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How to Train Your Abused Dog to Trust
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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Give the dog treats and or praise throughout the experience so that they associate good things with what once scared them.
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
Learn the ins and outs of clicker training. Read articles and talk to experts to get comfortable with the technique.
Get yourself a “clicker” and some treats.
Observe and click
Watch your pet closely, and hit the clicker as soon as you witness a good behavior.
Follow the click with a treat so that the dog knows that the clicker means “good job!”
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
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.
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.
Every now and then, place a dog treat near where the pooch is playing.
Repeat this daily until the dog is comfortable approaching you.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 09/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
Training Questions and Answers
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I adopted a dog from the local SPCA they did not know much about her other than the owner surrendered her saying she was too much responsibility. She is so sweet, but very scared. She potties in the house constantly. I walk her in our yard every hour but she still goes potty in the house. At night I put her in a kennel and she will potty in it as well. I have even put her in a smaller crate , she still potties in the crate and lays in it. What can I do to train her to potty outside. I try treats but she is not too interested.
June 17, 2022
Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer
1133 Dog owners recommended
Hello Christie, First, I would have your vet make sure the peeing isn't related to any form of incontinence if it continues despite training, supervision, and confinement when not supervising. Second, make sure that the crate doesn't have anything absorbent in it - including a soft bed or towel. Check out www.primopads.com if you need a non-absorbent bed for her. Make sure the crate is only big enough for her to turn around, lie down and stand up, and not so big that she can potty in one end and stand in the opposite end to avoid it. Dogs have a natural desire to keep a confined space clean so it needs to be the right size to encourage that natural desire. Use a cleaner that contains enzymes to clean any previous or current accidents - only enzymes will remove the small and remaining smells encourage the dog to potty in the same location again later. Check out the Crate Training article linked below for tips on how to get pup to go potty while outside - which makes accidents in the crate less likely. Also, be aware that a 4 month old puppy cannot hold her bladder for longer than about 4 hours during the day even in a crate. Any longer and she will be forced to have an accident - enough accidents and she will loose her desire to keep even the right size crate without something absorbent in it clean. Crate Training method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside If you are still struggling after applying the above suggestions, then unfortunately pup may have already lost her desire to hold it while in a confined space. I already suspect this is the case, but I would still make sure it's not a case of pup needing the crate to be set up differently. This commonly happens when someone accidentally teaches pup to do so by placing something like a puppy pad on one end of a larger crate or confining a puppy in cage where they are forced to pee through wired flooring - like at a pet store and some shelters, or pup isn't taken potty often enough and are forced to pee in the crate over and over again until they associate it with that. There are rare puppies who simply do it anyway, even though nothing happened to teach that. In those cases you can try feeding pup her meals in there to discourage it but most of the time you simply have to switch potty training methods until she is fully potty trained - at which point you might be able to use a crate for travel again later in life. Check out the Tethering method from the article linked below. Whenever you are home use the Tethering method. Also, set up an exercise pen in a room that you can close off access to later on (pup will learn it's okay to potty in this room so choose accordingly). A guest bathroom, laundry room, or enclosed balcony - once weather is a safe temperature are a few options. Don't set the exercise up in a main area of the house like the den or kitchen. Tethering method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside Use the Exercise Pen method from the article linked below, and instead of a litter box like the article mentions, use a real grass pad to stay consistent with teaching pup to potty on grass outside - which is far less confusing than pee pads (Don't use pee pads if the end goal is pottying outside!). Since your goal is pottying outside only use the Exercise Pen at night and when you are not home. When pup will hold her bladder while in the rest of the house consistently and can hold it for as long as you are gone for during the day and overnight, then remove the exercise pen and grass pad completely, close off access to the room that the pen was in so she won't go into there looking to pee, and take her potty outside only. Since she may still chew longer even after potty training, when you leave her alone, be sure to leave her in a safe area that's been puppy proofed, like a cordoned off area of the kitchen with chew toys - until she is out of the destructive chewing phases too - which typically happens between 1-2 years for most dogs with the right training. Exercise Pen method: https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Real grass pad brands - Also found on Amazon www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com You can also make your own out of a piece of grass sod cut up and a large, shallow plastic storage container. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
June 20, 2022
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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
June 11, 2022
Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer
1133 Dog owners recommended
Hello Ashley, The training will involve a combination of things. If she tends to guard you, she may be possessive of you, which is similar to resource guarding. I would work on increasing her respect for you calmly, through things like teaching obedience commands such as Heel, Down-Stay, Place, crate training, Leave It, and Quiet. I would her work for what she gets from you by obeying a command first, like sitting before feeding, Down before petting, Wait before opening a door, ect...I would generally work on adding some more boundaries and structure throughout her day and calmly enforcing anything you tell her to do, like by leading her with a drag leash over to where you called her to when she ignored you. Building respect can also help pup feel more secure while with you around other men and take instructions from you even while unsure. You want any respect building you do to be calm and not physically harsh - so building respect through following through with commands, practicing obedience, and giving more structure - like having pup earn things by waiting until they have obeyed. Second, you will want to increase trust around men through counter conditioning. This process should first of all involve safety measures like a back tie leash, and in some cases a basket muzzle that's been introduced gently ahead of time using food rewards with you if pup is fear aggressive toward men. With safety measures in place if needed, men you trust to be gentle can be recruited to practice things like tossing her a treat while she is being calm whenever he enters the room where she is or changes his position (sitting to standing, lying down, standing to sitting, walking out of the room, ect...). Once she anticipates his arrive as something good, he can practice talking to her and gentle eye contact and tossing her a treat each time she responds calmly or behaves friendly toward him. Be sure to have him give her her space while doing this though and have pup on a back tie leash in case she suddenly lunges when he looks at her or talks to her. Then you can practice things like tossing pup treats you shake the man's hand or hug hello and pup stays calm and relaxed. Starting with gentle touches like a hand shake and progressing to a hug or if your dating, a kiss. Next, he can toss treats whenever pup obeys his command (which you have taught pup already for him), such as Sit, starting to get pup to work for him. When pup can handle obeying commands, is willing to be next to him without acting suspicious of him, and isn't worried by his movement much anymore, then have him practice things like structured heeling walks to build pup's working relationship with him, to pup doesn't just tolerate him but actually wants to work with him. As pup gets used to one man, move onto another man to practice around, to help build pup's trust for men in general, instead of only one person. Pup will need to practice around lots of different men overtime. Again, all of this needs to be done carefully, gradually, and with the proper safety measures in place to avoid the possibility of a bite along the way. A calm, confident and consistent attitude is also the best way to earn a dog's respect and trust. The man should be calm and cheerful while practicing, but not pushy. If you don't have others to assist, working with a training group with lots of different male trainers, who specializes in behavior issues like fear, can provide the resources needed to practice. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
June 13, 2022