Your local animal shelter is overrun with abused or neglected dogs. You constantly see requests from reputable rescue groups asking a caring person to adopt a pet with special needs. You feel yourself wanting to help one of these special dogs, yet you wonder if it's too late to turn their lives around?
The Learning Curve
Dogs are amazingly forgiving. Patience is key, however, especially in the beginning of your relationship. When you first bring a dog with a history of abuse home, he might hide under or behind objects or back away from you. Loud noises tend to startle, and be mindful of quick hand gestures, which can make him instinctively cower or snap. Set up a bed for him in a room where you spend the majority of your time, but in a corner far enough away so he feels a safe distance. Some dogs feel more secure in a dog crate.
An accredited trainer or behaviorist can help set up both your household and training routines to help a dog who's been abused. An experienced trainer also will be able to adapt typical training methods to meet the dog where he is and help you chart progress. Although the details of a dog’s past are often unclear, if you know whether he was hurt by a child or a particular gender this can be helpful information for a trainer, especially when attempting to socialize him in public areas. Most veterinarians have working relationships with behaviorists and can recommend someone who can help.
The Trust Factor
A person’s first instinct when approaching a scared dog is often to move forward at the dog's level with a handful of treats. This is a mistake made from a place of love and compassion. When a scared dog is approached, his first instinct might be to run away, or to bark or lunge in an effort to keep the human from getting closer. Wait for him to come to you. Let him watch you put down food and water, but do not make eye contact and calmly go about your routine. Let him see you are not anxious about his presence. Ignore him as he gets to know you by sniffing. This may not happen the first day, but when he feels safe enough to sit near you, he’s saying he's ready to trust again.
A Positive Future
A rough start in life does not mean a dog cannot recover and adapt to a loving home. He might always have behavior quirks, or react in certain situations (regular exercise, such as walks, can relieve anxiety as well as strength your relationship with your dog). Your dog’s personality and the circumstances of his abuse will dictate the obstacles you have to cross, and you might have to change certain routines. With patience and proper training, you can change the lives of most dogs who have been abused.