By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen Larson, KPA-CTP & Amanda Ott
Last month we discussed how to spot and report pet abuse, but today we’d like to discuss taking the next step: fostering an abused dog. Here’s how to give these poor souls the tender love and care they’ve always deserved, but never gotten.
Going Slow: How To Help A Formerly Abused Dog Heal
Take things easy with an abused dog, and understand that they’ll be very hesitant to emerge from their shell. It’s possible that these dogs have had years and years of pain preventing them from opening up to others. You will have to slowly show your dog that humans can be loving and gentle too.
Always let the dog set the pace. Don’t force an approach, instead wait until they come to you. Afterwards, take further measures to make sure that they feel as comfortable and safe as possible, like:
- Using lots of treats and positive reinforcement
- Speaking in soft, quiet tones- don’t raise your voice
- Not inviting a bunch of people over to your house
Your first goal should be to create a loving, safe environment that your dog can finally relax in. Then they can start to heal from whatever background they came from, and begin to fully put their trust in you.
It’s also imperative to only use positive, force-free methods when training an abused dog. Aversive training tools/methods will completely destroy any trust you could build with your dog. You don’t ever want to do anything that would remind them of their former lives.
When training or interacting, watch the dog’s body language and look for signs of anxiety or stress. This can be more difficult than it sounds, since abused dogs often use less body language than others. Neglected dogs never had the chance to learn how to properly communicate.
That’s why owners of formerly abused dogs need to pay special attention to their dog’s unique signals and gestures. Don’t rush anything. Be patient and take the time necessary to really get to know your dog, and understand what they’re trying to tell you.
Many abused dogs may display learned helplessness, making it more difficult to motivate or train them. These dogs have learned from all their futile attempts to avoid pain in the past, so they just freeze or give up until their anxiety subsides. Be patient with them, they just need time.
Getting Involved: Help Change The Lives Of Abused Animals
This topic really hits close to home for DogBoy’s. Our Training Manager Jen adopted her dog Pumpkin after she was found abandoned in a trailer park. She was starved, dehydrated, unsocialized, and was suffering from pregnancy complications (none of her puppies survived). The was tied up under a trailer surrounded by dead puppies. This was a true worst-case scenario.
After two months with Jen, Pumpkin now happily plays with other dogs and cats. She’s totally comfortable inside, and has never chewed the furniture or had an accident. Through desensitization and counterconditioning training Jen slowly socialized her and gained her trust.
When Jen first got Pumpkin, she was completely shut down- with dull eyes and no desire to interact. She had serious resource guarding issues, flinched when touched, and jumped at any little noise. Now her eyes are bright, and she’s an affectionate, playful pup. There’s hope for every dog, if they’re given a chance.
She is still nervous around new people but is learning that people are good and that she is safe now.
We highly recommend getting involved with your local shelter or rescue to see if fostering or adoption is right for you. In Austin, look up places like:
These shelters are practically bursting at the seams since Austin started its no-kill shelter initiative. More and more of us are needed to foster and adopt these pups, and because Austin is no kill, many of these dogs need more help than your average pet. If you’re willing and able, please consider fostering a rescue dog and getting to know a local positive reinforcement trainer. You’ll be saving a life, and showing an abused dog what a loving owner is like.
If you need help training a formerly abused dog, or have questions about fostering/adoption, please contact us today. At DogBoy’s, we have Tranquility Daycare and Spa, a daycare experience designed specifically for anxious and shy dogs. We hope to see you there!
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