My Dog Was Abused; Why That Phrase is Ruining Your Dog and Your Training

Thanks to Hector the Pit Bull's Page on FB for the Photo

Thanks to Hector the Pit Bull's Page on FB for the Photo

I believe I recognize I am about to make some people angry…  I ruffle a few feathers from time to time; but only in an attempt to help people have a better relationship with their families.

But being a professional dog trainer I see so many horrific things all of the time.

I DO ABSOLUTELY see dog abuse.

I will use one name everyone knows Michael Vick.  His dogs were fought and horribly abused.

Over 50 dogs were seized from the NFL player’s property.

Daphna Nachminovitch, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said “"These dogs are a ticking time bomb.  Rehabilitating fighting dogs is not in the cards. It's widely accepted that euthanasia is the most humane thing for them."

Whereas I am sure that many of them were too badly scarred, injured and aggressive to be rehabilitated and unfortunately I am sure many were euthanized.

But thankfully a few were saved and rehomed.

One named Hector went to live with a fabulous family in Minnesota.  Hector lived for 7 years with this wonderful family, traveling the country as a therapy dog and dispelling many myths associated with Pitbulls and fighting dogs, before he finally succumbed to cancer at 9.  For more on his inspiring life click here.   You can even see him playing with other dogs (something naysayers probably said would never happen).

You see, I can tell that this wonderful couple in MN never used his history of abuse as an excuse or rationalization for poor behavior.

I am guessing, that in the beginning Hector had a hard time with life. I am pretty sure no one ever snuggled him, taught him obedience, or allowed him to “play” with other dogs.

I can bet that he was kept in a cage and agitated until it was time to fight (after all he was 2 when he was adopted, so he wasn’t a “puppy”).  It doesn’t get more abused than this.

But you can’t be a successful therapy dog and be aggressive with dogs or other people and you can’t be a successful therapy dog and be fearful.

So even though I am sure his new family had to take the time to train him and teach him and socialize him, and they obviously used his life trials to teach people they never used it as an excuse for his bad behavior (let’s face it all dogs are naughty sometimes).


Thanks the Gin Blog for the Photo

Thanks the Gin Blog for the Photo

Now I would totally understand if he was dog aggressive or didn't care much for people.  After all, he undoubtedly had to fight humans and dogs in an attempt to survive.

And, I can empathize with a dog that has been kicked or chained or beaten or yelled at; but empathy is different than making excuses as a defense mechanism for not dealing with behavior.


Excuses begin with “he was abused” or “he was a fighting dog… so he is dog aggressive, or fearful or doesn’t like people so we don’t push him”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard “He bites my husband, but he was abused by a man”

“He attacks other dogs, but he was attacked by a dog”

“He hates children, but he was teased by neighborhood kids”

If you are making excuses you probably aren't working on changing the behavior.

The Fact Remains

The fact remains whether he was abused, or whether he is just straight up aggressive or fearful (I believe highly in genetics) the prognosis for obedience and desensitization are the same.

The excuse doesn’t really matter when you are dealing with aggression.

I Don’t Mean to be Callous

I don’t mean to be callous or act like I don’t care.  Animal abuse tears at my heart too.

But I think it is a detriment to the dog AND to the owner when they use it as an excuse for bad or aggressive behavior.  “He bites my husband, but he was abused by a man… so my husband sleeps on the sofa and he can only hug me when the dog is outside”

You shouldn’t let your past affect your future and the same is true with dogs.

If we focus on the past and making excuses, we are too busy living in the past and not working on the present and the future.

No one should live on the sofa or be afraid to show affection to their family or spouse.

Dog’s Live in the Present

Although some things can permanently scar a dog; dog’s live in the present.

I am certain that Hector did not live in the two years prior to his adoption with a loving couple.  He lived in the moments where he was loved, and trained and doing his therapy work.

I might also note that just because a dog is starved, or abused by humans does not mean it gives him the right to be aggressive.

Not all abused children grow up to be sociopaths!

Thanks hot springs daily for the photo

Thanks hot springs daily for the photo

No one deserves to live in an abusive relationship.  And, sometimes dogs are relinquished BECAUSE they hate or are aggressive to men.

Aggression does not always equal fear or abuse, sometimes it is just an intolerance to share; or Napoleon syndrome.   For more on that read this I Do Not Love Thee I possess Thee.

So If This Article Hits Home

So if this article hits home; it doesn’t mean you are a bad person.

You probably have the best intentions in mind.

