Using Positive Reinforcers and Patience to Help an Abused Dog Start Living Again

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 24, 2017

In this Omaha Dog Psychology session we worked with an abused dog; 11 year-old Mini Poodle mix Buddy who is so fearful around men he shuts down and cowers in a corner isolating himself.

Most of the time I conduct dog behavior sessions which focus on structure. But when I have a scared dog with psychological issues like Buddy, its all about helping the dog come back into the light of life. Anything that gets it moving forward is helpful.

I started off by enticing him with some high value chicken liver treats.

Its important to not try to over encourage or move the treats too much. I like to breadcrumb the dog and add a jackpot (small pile) of multiple treats at the end.

One of the most common mistakes people make when helping an abused dog is trying to move too fast. While we want the dog to get over its fears, its important to note this is a slow and steady process if you want the suffering to end for good. Even if it seems like a small thing, NEVER get upset or frustrated when working with an abused dog. Walk away. collect yourself and only resume when you =are calm and relaxed.

By waiting for the dog to come forward on his own without any luring or pressure, Buddy stopped being such a fearful dog and eventually he started following his nose out of his corner of the world.

While petting and love is a huge part of the rehabilitation process, another very common mistake is to pet a dog while its in an unbalanced emotional state. Anything a dog is doing when you pet it is what you are reinforcing; including fear and anxiety.

I showed them how they can touch him to let them know they were there and supposing him without enhancing his dog fear and anxiety.

Because Buddy was abused by a male or multiple males, I spent much of the session focusing on helping the family’s father build a positive relationship with little Buddy.

As a dog behaviorist, I learned a long time ago that moving forward literally helps dogs get over many things. To help the family’s father bond better with this formerly abused dog, I knew I needed to get Buddy walking with him.

First step, leashing up the dog using a positive approach.

Even something as minor as leashing up a dog can be harmful when you are dealing with an anxious or fearful dog. That’s why I spent a few minutes going over this soft and positive approach.

Now that Buddy was leashed up, I wanted to take him out for a walk without his guardians. As they have been living with him for nearly 5 years, there was some emotional baggage accompanying them. I wanted to see how Buddy did in a wide open environment as a change of scene can often really help when rehabilitating a fearful dog.

Additionally the outdoors offers a plethora of stimulation. All the sights, sounds, smells and other stimulation can be very beneficial in activating his brain. Also the wide open space can help many dogs feel less confined and alleviate stress.

It was wonderful to see how much of a difference this walk made for Buddy. I forgot to mention this to the guardians at the time as I was so focused on helping Buddy with his fear of men, but it will be helpful for the family’s mother to walk Buddy solo from time to time. This way he can build up memories of more positive, fun times like he had while walking with me.

Walking with the family;s father will be very therapeutic, but sprinkling in exclusive fun times will also help the healing process tremendously.

I returned to the house and as we approached, Buddy started to get stiff and move slower when we got to the driveway. He got even more anxious once he saw the father. Hate seeing that but it was completely expected.

The more Buddy walks like this with the family’s father, the better he will feel about him. Additionally the exercise of a daily or multiple walks a day can help wake up a dog’s digestive track which can also be beneficial and help him stop being a anxious dog.

Near the end of the walk, I shot another short video to outline some instructions to make sure the walks are as helpful as possible.

While the walks will be instrumental in helping Buddy learn to come into the light and stop being fearful of men, there are some things he can do post walk that can help as well.

To make sure Buddy doesn’t come inside and immediately go back to shutting down, I shot another video with some positive dog training tips to help Buddy linger outside of his isolation zone a little longer. Essentially practice at being a normal, fearless dog.

Eventually Buddy went back to his safe place and this is OK. Its going to take time, practice, walks and lots of patience. The goal is to have Buddy spend less and less time in the corner. I shared another tip that will also help Buddy practice being in other parts of the house.

To help Buddy’s family’s father engage with him a little more, I had him take a seat on the floor near Buddy’s safe place and coached him up a bit on some ways to positively interact with Buddy.

Its always tough to see an abused dog who is withdrawn to cope with being beaten, neglected or otherwise abused. But some of the brightest moments I have experienced as a dog behaviorist is getting a call, text or seeing a video of the dog once it returns to balance and can go back to being a normal dog again.

I look forward to hearing an update (or multiple updates) from his guardians as the healing process takes place. It will be a number of small steps, but now they know what to look for and celebrate when they happen.

To help Buddy’s guardian stay on the road to recovery, I sat down at the end of the session and shot a roadmap to success video filled with all kinds of dog training and dog behavior tips to help this abused dog stop being fearful of men.

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