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Handle With Care: Adopting and Training Abused Dogs

dog hiding under a table be gentle when adopting abused dogs

Any time you walk into an animal shelter, you can find any number of dogs that are desperate for a new home that provides stability, care, and above all else, an abundance of love. For many of these animals, only they know their histories. Some were abandoned, some abused, while others were simply neglected and surrendered to the shelter. While many people fear adopting abused dogs, some make it their life’s mission to help those that need it the most. If you have the compassion and commitment necessary to embark on this type of adoption journey, we have training tips and resources that can help ensure success. 

Preparing Your Home Before Adopting Abused Dogs

Whenever you welcome a new dog into your life, there’s a shopping list of items you might need to buy before you bring the new family member home. When you’re bringing home a dog with a traumatic past, you might have other things to consider, such as the items on the list below. 

  • Comfortable crate — Many neglected or abused dogs, including those in puppy mills, don’t know life outside of a crate. Which is the exact reason you need one. It can be your dog’s haven any time he’s scared or overwhelmed with his new life. Leave the door open so your pet knows he can come and go out of the crate as he needs. Don’t force him to stay in it, however, if he resists the crate.
  • Leash and collar — When training an abused dog, it’s crucial you keep your new pet near you when walking on a leash since you don’t know how he’ll react to other animals or humans. A cable or chain leash of six feet should suffice, along with a comfortable adjustable collar.
  • Well-fitting harness — Some abused dogs are escape artists by necessity. A well-fit harness will help ensure your dog won’t break free and further protect his neck from pulling too hard on a simple collar and leash.
  • Collar with ID or microchip — All dogs should have a collar with some form of ID with your name, address, and phone number. Getting your pet microchipped is an alternative that can help locate a dog’s owner if there’s no collar. Many shelters and veterinary offices offer microchipping; ask your vet or adoption shelter. Remember that microchipping your pet is the first step. You must register your chip and remember to update it if you move, change name, or get a new phone number.
  • High-quality food and treats — Give your new dog high-quality food and treats to help him regain his strength, restore a healthy coat, and get back to a healthy weight. Before changing up what your pet eats, discuss your pet’s dietary needs with your vet. 
  • Balls and chew toys — An abused dog probably hasn’t spent much time enjoying time playing fetch or with toys. Buying a few playtime essentials can help him break out of his shell and enjoy his new life.

How to Get an Abused Dog to Trust You

Although we offer tips on how to train an abused dog, it’s important to keep in mind that every situation and dog is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some neglected and abused dogs mend rather quickly, while others never recover. Healing after abuse or neglect takes time, and the first step in bonding with an abused dog is getting him to trust you. Here are some tips:

Stay calm whenever addressing an abused dog 

Because dogs can sense your emotions, do your best to keep calm, try to make eye contact with the dog, and speak with a quiet tone.

Provide plenty of quiet time for you and the dog

Quiet time is especially needed if your home has multiple people or pets in the home. To minimize stress brought on by too much noise or activity, select an area or room where you and your new pet can spend alone time. Make sure the space is free from clutter, and you have a dog bed or blanket, along with a bowl of water for your pet. Get yourself a chair and just sit while your dog scopes the place and you out. Randomly drop a treat near your dog, which will positively reinforce his desire to explore. 

Reward contact from your dog 

Any time your dog makes contact with you on his own, reward him with praise and treats.

Have realistic expectations

Although this journey most likely won’t go as quickly or as smoothly as you had originally envisioned, know that as long as you provide your dog the best possible, you’re his hero, and everything you’ve done has been worthwhile.

How to Build Confidence in an Abused Dog

You may be asking how to help an abused dog recover and build his confidence. One way is through socialization and training. According to the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), dog owners should take the following steps:

  1. Allow your pet to settle into your house, starting with his space, which can be a room or area protected by baby gates, where he will eat and sleep. When your dog is ready, you can provide access to more of your home.
  2. Next, be sure to let him check out your yard. 
  3. Establish a routine with feeding and potty breaks.
  4. Until he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, don’t leash or harness him or take him for a walk. 

Once your pet is comfortable around your home, it’s time to take him out and introduce him to other environments, along with people and other dogs.

Places you can take your pet for socialization

  • Your local pet store that permits canine customers.
  • Local dog-friendly parks (skip dog parks as they can be overwhelming to an abused dog).
  • Stop by your veterinarian’s office without an appointment to show your pet that not all visits involve pain or discomfort.
  • Sign up for small obedience classes that offer reinforcement training, which is also a great way to meet people and dogs.
  • Visit family and friends who have yards your pet can explore and play in.
  • Set up supervised play dates with children. 

Training your new pet may require you to focus on several areas such as biting and barking. If your dog is nipping or biting when touched or you’re near his food bowl, it is typically out of fear. Determine what triggers your pet and make adjustments in your approach. If your dog is aggressive or displays destructive behavior, speak with your vet or an animal behaviorist. 

If your dog barks incessantly, you need to figure out the reason why. It could be fear, territorial, or attention-seeking. To help reduce or eliminate this problem, visit the BarxBuddy resource center for more information on barking and training tips.  

How to Rehabilitate a Dog That Has Been Abused

How do you rehabilitate a skittish, neglected dog is a common question that people ask before adopting abused dogs. Even though we’ve provided tips for training an abused dog, each situation has many variables. For this reason, you must work with your vet and possibly an animal behaviorist as you and your pet take this journey. 

Adopting an abused dog takes a special person and special care. We admire and applaud your efforts to make a difference in your dog’s life and the world.

If you witness an animal being harmed, beaten, or attacked in any way, immediately call 911!

Abused Animal Resources 

Look for local resources such as animal welfare or animal control agencies, animal shelters, or police departments.

For national help and support, visit The Humane Society of the United States.

The ASPCA national database can help you locate a shelter near you that have dogs looking for homes. 

The Animal Welfare Institute Safe Havens Mapping Project can help you search for safe housing for pets of individuals who are experiencing domestic violence. To learn more about how you can fight animal cruelty visit the ASPCA Take Action page.