But, for you and your dog’s sake forget about his past and work on his present and future with obedience, work and perhaps desensitization to the things that bother him.  For more on that click here

And, give him the “Gift of Obedience” to help calm him and give him confidence in all situations.


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  1. Jilly says:

    While I agree that you can train a dog that has been abused and that dog can become a happy member of your family I wouldn’t wholly trust a dog that has been abused and has shown aggression.

    I trained my beloved collie cross who was so aggressive when we got him that it was touch and go whether he should be considered a dangerous dog and possibly put to sleep. I taught him to do agility and to compete in the agility ring where he could have felt very threatened. In agility the judge has to watch the dog all the time and the one thing my dog didn’t like was being stared at. It took a lot of training to make him into a good agility dog. He always came home with prizes and he lived until he was 15 years old. Our vets doted on him.

    Although everyone loved my dog and he did very well in the agility ring I never quite trusted him not to bite someone. I never allowed him to get too close to people who were doing anything that he might see as threatening. For instance a nieghbour was chopping wood one day when we came past. He made a fuss of my dog and there was a lot of tail wagging and friendliness until the neighbour picked up a log. My dog took one look at the log and jumped backwards barking and showing his teeth. He was clearly very frightened. It wasn’t bad behaviour but it was a sudden knee jerk reaction and I believe it was to do with possible abuse that he suffered before he came to live with us. As I say, a dog can be trained but I believe they retain a memory of what has happened to them in past and it can be difficult if not impossible to compoletely eradicate it.

    After two years I still miss my dog terribly and I will never regret persevering with him against all the odds.


  2. Ursula says:

    How do I train my 10 year old Sheltie who was a breeder in a puppy mill? She bounced around to 3 fosters for 2 years. I got her a year ago, and she is still fearful. Made small


  3. Joy Blackmon says:

    My terrier mix came to my house 2 yrs. ago and is afraid of everyone but me (he hides under the bed when anyone comes). Most of my family has never seen him. He will not stay in the back yard if I am not there. How can I help him to overcome this fear? He is three yrs. old now. I love him a lot & I’m very kind to him.



    Hi, exactly my position. How much?


  5. Fianna says:


    This was a great article, thank you. I am wondering if you have any advice for me? I have a French mastiff who i rescued. She was 3 1/2 when she was surrendered, and the vet said she had had at least 4 or 5 litters. She was never “abused” per se, but when I took her home, it was very clear that she had never been in a house. She knew sit, down, and stay, but had also obviously never been on a leash. She is a wonderful dog, and great with people, although it took a bit of time to convince her that leaping through the air with her Mouth open, and trying to play bite people was a little intimidating to most people.

    The problem I have with her, that I have never been able to overcome, is her dog on dog food aggression. She is sweet and wonderful with dogs most of the time, but if there is even a hint of food, she gets very scary. She has flipped several dogs, and held them down (if anyone has seen turner and hooch, you know what I am talking about).

    I am assuming that the people who had her before me, and had her pregnant or nursing 90% of her life, would just throw the food out into the back yard, and it was a free for all.

    I supplement my income boarding dogs at my house. I have my whole house sectioned off, so that she doesn’t get near the client dogs. She is very well mannered when they meet over the gates, and is not dog on dog aggressive most of the time. It is just when there is food. She is ok with my dogs, most of the time, but she often does this to them. They have learned to stay away from her when she does this. It happens to fast, and all the training I have done with her has not changed this one aspect. I would love to have her able to be with other dogs.

    Any suggestions?


    Minette Reply:

    It’s not worth it. You can’t control how she feels about other dogs when it comes to food. With A LOT of work and complete control you can learn to control her around food; but only when you are near and she is probably on the leash.

    Otherwise I would suggest feeding her in her crate and let her have her own space no one else can go where she can feel comfortable and close her inside until she is done. When finished safely remove the bowl and any remnants of food or toys she might guard


    Fianna Reply:

    Thank you, I guess I just needed to hear it from someone else. She is well trained, and a good girl, but her reaction is so quick, and usually unexpected, that I have not had to opportunity to handle it. I will just continue to keep her separated from the client dogs. I have been doing for a long time now. Was just hoping there was some solution.

