Ask Seth: Dog Training with History of Abuse

I adopted a dog from the animal control and she was a mistreated dog. She is afraid of everybody and I don't know what to do. I have had her for almost three years. She is sometimes afraid if I move to quick. What can I do to help her with this problem?

I know that dogs with history of abuse can be skittish, aggressive and a challenge to train.  These animals will need a patient trainer and a reward based training program.  With a bunch of treats, love, and time this dog will be a well-trained member of your pack (family).  I start by socializing exercises by bringing her around gentle people and animals using the clicker training system when she meets someone new, then a treat.  You can also encourage people to give her treats when greeting her.  This will allow her to associate this positive experience when meeting people and also receiving a reward.  I would recommend picking up and reading a book on positive reinforcement clicker training at any bookstore or pet store.  This will make sure that your time and effort is maximized.

Teaching your dog to walk close on a leash without pulling will show her that you are in control and she can let her guard down and be a dog.  You can do this by holding a treat down to your side and periodically giving a treat when she stays close.  If she pulls, stop walking instantly.  This will teach her that when she pulls, this slows down the walk.  From here, teach her the basic commands of “sit, stay, down, and heel”.  When this action is completed, use the clicker and give her a treat.  The positive reinforcement will allow her to have the positive feelings when she hears the clicker.

This will take time to train and be very patient.  Yelling is ineffective and damaging, especially to known abused dogs.  You need to exercise your dog every day for a minimum of 30 minutes and some breeds need much more exercise.  This will reduce anxiety and improve attention and behavior.  If you work hard and dedicate time to your “pack” you should be successful.  If this does not resolve, consider a professional trainer that works with positive reinforcement.

Do you have experience training a mistreated dog? Share your tips with us in the comment section below!

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1 Response

  1. Victoria says:

    I have a now 14 year old white/wolf German Shepherd who was severely abused that she had loss her eye sight and other senses such as smell and forget trusting anyone nor eating any treats. It took me a very long time to get her to trust me. First I found that the name she had was given by the abuser and she would not respond instead she would hide in the smallest darkest place and shriver…so rename your abused pet and not a name that is even close in sound example ours was named Shilo by the abuser and we changed it to Baby with soft voice and loving touch but light. when you take your pet out start with a quiet place with just you and your pet for walking, sitting at home as you need to allow your pet to have a safe hideaway such as behind your chair or under you legs and ours never related to other men who were tall, blonde, wore a ball cap. It took our son to lay on his belly several months before she would let him pet her as for the grandson who was an infant she would sleep near him and when he was old enough he sleep with her in her bed. Our Baby even raised some of the cats when they were rescued. I did not use the clicker should instead I used my hands clapped at different levels and sounds of soft music to teach her feeding time, walk time and bed. She now has gotten slower and we only walk 1/2 block or in the yard and steps are hard and I know that hard day will come but for your abused baby be gentle and very patient even if it seems you are not making headway because the day Baby sniffed a tree base was like my own child taking their first step. As she is my comfort and I love her very much.

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