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Adopting Abused Dogs

Adopting Abused Dogs
Adopting a dog that suffered from abuse or neglect will take a lot of time, patience, and knowledge. Don’t consider a dog that has suffered abuse or neglect unless you can help the dog.

Many dogs at shelters have not been abused and were voluntarily turned in for many different reasons. Most of these dogs and many senior dogs are housebroken and have some training while some have been trained well by their previous owner.

Abused Dogs

Adopting abused dogs and neglected dogs may have special challenges. It will take time and patience to build trust with your dog. Using positive reinforcement, you can create wonderful positive memories for your dog.

Shelter staff will be able to tell you about their interactions with the dogs in the shelter. Some dogs are in foster homes and the foster will be able to tell your about the dogs they foster. Any good reputable shelter will evaluate every dog and make sure they are adoptable.

Freedom Ride

After you adopt your dog, you will need to transport your dog home. This may be scary for your dog depending on your dog’s history. Take your time and don’t rush to make the trip as pleasant as possible.

Be sure your dog is secure in a crate or travel harness for their freedom ride to keep them safe. If you are in an accident, you want your dog to be secure to protect them. Dogs that are not secure could be thrown around and injured or worse.

After You Get Home

When you arrive at home, take your dog to the area of your yard where you want them to relieve themselves and allow your dog plenty of time to explore this new area. Carry some small treats in your pocket to give your dog along with praise, when they relieve themselves in this area.

Adjusting to Their New Home

dog adoptionLiving inside a home may be new for some dogs in shelters, especially those that were abused or neglected. If your dog has never lived inside a home it will be new and scary for your dog.

Everything inside will be strange and unusual to them so you will need to limit the area they can explore at first as to not overwhelm your dog.

Allow your dog plenty of time to adjust in their new home. Provide a crate with the door open as a safe place for your dog to go with plenty of soft bedding in the crate along with a treat filled toy for them to chew on and entertain themselves.

Visit Your Veterinarian

Take your dog to your veterinarian and get a full evaluation to rule out any medical problems that could cause any behavioral issues your dog could have. If your veterinarian rules out any medical conditions, then ask for their advice on helping your dog to adjust to their new life in your home with you.

Discovering Your Dogs Fears

You will need to learn what actions or objects will cause fear in your dog and avoid these actions or objects for a while so you can build trust with your dog using positive experiences.

Most abused dogs are afraid of something or many things causing them to hide or become aggressive acting out of fear. Dogs that suffer from abuse for a long time can become aggressive and will return the violence they are receiving.

Just raising your voice, raising your hand or a loud noise could cause an abused dog to be fearful. Sometimes just saying a term used by their past abuser can cause fear in your dog or seeing certain objects that your dog has been beaten with in the past can send your dog running to hide.

Special Training

Special training may be necessary to gain the trust of your dog, depending on the age of the dog, the type of abuse and the length of time the abuse or neglect occurred. You will have an easier time gaining the trust of a young puppy than an older dog that has been abused or neglected for a long period of time.

Things To Do
• Speak with a gentle voice
• Move slowly avoiding abrupt movements
• Remain calm at all times
• Use positive reinforcement

You may need a dog behavioral specialist to show you what your dog needs from you. You will need to take part in the training with the behavioral specialist to gain your dog’s trust, otherwise the behavioral specialist will gain your dog’s trust, not you.

Reversing the Effects of Abuse

In most dogs, the effects of abuse can be reversed over time. New experiences are scary for a dog so you must be very patient and take the time to show your dog that there can be a new normal in a loving home with a caring and patient owner.

Training your dog will help build confidence in your dog and it will also release mental energy. Dogs naturally want to please their owners and training gives your dog the ability to please you.

Start with short training sessions as to not overwhelm your dog and slowly increase the length of each training session. Start with just a few minutes and gradually increase the time of each training session.

Exercising Your Dog

Dog swimmingExercise is important for your dog to release energy and at the end of the day you want your dog to be in a calm state. Exercise and training will release physical and mental energy allowing your dog to be in a calm state.

Find a way to exercise your dog, although it may be difficult at first. Experiment with different ways to get your dog to exercise to release energy.

If your dog will walk on a leash, go for a walk or some dogs love to play fetch or maybe your dog wants to take a swim. Many behavioral issues occur from a lack of exercise.

Exploring The Neighborhood

Spend time outside with your dog to help them adjust to their new surroundings. Start with taking your dog for a short walk allowing your dog to take in the new scents, sights, and sounds. The next time you walk your dog, take the same route and explore a little further if your dog is adjusting well.

