Rehabilitating Dogs After Abuse
Sarge shortly after shooting then at Toledo Area Humane Society
Article originally posted August 28, 2010
With the number of dog abuse cases making the headlines lately, many are asking whether these dogs can be rehabilitated and placed in forever homes.
Let's explore a few of the options. This is a good "need to know" read so grab yourself a cup of coffee and I'll offer you a quick education on the subject. The first thing you need to know is how to spot abuse. The second thing you need to know is how to deal with it.
So you're thinking of adopting a new dog and you either know about or you're concerned about prior abuse. There are several ways to tell whether an animal has suffered at the hands of us humans.
There are many ways to check for physical abuse. Check the dog for sores, bad teeth, scars and any bone abnormalities. An underweight dog may have been abandoned or starved.
I personally have a dog who was abused as a puppy. Cheyenne is a small Maltese mix and I'm the third person to take her in. She has quite a few knots on her spine. My guess is she was beaten with a broom handle. She's more skittish than most dogs. She's even terrified of rain. Not thunder-RAIN. Now she's the most loving dog you could ever meet. Just don't give her any "strange" looks or she'll turn and run. She is also a little escape artist. I've met everyone in my neighborhood thanks to her.
My dog BoAnne was also abused. She was abandoned as a puppy and left to die. The family who rescued her worked very hard to save her. She still has skeletal and balance problems. She is sterile from the starvation and I've already been told she won't live as long a life as she should. Someone took that away from her a long time ago. I'll give her a loving home with plenty of food and water and love. Which is what all of the articles on rehabilitating abused dogs say to do.
BoAnne is very protective over food. The poor girl still feels the need to hide food for a snack later. I've had her three years now and I guess she'll always have feeding issues that stem from her near death experience.
Sometimes it's easier to see mental abuse because mental issues seem to take longer to heal. If you watch a dog carefully and notice an unfounded fear of different objects such as brooms, bats and bottles, you can almost bet there was prior abuse. Does the dog cower, whine, try to hide if you raise your arms in the air? Something as simple as a man wearing a baseball cap can set off post traumatic stress disorder if the abuser always wore a cap.Sadly, women may also be the abuser and these days cannot be ruled out.
Many tips on how to check an animal for abuse can be found at http://www.ehow.com/how_4474572_tell-dog-has-been-abused.html.
If you know the dog has suffered abuse, try to find out the kind of abuse from the group you're adopting from. Some dogs may need to be an only pet. Others may never adjust to being around the gender or age of the abuser. You should know whether this is true or not before the adoption takes place. Dogs are pretty much social creatures, but being thrown into a household with several alpha dogs would be a disaster. Also dogs who have been abused by children may not be successfully placed in a family with children. The best rule is to keep the dog away from the type of abuser that caused the damage, at least until some rehabilitation progress is made.
One piece of advice is to make the dog a crate or den. A place the dog feels safe and can go back to for a little "down" time. Remember most dogs will show improvement over time. Just be kind, use a soft voice and never chastise for any reason. You want to provide as much love and quiet as possible. Don't expect miracles. An abused dog may not want to play or socialize with you in the beginning. Keep in mind this dog may have spent most of it's life on a chain or in a small kennel and doesn't know what playing is.
Dogs who have been abused, abandoned or malnourished need to be taught to trust again by someone who knows what they are doing, as an abused dog can become dangerous. My dog BoAnne is a perfect example. When I first brought her home she would cower any time I crossed the room. After three years, she is like a giant teddy bear and sleeps on the bed with me. Because of the starvation issue I always have to monitor her around food. She will literally lay on top of the bag to keep my other dogs out of it. She had a few skirmishes with my boxer D.D.. They learned to accept each other within days. I believe Cheyenne and D.D. learned her disposition and now BoAnne is allowed to eat first.
No attempt should be made at training most abused dogs until the dog has adjusted to it's new home and recovered from any injures. Even then, a lot of patience is needed to let the dog know he's loved and doing everything right. Hopefully after a few weeks of spoiling you'll have a dog who follows you everywhere you go.
One thing to keep in mind is there are two very different reactions of abused dogs. One is to shy away from any human contact. This is the dog who goes into the other room or hides under the bed. Studies show this form of abuse is easier to rehabilitate than the dog who is aggressive. Also, puppies who were abused in their first months of life have a greater chance of growing into dogs who are much tougher to teach to co-exist in a family atmosphere. Dogs over 1 year of age who are abused have a better chance of adjusting emotionally in a new home.
There is one circumstance where this rule does NOT apply and that is with the aggressive dog. By aggressive I mean any dog that growls, snarls or tries to attack anyone who tries to get close. This dog may benefit by going thru a training program as the only other option would be euthanasia.
An important thing to remember on temperance testing is that not all tests are created equal. Before deciding to place a dog in a training program, check out the success/failure rate of the program. Some dogs who have failed one type of obedience training have gone on to pass another and be placed successfully in a family atmosphere. Find out from the potential trainer how the animals are evaluated, how the training is conducted and their success rate percentage. If you don't like this trainer, hold out for someone better qualified. It could mean a dogs life.
Time magazine published an article about rehabilitating attack dogs. Here's the link.http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1942950,00.html. Many of these dogs have been rehabilitated and been placed with families. These are some of the hardest dogs to reintroduce into a family atmosphere. Yet the people devoted to retraining them are succeeding.
Remember there is hope out there for the abused and euthanasia is NOT the only option.
If any of my readers have had a positive experience in rehabilitating abused dogs, please share it here. And as always, feel free to comment.