The following guest post comes from Jackie, a writer for 1-800-PetMeds, who loves to help and support the pet community. You can find Pet Meds on Twitter or connect with Pet Meds on Facebook. This is part 1 of a two-part series on adopting an abused dog.
Opening your heart and your home to an abused dog will most likely bring some frustration and sadness before you get to the part where you and your dog are living in harmony. Frustration because your dog has no clue how to behave because he probably wasn’t properly socialized, and sadness because you’ll learn the story of what he went through before you found him. But those are temporary states, and with some patience, training, and love, you’ll both make it through to the good stuff.
Whether you adopt your dog from a rescue or shelter, your first stop on the way home should be your veterinarian’s office. The shelter will have provided veterinary care, as well as spaying or neutering your dog. But before you take any new dog into your home and expose him to your current pets, or your family, a checkup is always a good idea. An abused dog may also need nutritional supplements if he was malnourished, or he may have to take some kind of pet meds for a while if he was ill when he was rescued. Establishing your dog with a good vet starts a lifetime of quality care. Once you get him home, there are several things you can do to ease the transition.
This virtue is going to cover a lot of areas when you first bring your adopted dog home. She’s going to have all the same anxieties any other dog would have, being in a new place with new people. But she came from a place where she was possibly beaten, starved, or otherwise abused or neglected, so she really doesn’t know what to expect. She’s not going to feel comfortable in her new home overnight, and getting impatient or exasperated with her is only going to make the situation worse.
Speak softly to her, but firmly when she does something she’s not supposed to. She may never have been trained or socialized before, so give her time to learn the new rules and what’s expected of her. When she has setbacks—and she will—don’t give up on her. She’s already been failed by the humans who hurt her before. By adopting an abused dog, you’re making a promise to do better for her. It will take time, and a lot of patience, but the end result—a happy, healthy dog—will be worth it.
Use Positive Reinforcement Training
In your dog’s previous situation, he may have learned not to do certain things because doing them brought about painful punishments. He may be skittish and timid, unsure of what he’s allowed or supposed to do in this new place. He doesn’t know at first whether you’re going to be like the other people he’s known. In addition to patience, he’s going to need some training, which is one of the best things you can do for him.
Dogs are pack animals, and do very well with a clear hierarchy, structure, and routine. Training isn’t about teaching tricks. It’s teaching him how to behave whether he’s at home or out in public, and it’s also about keeping your dog and the people around him safe. The most effective training method you can use is positive reinforcement. Dogs live for two things—praise and food. When your dog performs a proper action—he sits on command, for example—immediately giving him a treat teaches him that when he performs that action, he gets something good to eat. After a while, he’ll sit when told even if there’s no reward coming. You may even get more benefit out of taking your dog to an obedience class with a professional dog trainer who can help you.
Be Gentle With Discipline
Every dog needs discipline, even ones that were previously abused. But while hitting any dog is unnecessary and ineffective, striking a dog that’s been abused can be devastating to him. He may have been beaten or kicked by his previous owners, and when you raise your hand (or rolled up newspaper, or anything else) to him, you’re reminding him of what he went through before. Even just a whack on the hindquarters can be enough to send him cowering under a bed. It’s not necessary to hit a dog to discipline him, especially if he’s been abused. It sets back his emotional recovery. You want him to feel safe, not fearful or threatened.
Dogs are very sensitive to tone of voice, much like children. When you’re cuddling and playing with them, and you use a higher pitch or baby talk, your dog takes the cue and responds with a wagging tail or big doggy grin. When you lower your voice, and give a firm, “No.” your dog will also read that signal, and respond appropriately. You may have to supplement the “no” with physical restraint at first. For example, if your dog tries to get up on the couch, tell him no, or off, or whatever command you decide to use, and gently push him off. He’ll make the connection after a few times, and then a simple “no” should suffice. But never hit your dog.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on what to keep in mind when adopting an abused dog.