Adopting a Dog with a Traumatic Past


You plan an adopting a dog, and you make a trip to your local shelter. The lonesome white fluffy dog sitting in the corner of the kennel catches your attention. She wants to approach you, but she lowers her head and has a hard time making eye contact. The description says she was brought into the shelter with no information of her past.

When it comes to adopting a dog from a rescue organization, it is difficult to determine the history of animal. You never know, the dog could have been rescued from a hoarding situation, puppy mill, or from an abusive owner. Adopting a dog with a traumatic past is a challenging task, and can potentially take months or even years for them to fully come out of their shell. In more severe cases, the past traumas can permanently affect them. 

Abuse can be seen in many ways such as physical or verbal punishment, horrific living conditions with very little food and water, being chained up to a pole or small space, or living outdoors with extreme weather conditions. No matter what traumatic events that has occurred in the dog’s life, the future owner of an abused dog will have to understand and be patient as they adjust to their new home and family members.

As their past remains a mystery, there are several signs to look for if they have been previously mistreated, such as being fearful to the outdoors and human interaction. If a dog is in a situation where they are scared, they will show submissive behaviors such as a lowered head, little to no eye contact, and a tucked tail between the hind legs. A dog who was starved may show aggression towards others who try to take its food away. An abused dog will have a hard time trusting people, and every dog will learn to trust another and his or her own pace. Do not try to force interactions they are not willing to do. Always make them feel safe and protect them from what they are fearful of.

If you decide on adopting a dog with an abusive past, here are some survival tips:

  • Make the dog feel loved and safe. Use soft, high pitched tones when speaking to the dog. Never use loud voices around them, and never yell at them if they make a mistake. Always use positive reinforcement such as ‘good girl/ boy’ and ‘come here’.
  • Create a comfortable environment for the dog. Sudden movements and loud noises can stress them out. Spend quiet, quality time with them. It will take time for them to adjust to other people and pets, so start with slow interaction to get them familiar with them.
  • A great way to bond with your new pet is to hand feed meals. This is an opportunity for them to trust you, and soon they will learn that you will not hurt them. Treats are always fun too!
  • Understand what the dog is comfortable and uncomfortable with. For example, taking a dog who is fearful of the outdoors will not be an easy task. Start your dog off in environments with less people and noises, such as the local park or your front yard. This can help your dog to trust the outdoors, before heading to areas with more people and louder noises.

Keep in mind that change does not happen overnight. Depending on the dog, it may take weeks, months or even years for the dog to fully open up. However, always be patient when working with dogs with abusive pasts. Soon enough, you’ll start to see improvements as days go by. Watching your pet start to trust another can be one of the most rewarding feelings. They will thank you for giving them a second chance at life.


Winnie GohComment