Caring for an Abused Dog

Prolonged exposure to abuse affects dogs in different ways. A 2015 study discovered that abused dogs displayed a dozen different behavior issues, including excitability, hyperactivity, attention seeking, and barking.

While it sounds intimidating, most behavior issues can be trained out of a dog. Obviously, we don’t expect foster households to hold rigorous training for their foster dogs, but using the experience of experts can help an abused dog adjust to his temporary home.

Some behavior issues can be approached with multiple tactics, so select one that works best for you and your foster dog. Consistency and repetition are paramount, and working together will help build your relationship.

A Safe Home

Your foster dog should know that their temporary home is safe. Establish a loose schedule that he will learn, including walks and eating. Don’t force anything on him if he displays signs of extreme anxiety. Most importantly, let him adapt at his own pace. It’s okay to encourage confidence, but don’t push the dog too much.

Avoid punishing the dog. Unless there is a direct relation between the undesired activity and the punishment, a dog won’t understand why they’re being punished. For abused dogs, this could make their behaviors worse.


Exercise should always be your first approach when dealing with a behavior issue. Unspent energy results in frustration, and dogs act out when frustrated. Ensure that your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise.

Some breeds react well to having a job. Retrievers, for example, love to fetch. Border collies love to run. Terriers love to find things. Figure out the job your foster dog likes, and encourage him to do it daily.

Separation Anxiety

A foster dog may have formed a strong bond with their owner during in their previous home. They can display anxiety from their owner visiting or they may transfer it to you or someone in your home. There are a few methods to handle this issue.

  • Don’t make a big deal about leaving or returning home. Humans find this difficult, but, if you don’t get excited, they will learn to follow suit.
  • Before you leave, hide toys and treats around the house for the dog to find.
  • Don’t perform the same routine when leaving. A dog’s anxiety will build as you put on your shoes, grab the keys, and turn out the lights.
  • Perform leaving drills. Leave the house for a minute and return (remember: without excitement). Do this once or twice a day, increasing it a bit more each day.
  • Don’t let the dog follow you around the house. A few times a day, try to leave the dog in another room. If they know how to stay, you can use that command, or you can use a baby gate.

Compulsive Behaviors

Compulsive behaviors vary. Dogs can chase their tail, dig holes, or lick a pillow. These develop from anxiety, and, like humans, they become fixated on one action to calm them. Compulsive behaviors can be managed a few different ways.

  • Identify the anxiety trigger and remove it.
  • Redirect the dog’s attention when he begins the behavior. Start a short training session, grab a toy and play with him, or fill a Kong with peanut butter.
  • Desensitize the dog through controlled exposure to the trigger. This can be done many different ways and at different paces.

Fear Aggression

The cause of fear aggression is in the name: the dog senses a danger and reacts. Fear aggression manifests in different ways: resource hoarding, leash aggression, and fighting with other dogs. Building the dog’s confidence mitigates his fear.

  • Fear aggression can be treated similarly to compulsive behavior by removing triggers or desensitization.
  • If you cannot remove a trigger, establish a ritual of behavior when in that situation. For example, if the doorbell upsets the dog, begin training him to go to a certain bed, couch, or room when the bell rings.
  • Redirect the dog’s attention during the trigger and reward him with a treat.
  • Avoid petting the dog on the head, grabbing his collar, or hugging him. These are all actions that could be misunderstood by the dog.

Other Issues

Abused dogs can exhibit many different issues. Try to understand why the dog behaves a certain way, and brainstorm methods to mitigate it. Many issues can be handled with training, redirection, or treats. Experiment and work with your foster dog. This alone could build the confidence he needs to move on to the next phase of his life.