Abused Dogs

Working with abused animals is a difficult but rewarding experience.  Since more abusers seem to be male, traumatized pets are often more comfortable around women than men.  This is especially true with dogs who operate under the “pack” method of thinking.  Women are perceived as less threatening because of their softer voices and nurturing personalities.  I hear lots of stories about abused dogs that are well-behaved around the woman of the house but suddenly have “accidents” when a man appears.  We humans don’t realize the dog is urinating as a sign of submission to the man.  It is not a sign of  “naughtiness”  or jealousy.  
Here are my tips for introducing a man to a dog who has been abused by a man sometime in its past. 

1)  The man should ignore the dog, especially when he comes home from work.  Allow the dog to approach him, not vice-versa. 

2)  The man should never stare at the dog.  Staring is an aggressive gesture in the dog world.  It makes the abused dog cower, look away and possibly urinate in fear.

3)  Have the man feed the dog and hand out treats.  We want the dog to associate men with the good things in life.  Sometimes it helps if the man is sitting while doing this rather than standing.  

4)  If the dog likes to walk, have the man take him for walks.  Keep all commands upbeat and happy.  If the dog pulls on the leash, ignore it.  Don’t work on obedience until the dog is comfortable with all the people in your family.  

5)  Often, men have deep voices.  This can be threatening to a dog.  When working with a timid animal, keep all commands upbeat.  Use a happy, soft voice for all commands.  This is especially important when asking the dog to come.  If you sound upset or mad, the dog is going to run the other way.

6)  Squat down or sit on the floor to look less threatening.  Since men are generally taller than women, the additional height can also trigger anxiety in abused animals.

7)  Keep your hands empty.  Abused animals will look at your hands to make sure you are not carrying anything that may be used against them.   

Three years ago, my husband and I adopted an abused dog.  Buddy is terrified of men in suits with briefcases.  After months of following the steps listed above, Steve and Buddy became fast friends.  When Steve is wearing shorts, Buddy will actually approach him for attention although he’s still shy when Steve wears a suit. 

Bringing love to an abused animal and helping them re-wire their thinking is immensly rewarding.  Ususally a timid animal is that way for a reason.  Always remember, it is not the dog’s fault.  If we think in their terms – particularly pack behavior – we have a much greater chance for success.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.