How to Rehabilitate An Abused Dog and Teach Him to Trust You

How to Rehabilitate An Abused Dog

You may not normally be in a situation where you’re wondering how to rehabilitate an abused dog.  This is usually a task for experts at animal shelters.  However, if you should ever have a need to approach a dog that appears to be hurt, abandoned, and/or abused, I share with you how to go about gaining his trust enough for you to approach him in order to be able to get him the help (and love) he needs and deserves.

If you come across a dog that is in dire straits, the chances are that he is making himself unapproachable.  He may be hiding in the bushes, or just doing anything at all to keep you more than arm’s length away.

Here are a few pointers that you may try.  Be careful, be gentle, and most of all, be patient.  This may take awhile.

  • When you approach this dog, make yourself smaller by bending down so that you’re not towering over him.  This will make you appear less threatening.
  • When talking to him, speak in a soft, gentle tone.  Make him feel that you mean no harm.  Move slowly because fast movements may harm him and scare him further away.
  • Try to call him to come to you if that’s possible.  If he begins to approach you, praise him in a soft, cheerful voice.  Have patience.  Let him come on his terms.  Keep in mind that he may be used to having someone hit him when he comes and he doesn’t trust you yet.
  • Try offering food to him as an incentive to approach. He’s probably very hungry anyway, and will see this as an offering.  When he gets close enough, give him the food. You may have to throw it his way, or lay it down and step back.  Just keep trying.
  • You can also try to sit quietly and wait for him to approach.  He may need to do this on his terms.

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  • When you do finally gain his trust enough for him to come close to you, treat him gently.  Keep your palm up as he approaches you and gently rub under his chin or on his chest.  Both of these spots are calming to a dog.
  • If he moves to step backward, let him retreat.  It’s okay to just have him near you for a few minutes at a time.  In time, he will stay longer on his own.
  •  If you have a leash, gently put it over his head and just let it sit. Let him get used to having it on him before you try to lead him anywhere.  You don’t want him to run away with the leash on, though.  Wait until you have his trust enough that he will stay with you.
  • If you succeed this far, you may need to take him to an animal rescue or dog adoption center where they know how to rehabilitate an abused dog.  This dog deserves a better life now.  If you can take him in yourself and find a good home for him, then I love you for it.

Teach Your Dog Good Behavior – Obedience Training Guide

As I said earlier, and as you can probably imagine, this may not happen right away.  There are many stories of people trying to gain the trust of a dog that takes days, even weeks.  Here is a fine example of the patience of two women, who spend three months earning the trust of Rosie, a Rottweiler, who had been living alone in a national park for over a year.  You can see their story here:


Rescuing Rosie, A Tale of Two Women and a Rottweiler

Featured Image: Bella Grace, by Randy von Liski / Flickr


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Have you had the good fortune to rescue a  dog or any other animal?

Jeanne Melanson
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10 thoughts on “How to Rehabilitate An Abused Dog and Teach Him to Trust You”

  1. thank you for youre article, we just got a boston terrier and he is so very skiddish , appears to have been abused, we are trying so hard to let him know we love him, its difficult to not being able to pick him up, or hug him. we will keep trying. i wish we could take his anguish and suffering away. I think they even took his vocal cords, he doesn’t bark or whine, sooo sad. we are determined to give him a good home.

    • Oh, how sad and lovely at the same time. It must be heart-breaking for you. Have you had him long? You need to take your time with him and let him approach you at his own pace. Sit on the floor while watching TV or reading to be down at his level if you can. I find that helps a lot when dogs are afraid to come to me. I wish you the very best. Thank you for taking the risk and giving him a loving home. I know you can do it. Peace

  2. Hi my name’s Elizabeth I was in my way to Fresno to look at a puppy for my daughter and I kept hearing this shinning in back I asked the owner what it was as I was surrounded by 8 week old balls of cuteness he said that was a throw back from 2 litters ago whom no-one wanted I asked him to bring me that dog and I’ve never been so horrified she was a beautiful german shepherd about a year old she was muddy and terrified I told him I wanted her and not a puppy so I took chicita home it’s been 3 months and she just now allows me to walk straight up to her she is terrified of everything accept gunny our 2 year old Belgian malinois we rescued lol he has helped in bringing her around both have been fixed but my question is how can I build trust I’m gentle and speak softly she’s really skittish but I just know she wants love I can see it in her eyes all the pointers I can get is helpful

    • What a beautiful story, Elizabeth. I’m glad you chose to bring the German Shepherd home with you. It sounds like she had a terrible time up til now. Poor thing. It sounds like she’s making progress, allowing you to walk straight up to her. Having the other dog is sure to be helping her feel at home too. It’s only been 3 months. It will take some time for her to feel comfortable. Just continue being gentle with her, try to avoid crowds of people, children, loud noices, and things like that. I had German Shepherd once that used to hide under a coffee table everytime you talked into the room. I started getting down on the floor with her until she started to wrestle with me. It’s like I became her play-mate. From there, she grew to trust me and bond with me. Good luck to you. Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing. Peace

  3. I have an extremely abused German Sheppard that has chosen to live with me. I made a climate controlled kennel for him, but he is completely afraid of the doggie door. I have tried treats to entice him, but he would rather do without than approach the door. Do you have any suggestions on how to get him over his fear.

    • Aww, that is truly sad, John. Not knowing the layout or location of your kennel, I don’t know what to tell you. Does he approach the doggie door all? Maybe give him treats closer and closer to the door? Is there a people door nearby? It seems like maybe he’s afraid of what he might find on the other side. If he can, have him go out the people door and get comfortable with that. Praise him and reward him when he goes out. That way he can see there’s no harm on the other side and get used to it. Never, ever, try to force him to use it, or get angry with him. If you find yourself getting frustrated, step away and come back when you’re calmer. He will sense that. I hope this helps somewhat. Good luck!

  4. I love your blogs. They always move my soul. I just thought of my own rescue dog, a Rottweiler, we named Dagan (meaning god of the earth in Hebrew). We’ve had him for 7 years now and Ill never forget the day he chose us from the pound. Never. He changed our lives and truly has been the best blessing. Rescue pups steal your heart before you even realize it.

  5. Hello Jeanne,

    Thank you for writing about rehabilitating and loving abused dogs. I have dogs, and both are rescues. Thankfully, neither of them were abused….but moving around from home to home does take a toll.

    This is a great blog – I’m so glad I found you through Facebook! It looks like you’re a professional blogger, and you have a real heart for animals. I wish you all the best as you share your tips and love for animals, and hope we run into each other again!

    In peace and passion,


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