    Thank you


  6. Pam Kutscher says:

    What a wonderful post. I absolutely agree that, though not all dogs can overcome past circumstances (or people either for that matter) many can and deserve that chance to try.
    Four and a half years ago I adopted a Boston Terrier with unknown history (he’d been found as a stray) that was estimated to be 4-5 years old (amazingly he was already neutered). I was warned that he was fear-aggressive towards the veterinarian especially with shots (when he’d come into rescue he had ear and skin infections, was extremely underweight and had scars from probably fighting). I made this known to my veterinarian and who took the time to win his trust during the initial visit. I had come prepared with a bag full of yummy treats and every time the vet needed to do something remotely uncomfortable or scary I shoved a handful of treats in the dog’s mouth as a distraction. Now, though he still has a lot of health issues (he’s lost an eye and is on special drops for “dry eye” in the other one, has recently developed cluster seizures, has had to have several tooth extractions) he is totally cool now with veterinary exams and treatments–needles and all. All we really did was replace bad associations with good ones.
    He has also been fear aggressive towards large dogs and livestock but, using the same distraction method we’ve turned cows, horses, big dogs into “cow buddies”, “horse buddies, “dog buddies”, etc. so now I can easily divert his attention if something unusual comes along that might trigger the fear aggression.
    It took a lot of concentrated work at first but it has certainly paid off. Patience and persistence is key–don’t give up on your dog!


  7. G. Roberts says:

    I have adopted a Deer head Chawa. She was 2/ Is now 2-yrs 6 mo old. she is afraid of the dark. If I go out side with her at night she is fine. But other wise she will just look through the doggie door and not go out until I go with her. It has taken a 6 mo for her to go up to my husband and not growl and snarl. Ready to bite him. Me she loves.
    How can I break her of being afraid. ????


    Minette Reply:

    I was fine until the information about your husband. But now I think you need a veterinary behaviorist because your husband needs to get involved and be part of her life and you need to back off a bit. However, this program must be monitored by a veterinary behaviorist so that no one gets bitten.


  8. birgit says:

    I totally agree with your post. I have an abused male GSD myself. But I never let it be an excuse for his behaviour. On the contrary, it became ( as my kids called it) my project to rebuilt him. And with patience, lots of love and some more patience I did succeed. Now he is a healthy, full member of our family, fully dependable, like his half-sister. I always was in the believe that with proper training and perseverance you can rebuilt a dogs confidence. Same like with children, knowledge and abilities bring pride and confidence.


    lata reed Reply:

    we have adopted a german shepherd from the rescue society. he was chained outside and when he was found he weighed only 35 lbs and the collar had to be surgically removed. he has calmed down a lot. he still bites my husband. not me though. I think he was abused by a man and they never forget.


  9. Marilyn B says:

    Hi, I have a beautiful pyrnees that was abused and I acquired when she was 18 month old. She is very sweet and loves to be petted and loved on. My problem, I am sure that she was abused because even though I have never hit her, every tie I pick up the broom to sweep or if I move suddenly, she is terrified and jumps away. Is there a way to help her be more comfortable being around me when I sweep or move?


    Minette Reply:

    Some dogs are just reactors especially herding dogs and dogs meant to guard flocks. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about abuse, again I think that is holding her back.

    Toss her treats every time you use the broom, bring the broom and sit it next to you often and carry it around wherever you go. She’ll learn to just ignore it if it is part of her everyday


  10. C.Choquette says:

    We adopted our Alaskan Malamute at 5 years old. She had been through 2 breeders. I’m not sure how many times she was bred or the conditions in which she lived with the first breeder. The second breeder had a great kennel for his dogs and they seemed to be well taken care of. When we met her she was very social, rolling on her back for attention. When we got her home she was good with us but when others came to the house, very nervous. She nipped at a little girl who was patting her and an adult who was rubbing her belly after being invited to do so. With the adult it seemed more like a lunge from laying on her side to heading for the person’s face. I think it may’ve had to do with stress and being in a new home. She was also a little on edge because there were two dogs who came to visit with everyone as well. I thought having been with other dogs at the breeders that she would be good with dogs but it wasn’t the case, especially if the dog is on the hyper side. If the dog is calm (older dog) she seems to be okay. But the younger ones she seems to want to correct, however if she got ahold of them I don’t know how far it would go. She has gotten used to my Mom’s chocolate lab after much socialization with her so I have hope that with continued socialization she will continue to progress. It seems to be the best thing for her, though it stresses her out at first, being constant with it (we usually stay at my parent’s for a couple nights) has proven to have the best results. She is a big girl though (around 90 lbs) and I’m just over 100 lbs so I want to make sure I have control over her. She responds to correction very well so for that I’m thankful. She is a great dog and worth the extra effort as we all love her very much.


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