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Can An Abused Dog Ever Recover?

Deciding to adopt a dog is an exciting event! You also know that each dog you come across may have specific baggage. 

With that said, you’ve adopted and brought your new BFF home. You know or realize they exhibit signs of trauma and think: can they recover from it?

It all comes down to time and patience, the dog, and the new support system you create, but in some cases, the answer can be a little more complex.

As you read more, this article will address and help pinpoint more specific answers that could help you and your furry pal.

Effects of abuse on a dog

Effects of abuse on a dog

Signs of PTSD

Most likely, the shelter will be able to share some background info about a dog. Minimally, the people there will be able to share if there are any quirks about them, whether minor or not.

This information is essential to the adopter of the animal. If you are the one to decide to take that on, it’s necessary to bring it up at the dog’s first vet visit.

If your dog has had a traumatic event, your vet is an incredible resource for how to move forward. 

But in the case the shelter doesn’t have anything of note, here are some signs of PTSD:

If you see these after the initial checkup, make sure to get in contact with your vet for guidance. 

How dogs adapt to a new environment.

Dogs may not show any behavioral habits until a few weeks in or once they feel comfortable.

Think of it as a weird honeymoon phase for new pet owners. The result could go either way. 

Dogs could gain confidence in this time frame and be happier than ever. Or the opposite could happen, and, in this article, that is our focus. 

Some dogs, once they feel settled in, have more layers that surface. 

Sometimes the coping mechanisms they showcase in the present day become deeper rooted than the original trauma. 

The reasoning behind this is that this coping mechanism has become a way of survival. It’s a way of preserving the dog from being put back into a situation similar to their past.

Other points of a dog’s life that can mirror abused symptoms

Beyond all the possibilities mentioned previously, there are other scenarios your new pup might have gone through. 

All of the following can lead to similar behavioral issues as well. You need to discern the root stem with a professional. 

One being, before your dog’s life with you, they weren’t properly socialized. 

Another reason could be inadequate stimuli to keep them engaged before being adopted.

And finally, it could be genetic. A parent of your pup could have had trauma happen to them before having a litter.

Your pet can potentially hold these tools to recover. Even with any past traumas, they may have had. 

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The following section covers action steps that can help most dogs on the road to recovery. 

Ways that help dogs heal at home (5 tips)

Ways that help dogs heal at home

Tip 1: Provide safe spaces

A recommendation, notice where the dog runs to when they are looking for a break. Most dogs do this regardless of background. 

Generally, when triggered by someone or something, they seek a safe place. After the space is theirs, make it a little cozier for them. 

Some dogs are looking to hide from others, while some just feel the need for shelter. You could add a sheet for privacy or a dog bed for comfort.

Trust is the other first thing to establish with your dog. 

The place in your home you’ve set up for them makes them feel welcomed. It also shows you are respectful of them. Doing this is a solid place to begin to build trust.

Tip 2: Control, structured and repetitive routines

Dogs need the feeling of control in some aspects of their lives. If dogs have too much power in a situation, that’s where a dog can run into problems.

Control paired with structure and expectations is great for a dog. They can rely on the rules a family sets in place and, in turn, let go of their coping mechanisms.

As time passes, more behaviors fade because the dog begins to trust and learn newer, healthier ways to live.

Repetitive routines are also something dogs can begin to feel in control of because they literally know what to expect. These routines also help the brain move on from deep-seated memories. 

Tip 3: Create a respected dialogue

As the relationship continues between a dog and its owner, there should be a trusting dialogue that builds too. 

First and foremost is identifying any triggers. A trigger is any sort of happening that can set a dog off, whether it be a person, animal, weather event, or everyday item/event. 

Once there is a grasp on the triggers, creating a plan for the dog is first. Also, working with your dog to show that they can trust you even in their worst scenarios is the next step.

The goal is that your dog trusts in you when anything arises. It is achieved by your dog holding the dialogue between you as its guide through any situation.

Tip 4: Desensitization and slow exposures to triggers 

You can’t necessarily jump into the deep end first. The best place to start is somewhere the dog doesn’t feel too threatened. Trust is again so important here.

It cannot be stressed enough for either of these techniques to work; the dog needs to feel safe. If not done in this manner, behaviors have the potential to become worse.

Slow exposure is a safe, slow-paced introduction to a dog’s trigger.  It allows the dog exploration in its own time. 

As a dog continues to get comfortable, find the next natural step until it’s not a bother anymore.

Desensitization’s paired with a technique called counter conditioning. It’s when a dog is exposed at a lower intensity and continues to a healthier disposition toward the trigger. 

Tip 5: Time and patience

Even with those techniques, the best recipe for a dog’s recovery is still time, space, and patience. These three are building blocks others can build upon to help a dog recover.

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Professional steps for dogs with trauma

Behavioral Therapists

It’s a little more complicated than what the vet and behavioral therapist said initially, and that’s okay! 

As mentioned, time and patience are the best supports for a dog that has experienced trauma. 

Therapists are talented individuals containing a wealth of knowledge regarding behavioral issues. They are trained specifically for this, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Talking with them, they can generally steer a dog and owner on the right track to a happier home life.  Again, though, this is where time and patience come in.

Continue to set expectations for the dog in every aspect of its life. Soon enough, they will begin to understand what is needed to move forward.

If the dog isn’t progressing, a recommendation is re-evaluating with a behavioral therapist. 

Continuing to de-sensitize and set boundaries for the dog is essential in the meantime (if the dog feels comfortable). 


The therapist can lead a dog and its owner to more treatments. In most cases, that answer may be medication recommended by the dog’s vet.

Just like humans, it’s not a one med fits all situation. Each dog depending on its needs would go through a similar test phase of what works best.

If the medicine works, a dog and its owner can return to the top half of this article. 

Medication, of course, aids in many ways but maintaining a natural balance of a healthy relationship is needed. 

A combination or further discussion

In the event of more complexity, it’s best to combine–a therapy schedule and medication. 

Similar to us, dog traumas have the potential for their chemical structure to become altered.

Naturally, a chemical change can lead to more complications in a dog’s recovery. 

Either time spent with a behavioral therapist or medications can have the potential to mend an issue. 

More often than not, a combination of the two is essential for something more advanced.

But, if there are still issues, further discussion with professionals is safest for you and your dog. 

Dogs are very aware and complex creatures, so naturally, some animals find themselves in this position. Professionals are the best asset at this point.

Final thoughts

As we all know, adopting a dog is a special but unique experience. There’s always work involved regardless of any type we may choose, but a rewarding process when done well. 

This sentiment holds especially true with the dogs who have had the experiences discussed in this article. 

It’s possible for a dog to recover, sometimes. Let’s review.  Dogs do have the potential to recover if it enters a home dedicated to the work. Unfortunately, it’s still no fully guaranteed thing.

There is hope as this field continues to grow. Between brain study, medication, and therapies continuing to develop—there’s a brighter future for traumatized dogs.

In the meantime, patience and time are absolutely the keys to a dog’s recovery. The other is creating an environment for your dog to feel like they can trust you and your family.  These three things are the assets to letting your dog’s healing begin.