Adopting a dog gives it a new lease on life and a chance to have a full experience growing older. However, some dogs that end up in the adoption process, have already had a hard life. Many have been abused and now have a serious fear of humans or certain medical conditions. Just like a person who’s been through abuse, these dogs are very wary and take a long time to trust anyone who wants to help them. They are defensive, stressed, anxious, and easily irritated. Even with other animals, they tend not to socialize well and can be disruptive, or even aggressive to get to their own space. As a result, formerly abused animals need a special approach to their care. They can be adopted, but it takes a lot of patience and effort.
In addition, since adult and senior dogs come with a lot of potential behavioral baggage, they unfortunately have fewer chances of being adopted than puppies. The cuteness factor wins over prospective owners who look for an animal with “longevity.” The repeated rejections harm older dogs as well. So, when an abused dog is adopted, it’s likely going to be very skittish for a long time trying to figure out what exactly is going on and if it’s going into a new threat.
What to Look For With Signs of Abuse
Many adopted dogs are already stressed from their environment of being locked up with other dogs. So, they tend to just want to get out and see humans as a clear way to do that. However, once freed and adopted, dogs can show behavior changes. Folks who are not prepared for this might find themselves in a situation where they start to think they need to return a dog that seems to be in trouble. Adopting agencies know this can happen, so they provide a stopgap for a pet to avoid it being dumped and becoming stray again. This transition period is critical for placing a pet correctly with a permanent chance of being adopted.
As previously said, abused dogs exhibit specific indicators, that observant owners can detect early. Most of the signs tend to be behavioral, but there are a few physical ones as well. Owners who see them should not be shocked, especially if they know the dog has been abused previously. These traits are how the dog automatically responds and needs to learn to let go of that fear.
In most cases, dogs have suffered pain or deprivation. In the case of pain, they might have suffered attacks from other animals or humans and developed mistrust or fear of anything that resembles the past. That can be sound, smell, size, the way people talk to the dog or people around it, and even the environment setting. Since the dog will most likely express this reaction in fear, it’s important to realize what the dog is saying and help it relax versus forcing the animal to be exposed again to the stimulus.
Physically abused dogs tend to shiver, cower, and try to pull away for cover, tail down, and head low, yet look up to avoid being attacked. When forced or touched, the dog may become aggressive and bite to escape from constraint. Physical pain left over from injuries can trigger these responses as the dog immediately thinks it’s being harmed again. These responses have to be tempered and slowly reversed, but it takes a lot of patience from the handler or owner. Don’t give up on the animal. Give it space and time to help it recover.
Stick With the Existing Name
If a dog’s name is known or discovered by accident, stick with it. The animal recognizes that’s what it is called, and trying to change its name will only confuse the animal. The things it knows and recognizes help the abused dog maintain some stability, and recognizing and remembering its name is one of those foundations that aid the dog’s recovery. Dogs respond to tone as well, so how you speak and the tone you use helps reassure the dog rather than scare it away. Strong-voiced people face an additional issue here because their loud or deep tone may appear aggressive to the dog. Lower, softer tones can be quite beneficial.
Continue with Basic Care
Food, water, and providing a comfortable bed are huge bonding elements for a dog, even if it seems extremely simple and boring in human terms. When a dog’s basic needs are addressed, they associate safety and care with whoever is providing those resources regularly. There’s a truth to dogs thinking with their stomach, and the same applies to thirst and comfort. Stay on schedule, focus on nutrition and fresh water, and bring the dog to the vet regularly for check-ups and medical care. Over a few weeks, the dog will adapt and adjust to its owner as a primary care source for their well-being, even if it’s not the most friendly.
Have a Few Safe Spaces
Abused pets require protection as well as safe havens. That could be beneath things, in corners where they believe their back is protected, or close to solids. They want to be able to see what’s coming at them at all times due to mistrust. A dog’s bed should consider this and provide both comfort and protection from open areas. If a dog is inside and relaxed, leave it there and don’t try to handle it or pull the animal out. It needs to know that a bed is a safe place. Pet pens by Clearly Loved Pets can help create this kind of safe place for the animal.
Triggers and Sensitive Conditions
Abused animals frequently associate sounds, sights, and smells with abuse. As a new owner of an animal with a history of abuse, paying attention to things that suddenly cause fear is a good way to identify some of those triggers. It’s not a perfect science, but good observation can pinpoint what the animal associates with fear and pain. A belt, for example, can easily scare a dog that has been previously beaten with one. Knowing what causes a trigger can help to remove it from the dog’s immediate environment to lower its stress level and anxiety. This will help the dog to relax and recover better as well as build long-term trust.
Affection, Care, and Positive Interaction
Show compassion and care through the way you speak, regular food, comfort, and presence. Don’t be in a hurry to pet or handle the dog a lot. Instead, focus on building a safe zone for the animal so that it develops trust. The dog will, by behavior, let you know it is beginning to trust by coming closer, sitting next to you, being within distance, and or following you from room to room. These are all signs of bonding and wanting to be pack-connected with a human. Probably the most trusting sign will be the dog sitting and laying down next to an owner or even sitting with its back to the owner and scooting right up close for contact. This is the ultimate show of trust because the dog’s rear and back are the most vulnerable in a canine sense.
The petting allowance will happen naturally as the dog’s trust strengthens over time. When this happens, always let the dog know it’s going to be petted versus by surprise. Avoid the paws as they tend to be very sensitive. Stick to the back and head after being recognized. Otherwise, the dog may bite as a result of an old triggered memory.
Time for Training
With trust starting to build, the time for advanced training begins. Now, it’s time to help the dog build skills for interacting better with you. Those skills will aid it in communicating with you as well as interacting with the outside world. Again, don’t expect miracles for a fully recovered dog. Some dogs remain skittish their whole lives. Avoid loud voice tones and focus on training with treats. The dog will associate the training with a reward and will become receptive. Patience is needed here; training results tend to be slower with abused dogs.
If a dog is facing a very hard challenge in recovery, professional help may be a smart response. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Adopting an abused dog and helping it recover is a very noble effort and will take a lot of time, patience, and sacrifice.
Finally, don’t forget to take time for yourself. An abused dog can require a lot of work, which at times might be frustrating. Don’t take your frustration out on the dog. Instead, step away, catch your breath, and focus on why you’re making the effort in the first place. Getting angry may only push the dog back to its old memories and reverse all the good you’ve done. So, avoid fast reactions. You’re doing this work and care out of the love you have for the dog, eventually, it will return the sentiment.