Does a dog view an abusive owner differently from a kind one?
While it seems like that question should have an easy answer, it’s a bit more complex than a simple “yes” or “no.”
Today, we’re going to talk about how dogs remember abuse and how it shapes their personalities.
It’s a difficult topic to think about, but if you’re planning to rescue an abused dog, it’s important.
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Does a dog view an abusive owner differently?
As a pet owner, there is one subject that I don’t like to think about, and that’s animal abuse. Unfortunately, I often come across stories about mistreated dogs and cats on Facebook. The only positive thing is that there are people who are willing to take those animals in and give them the life they deserve.
Abused dogs often come with issues – some are aggressive, others are shy and terrified. It takes time and patience to make them realize that nothing awful is going to happen and teach them how to behave properly.
It’s a long journey, and as you observe how your pet cowers before you, a bleak thought might enter your mind.
- Does a dog view an abusive owner differently from a kind one?
- Or are they both the same in his mind?
A friend of mine, who works with abused animals, asked me this question a couple of days ago. So, I’m going to share with your what I told my friend to ease his mind.
How do dogs remember abuse?
Animals are not so different from humans when it comes to their reaction to abuse. A dog, who has been raised with love, usually grows up to be an affectionate, friendly fellow. A puppy who has repeatedly been hit or beaten might turn into an aggressive dog that attacks provoked or unprovoked.
However, you have to understand something about dogs.
They don’t become reminiscent of the past because they don’t form long-term memories as we do, according to National Geographic. They don’t think “I wish I haven’t done that,” or “I feel guilty about that.” They live in the moment.
Previous, experts thought that dogs didn’t have episodic memory – the ability to recall specific events from the past. However, recent studies have proven that it’s not true. Dogs do remember events, even though their memories fade with time and they are not as complex and detailed as human ones.
Check out this video to learn more about the now disproved episodic memory theory:
What’s important is that dogs learn by repetition. If something is repeated often enough, it turns into a learned behavior.
For example, when you train Fluffy, you create a connection between the command word, the action, and the reward.
When a dog is beaten for something “bad” he has done, he learns to associate the raised hand, the loud voice, or the angry shouts with what follows – punishment, fear, and pain. So, he will experience these feeling again in the presence of the trigger even when the memory of the specific event has faded.
Does a dog view an abusive owner differently from a kind one?
Dogs look up to their owners for approval, comfort, and affection. To betray that trust is an unspeakable crime. However, dogs don’t have the same range of emotions as humans, so they don’t comprehend the abuse the same way we do.
Don’t understand me wrong. Mistreated dogs suffer greatly. They feel depressed, hurt, and terrified. But they don’t feel shame or guilt as humans would in such circumstances. They don’t blame their owner for their mistreatment.
In fact, an abused dog might still protect its owner and act aggressively towards strangers with good intentions because the owner is the pack leader and the pack leader is never wrong. If the dog has never known kindness in his life, he wouldn’t even know that he is poorly treated, which is heart-breaking.
When Fluffy gets rescued, he will realize that his new owner is acting differently, but probably won’t understand why.
In the beginning, your attitude would seem strange, even unsettling to your newly-rescued pet and in his eyes, you might seem even more terrifying than his previous owner. The devil we know is the better than the devil we don’t, right?
But with time and rehabilitation, an abused dog can grow to trust and look up to you. Your love and attention will show him that his present life is better than the one he had before.
So, do not allow doubts to enter your mind. Your dog knows that you’re treating him differently, even if Fluffy doesn’t comprehend that what has happened to him was wrong.
How to help an abused dog overcome his fears?
I’m sad to say it, but an abused dog might never flourish into the friendly dog that he was supposed to be. Then again, he just might surprise everyone.
Case in point: Most of us remember the story of football player Michael Vicks and his dogfighting ring. Many thought that those dogs would never be friendly again. Best Friends took in 22 of the most abused and mistreated dogs into their sanctuary and worked with them to rehabilitate them. Today, most of the dogs are flourishing as service dogs and beloved family companion animals.
Only two dogs were ordered to remain at the sanctuary by the judge, deemed “too far gone” to ever be rehomed. While Lucas passed away in 2013, Meryl is enjoying her life at Best Friends. Check out the video to learn more.
When it comes to rehabilitating an abused dog, it’s best not to go it alone.
Ask for help from professional trainers and follow these tips:
- Prepare a safe spot where Fluffy can hide in times of distress. It should be away from the busiest parts of the house.
- Do not shout. Talk softly.
- Establish a routine that keeps the dog calm.
- Avoid making any sudden moves that might scare Fluffy.
- Always approach the dog slowly to show that you mean no harm.
- Do not force them in situations where they feel uncomfortable.
- Capture and reward the behavior you want to promote with treats.
- Go for long walks so that your dog can get familiar with the neighborhood.
- Engage in games to build their confidence.
If you choose to provide a safe haven for an abused dog, you take an enormous responsibility upon your shoulders. What you need is a lot of patience to show the dog that you’re different from his previous owner and that you love and care for him. Be fair to your pet and you’ll be rewarded with a content dog, which will be loyal to your for the rest of his life.
What do you think on the matter? Does a dog view an abusive owner differently from a kind one? Tell us your rescue stories and how you helped your dog overcome the abuse.