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Advice for Caring for an Abused Dog

Mike Sagman

For nearly four decades, Mike Sagman managed his own reconstructive dental practice in Virginia. The founder of The Dog Food Advisor and Speak Up for Dogs websites, Mike Sagman adopted a rescue dog who was featured on a local news broadcast on animal cruelty. Dogs who have been abused require special care to recover from their experiences.

Abuse can take a number of forms, ranging from social isolation and neglect to physical punishment and improper care. Dogs typically respond to abuse with mistrust and social withdrawal, leading to a fear of new situations and people. Some may even become depressed and lose interest in any form of play, preferring to stay hidden in enclosed spaces. Other signs of mistreatment depend on a dog’s experiences. For instance, physically abused dogs may fear being touched, while socially neglected ones may develop extreme separation anxiety.
Dogs with a history of abuse require patience and love above all else. Before they can overcome their past experiences, they need to feel safe and secure. Establishing that sense of security starts with allowing them to become accustomed to their new homes and families at their own pace. Providing dogs with beds or kennels to which they can retreat to when they are scared or nervous can also help them to feel safe.
Once they begin to feel safe, positive reinforcement can help to build trust between a dog and its new family. Rescue workers advise families to speak in a soft voice and to never force their dogs to interact with people. A suggested bonding exercise is to sit quietly in the same room as the dog and encourage it to come closer by occasionally tossing or sliding a treat in its direction.
After earning the dog’s trust, the owner can also work at gradually desensitizing it to things that scare it. Again, working at the dog’s pace is essential, as forcing it to face its fears can overwhelm it and ultimately do more harm than good.

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