Am currently on my lunch break in Jakarta, and came across this article from Dogs Deserve Better. It's a pretty good article, and while the emphasis is on rehabilitation for chained dogs, I think the points in the article are applicable for rehabilitation of abused dogs too.
I know that I have been told that I am nuts for spending so much time with Lucky, but the feeling that you get when you see an abused dog (who used to be afraid of everything, and anything and everyone) starting to trust you, or look forward to seeing you and playing with you is simply amazing. I still have a long way to go with Lucky the Mongrel, but I really believe that all the time spent with him is beginning to pay off.
He has come out of his shell and is an alert little fella who is also pretty quick to learn. Lucky is very eager to please me, now that he realises that I will not hurt him and all that I have to offer him are long walks, cuddles and play time (with boundaries of course). Believe it or not, Lucky learnt "Sit" and "Down" on his first day of "training" within 15 minutes! And to think that to many, he's just a mutt, a mongrel puppy that I picked up from off the street...
I am now trying to teach him "Heel" which is a bit harder as he is still afraid of the cars and motorbikes that whizz past on our walks. But I am sure we'll get there.
So to those of you out there who have rescued dogs with behavioural issues, take comfort in knowing that your dog will respond to you eventually - but it takes time, patience and consistency.
I believe that dogs have the same range and depth of emotions as humans and that those who have been neglected seem to display heightened or exaggerated feelings to various stimuli. For example, while a loud noise will certainly startle a “normal” dog (one who has been raised with the comings and goings of people), that same loud noise will often terrify a dog who is not used to hearing a cacophony of sounds. The overly frightened dog will display a variety of reactions in the form of body language such as cowering, growling, snapping, hiding, putting their ears back or their tail between their legs.
Another important point when rehabilitating a dog who is afraid of the world is to be consistent. I have found that it helps, especially in the beginning, to have regularly scheduled events a dog can count on and look forward to. If you walk your dog in the afternoon, make sure that you give him or her a favorite treat when you return.
While you are offering regular doses of affection, you must also be consistent in your corrections. For example, although it may be tempting to ignore unacceptable behavior in a dog who tugs at your heart because of the horrific life they’ve led, this won’t help in the long run. It’s similar to training a puppy and teaching them good manners – the goal is to ultimately be able to bring your dog into any situation and know that he or she will be well behaved. Far better to say “NO!” every now and again than to have a dog who doesn't understand acceptable boundaries and behavior.
I have mixed feelings about having dogs on leash when they meet. The obvious benefit is that if there is a problem, the dogs can be separated. However, to a confined dog meeting another dog for the first time, the leash may signal confinement and may then trigger aggression. I would suggest that if your previously confined dog has had a number of positive experiences meeting other dogs on leash over a period of months and has not exhibited aggressive behavior, you can probably safely let your dog off leash to play with another dog. Observe him or her closely, however, for any signs of fear or aggression.
The process of socializing and rehabilitating a dog who has been confined requires a tremendous commitment – it may take a year or more to see real progress*. It is a process that at times may seem futile, but don’t give up! It is often a fine line between giving enormous amounts of love and setting boundaries if your dog displays aggression or other unacceptable behavior. Because their emotional growth was “stunted”, these dogs vacillate between fear/aggression and a huge outpouring of affection which can sometimes border on neediness.
The goal is twofold: to help them overcome their fears and to simultaneously boost their confidence, which means putting them in initially stressful situations. It sometimes seems like a Catch 22 – the only way to help them is to subject them to stress. Yet, if done gradually and in small steps, this type of systematic desensitization can be very effective.
—Debby Dobson has been working with dogs for over 20 years and she is the owner of "Good Dog!" Animal Behavior. She can be reached in Arizona at 928/ 282-2550 for behavioral phone consultations at $25 per hour.
Disclaimer: The author of this article cannot be held responsible for the actions of any dog or dogs and wishes to make it clear that the advice of a professional trainer or animal behaviorist should be sought in cases where a dog or dogs may be exhibiting aggessive behavior.
*Tammy's note: Although this is sometimes true, please realize that most often a dog can be housetrained within one-two weeks. Here Debby is talking about other behaviors, fear and aggression issues that will still be in place. Most dogs we rescue live with the pack easily right away.