How to Tell If Your Dog Was Previously Abused



I hear it a lot, "My dog flinches when he sees a newspaper" or "She seems fearful of men, I wonder if she was in a home where a man was mean to her before she ended up at the shelter, what can I do to help her??"

Fear issues are pretty common, especially in dogs that come from a shelter so it is important to note that fear can manifest in more ways than you might realize. Aggression, possessiveness, snarling, leash lunging, barking, anxiety and sometimes even potty accidents can all derive from fear. 

When fear presents itself as flinching, hiding behind you, shaking, separation anxiety or running away:

A lack of confidence can be especially difficult to deal with. Our instinct as human beings (and especially for women I have found) is to nurture and reassure. While that is an important piece of the puzzle, it is far from the whole picture.

When animals go through traumatic events, or are just born into this world a little bit more doubtful than others, proving to them that they can be brave will make the difference of how they see the world. Think of it as learning to swim to combat a fear of drowning versus someone telling you it's ok to feel afraid. Comfort, while good intentioned, won't fix the problem, especially if your life revolves around the ocean.

Confidence building and training is all about overcoming fear. Proving to your dog that no matter what they have been through, they have the strength to get through it. Having their back from a position of support versus always saving them from having to get through it will make all of the difference.

When fear presents itself as aggression, possessiveness or lunging:

Sometimes you will see it in kids. When there has been a lot of trouble at home or growing up they will act out, or lash out inappropriately. This is the same for dogs. It is a survival mechanism that previous circumstances have proven drastic times call for drastic measures.

So what then? We have to prove to them that times are no longer drastic. We are here to support their good decisions and not allow inappropriate behavior, no matter what their past has been. Much like troubled teens, giving dogs a strict routine, and holding them accountable for daily responsibilities can prove to them that there is consistency in this world and making good decisions always leads to a more peaceful, harmonious life. 

So how can you tell where their fear comes from?

Well, there is no real way of knowing for sure. You could ask them, but usually they won't talk back. It can be difficult to enforce boundaries when there is suspected abuse or neglect because you want to give your pet the world they deserve instead of the one they might have previously had. Understand though, you are not doing them any favors by allowing them to live in a heightened state of fear or uncertainty. Sometimes giving them the world means giving them rules and expectations to follow. This balanced way of life has the ability to give them confidence and reduce stress with a family that loves them and only wants the best for them moving forward.

If you have a pet that is fearful, call a trainer today to talk about the best options for building confidence for your specific dog's needs.


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Andrea Robinson