they often do. Even if this is a good friend, be sure to do this. You will often need this in writing especially if you will be using the same vet, and sometimes to license the dog in your name (or the next owner's name if you rehome him). Dogs are property, and you must be sure you have all legal rights. But, this doesn't prevent them from getting another, especially if they have kids pestering them for another dog. Sometimes the person, if not prohibited by a court order, will just go out and get another dog. That's why it's important to get them charged with crimes whenever possible.

If the abuser is a minor, it is VERY important to do what you can about it. Evidence shows that children who abuse animals are more likely to abuse humans when they become adults. Many police and social service departments are becoming aware of this. Many adult animal abusers also abuse their spouses and children. Please read the Humane Society's information on this:First Strike. You may help more than a dog! In some localities, humane officers also look for signs of child abuse when investigating an animal abuse complaint.

Back to Helping The Abused Dog page

Back to CWH home page

space Copyrightę1998-2007

The border graphic and background are from the painting "Copper", and is copyrightę2005 by Joan Berry. Used with permission.

Individual submissions are the property of their respective authors.

Can We Help Main Page
Dog Behavior Problems
Cat Behavior Problems
Housetraining Dogs
Housetraining Cats
Crate Training
Moving and Travel
Noise and Barking
No Time
Getting Along with Other Animals
Kids and Other People
Shedding and Grooming
Allergies to the Pet
Puppy Stuff
Finding a New Home