Reward Positive Behavior

Use small tasty treats to reward your dog for positive behavior. You can also praise your dog often for positive behavior and they will learn what you expect from them. Remember that your dog has a history of abuse and you have to show your dog that humans can be nice.

Pay attention to your dog’s body language. Dogs will hold their head, ears and tail high if they are feeling dominate. They will lower their head, ears and tail if they are feeling submissive. When your dog comes running at you with their tail level and wagging, they are full of excitement.


Your dog may show it’s teeth and growl without being aggressive and moving towards you. If your dog shows any signs of aggression you will need to see a dog behavioral specialist as your dog will need specialized help to overcome it’s fear.

Before Adopting

Before you adopt a dog that has suffered abuse or neglect, be sure you can help the dog. You don’t want to return the dog to the shelter and then to another home as they need stability.

Talk to staff members at the shelter. They will be able to answer your questions and tell you what each dog will need from you. Consider the behaviors of each dog and then decide which one you can help.

You must have time and patience to help an abused or neglected dog, so don’t make your decision lightly because adoption is a lifetime commitment. The information on this website is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian, dog trainer, or dog behavioral specialist.

Have you adopted an abused or neglected dog? What behavioral issues did you dog have? Feel free to leave a comment and share your story.





  1. This is such a great thing you have here. I love animals as well, especially dogs. I worked at a Pet Store about 10 years ago and I remember we sold puppies from breeders (and most likely puppy mills based on how popular that was). I always felt so bad because we had shelter dogs that would not be adopted very fast. The puppies would go for $800-$1200 and people would buy them no problem, but would rarely consider the shelter dogs. I think it was mainly because the were afraid they would come with bad habits and traits.

    People are much more considerate now. It’s good to see subjects like this to help educate others so they consider a shelter dog when adopting a pet.

    • Alice

      July 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      Thank you for your comment. There are so many shelter dogs that just want a good home and to be loved. I think your are right, many won’t consider a rescue dog. Dogs that have been abused or neglected may have special problems, but they can overcome those problems!

  2. I did adopt an abused dog, and now Teddy is the sweetest, most loving dog I could ever have. I can remember that drive home. He shivered and was so scared and nervous. That continued for a good 6 months. Then he became totally attached to me, but still very leery of anyone else. Today, a year later, he is…for the most part….a happy and well-adjusted part of our family.

    • Alice

      July 25, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      I’m so happy for you and Teddy! When you show an abused dog that they can have a loving owner, they become very loving and loyal. As you said, it does take time. Keep replacing Teddy’s bad memories with good memories! Thank you for your comment!

  3. Many abused/neglected and adopted dogs come into our clinic regularly and if the owners decided to pursue medical treatment, we usually try to get them to trust humans again through a lot of encouragement and gentle coaxing.

    Most of them gradually get over the negative behaviors that they developed, but some never fully reversed. They come in with a lot of fear and they left the clinic even more fearful due to exposure to other pets during hospitalization.

    It’s a very sad sight and sometimes you wish there’s an animal behaviorist around to help them out.

    • Alice

      September 22, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      It’s so sad to see abused or neglected animals. I agree, a clinic would not be a good environment for a fearful dog but they do have to have medical care when needed. It’s nice to know that there are people like you that care enough to try and help them. I wish they all could spend time with a behavioral specialist to overcome their fears. Thank you for caring and helping!

  4. This is a lovely article covering a subject that is very close to my heart. As an eleven year old I wanted a dog so bad…and my parents finally caved in. They rescued an Irish setter (red setter) from a shelter and she became my best friend. Unfortunately she only lived a further 5 years of her life due to the mistreatment she recieved as a pup…but I will never forget her. She had an awful youth but we managed to give her a wonderful adult life. Wonderful article and website – I wish you all the luck in the world with it!

    • Alice

      November 14, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      I’m so glad your parents adopted a dog for you. They will become your best friend and give you unconditional love. Thank you and your parents for not overlooking an older dog and for giving her 5 wonderful years to enjoy. So many people overlook the older dogs when they can be the perfect pet!

  5. Anyone who is willing to adopt abused dogs and give them a loving home is an angel in my eyes. There’s no excuse for anyone ever abusing a dog, and I also can’t understand how anyone can just hand over their beloved pet to a shelter and walk away. I don’t get it.

    You’ve written a really nice article here that is close to my heart. I love dogs and all animals and I believe it is our responsibility as people to love them and care for them.

    • Alice

      November 21, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I agree, those who adopt animals that were abused are angels in my eyes too. Dogs have so much love to give, and it’s unconditional love! There are so many dogs in shelters just wanting to be loved and have a home where they can be part of a family!

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