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?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Daisy
Beagle/Lab
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Daisy
Beagle/Lab
4 Years

She was abused as a puppy by my dad and now she has a fear of men and will not budge to get along with them

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Kerr
Basenji
9 Months
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Question
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Kerr
Basenji
9 Months

I rescued my dog 2 months ago and he only comes to me when it’s time for bed. He shakes continuously if he sees a new person. He only eats in private. If he hears a noise or if he sees me walk toward him, he runs.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amy, For this level of fear, I do recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like fear, and is very experienced with counter conditioning. 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. If pup is also fearful of collars and leashes, like many unsocialized dogs can be, your next step would be working 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/ I would also check out Kikopup on youtube's channel. She has a lot of videos on counter conditioning. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Red
Lab terrier mix
10 Years
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Question
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Red
Lab terrier mix
10 Years

Red came to me from Kentucky when he was a year, he had always run loose till then and had been abused. Aside from housebreaking him he has always been a good dog and I havent really trained him beyond 'sit' because when i try to command him, no matter how gentle, he still cowers. As I walk with a cane now and have more and more trouble getting around I really need him to learn to walk properly on a leash rather than run all around me or pull. How do I teach him leash manners when he is still afraid of commands. He has not been struck since we've gotten him and only raised my voice to scold him really when he was young and did things like tear all the upholstery off the recliner. {Yes to the bare frame.) or chewed up something he shouldnt have. It's been a long LONG time since he has misbehaved and he loves to snuggle with me and get loves so I don't know what to do about him cowering when i command him to sit or stay or such.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cherie, I would work on teaching an automatic Heel. When pup is in the right position or turns well, I would click and treat. If pup responds to whistling okay and you can whistle, you could also give a low whistle as you turn, then click and treat when pup responds well to that. I would use your body language to communicate to pup when they are in the wrong spot. When pup is lagging behind, act happy and pick up your speed so pup has to pay attention and speed up. When pup is pulling ahead, turn 90 degrees in the opposite direction so pup has to change directions and catch up. If pup gains even more confidence, then you can also turn directly in front of pup when they start to forge ahead, which is most effective at getting a dog to slow down and pay attention, but I would start with speed changes and turning away from pup because those will be more fun for pup. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel It sounds like it would also be best to pay someone to practice this with pup, such as a walker, friend, or family member who lives really close and can practice this a few times a week for a while. Once pup is pulling less, then you can transition back to you walking them and rewarding with the clicks and treats, but you will want pup to be pulling less by then. You will also want to introduce the clicker before working on the heel because you want pup to associate the clicker with the treats ahead of time, so that when pup hears the clicker during training they will feel happier and anticipate something good is about to happen. If you have someone with more experience with training, you can also practice this with pup on a light weight long training leash so that pup doesn't even feel the tugs of the leash, but the person's turns and treats and excitement encourage pup to stay with them. This would need to be done in a fenced area and by someone with good handling skills, who knows how to use body language to keep a dog engaged - really good puppy trainers are often good at this type of exercise because that's the easiest way to teach a puppy to heel. How to start clicker training. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvw2bcGcoDk Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Jack
Labrador/Great Pyrenese
6 Months
0 found helpful
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
1115 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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Question
Azula
Pitbull/weimaraner
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
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
1115 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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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, 1 month 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, 2 months 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