A woman hugs her dog. Adopting a rescue dog can be rewarding and challenging

Should You Adopt A Rescue Dog with Trauma Issues?


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Dogs are amazing. Humans? Often less so … It’s a heartbreaking reality that many dogs in shelters come from homes where they weren’t treated very well. Adopting a rescue dog who’s been abused or traumatised can be a life changing, absolutely rewarding experience. However, caring for an abused dog will require time, patience and commitment.

Abuse or neglect can lead to anxiety, trauma and sometimes aggression in dogs. It’s very important to be prepared to handle behavioural issues that may come up.

But first – rescue dogs need consistency and stability, so you must be absolutely sure you can provide them a forever home. With National Rescue Dog Day happening on 20 May, here are important questions to ask yourself before deciding to adopt a rescue dog that’s been through trauma or abuse.

Please note: Though every effort has been made to research this subject for the purposes of this article, this should not be considered the advice of a professional. For expert insight on the subject, see our list of reading resources at the end of this piece.

Adopting a rescue dog can be rewarding and challenging

Is your lifestyle set up for adopting a rescue dog?

First of all, ask yourself whether you have the time and resources to provide the necessary care and attention to a traumatised dog. All dogs require commitment and love, but an abused dog may need extra patience, training, and medical attention.

Do you have experience in handling abused animals? This will make you more equipped in taking care of a new rescue dog. While it’s not impossible to raise a formerly abused dog without experience, you may need to rely on professional help while you gain insight into your pup.

Seek out details of their history

Overall, shelters and rescue organisations have a responsibility to give everyone accurate and truthful information about a dog’s history and needs. They’ll work hard to match dogs with the right homes based on their temperament.

Though they’ll disclose as much information as they have, in some cases your pup’s history may be unknown. This is often the reality if they were a stray or found abandoned. In these cases, ask if the shelter can provide you with information based on their observations and assessments (if they haven’t already).

Through an evaluation they’ll be able to better diagnose a pup’s temperament and any medical needs. While most shelters strive to provide as much information as possible, it’s important to remember that some dogs may have underlying behavioural or medical issues that aren’t immediately noticeable.

Ask as many questions as you can when you adopt a rescue dog and be prepared to work through any challenges that may come up with your new fur kid.

Short-coated Tan Dog Inside Fence

Understand the cause and effect cycle

Ultimately, knowing your dog’s history can help you give them the right care to heal.

Traumatised dogs may have specific medical or dietary needs as a result of their past experiences. For example, read about one of our NZ customers, Rebel the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and his severe allergies.

Some rescue dogs may have certain triggers that remind them of their abuse and make them scared or aggressive. These can include loud or sudden noises, certain movements such as being approached too quickly or having someone reach over their head, certain types of physical touch such as being grabbed or hugged too tightly, objects that may have been used to hurt them in the past such as brooms, or being left alone (also read: separation anxiety in pets)

With more information, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about their diet, health, training, socialisation and ultimately how to help them heal physically and mentally.

Be prepared for potential behavioural issues

A neglected or abused dog develops certain responses as a way to cope with their trauma. These responses can remain long after the pup has been removed from their abuse. They may vary depending on the severity and type of abuse they’ve experienced, as well as their individual temperament and personality.

Some dogs may be fearful and anxious, especially in situations that trigger them. Others may become aggressive and unexpectedly lash out at people or other animals. There are dogs who may try to avoid situations or people that remind them of their trauma. Or they can be withdrawn, avoiding humans by turning or walking away or hiding.

Some pups may also be hypervigilant, constantly scanning their environment for potential threats. They may be easily startled or have trouble relaxing. Other dogs may become overly submissive as a way to avoid conflict or further abuse. They may show signs of submission such as cowering, rolling over, or urinating.

You should prepare for the likelihood of any of these behaviours and have access to a professional animal behaviourist or other expert resources to teach you how to best help your dog. Read our article: What Is A Pet Behaviourist? to understand what a behaviourist does and scroll further to read more about professionals who can help.

Tan and White Short Coat Dog Laying Down in a Brown Wooden Floor.  caring for an abused dog can be very rewarding.

Consider the impact on your family and others

If you have children or other pets, ask yourself whether they’re prepared for you to adopt a rescue dog with trauma. Consider how the dog’s behaviour may impact their safety and wellbeing. This is especially true of an aggressive dog.

You should never put children, pets, or other people in harm’s way. It’s important to carefully evaluate the dog’s behaviour beforehand and work with a professional to determine whether it’s safe to bring them into your home. As mentioned, abused dogs often have behavioural issues that require additional training and care. This can put a strain on the family and require a significant time and energy commitment from everyone.

Traumatised dogs may have difficulty adjusting to new animals, needing additional socialisation and training to get along with your other pets. It’s important to consider how the new dog will interact with your existing pets and whether it’s fair to them to introduce a new dog into the household.

brown boxer dog lying in long grass. caring for an abused dog can be very rewarding

Consult with a professional before you adopt a rescue dog

Talk to a veterinarian or animal behaviorist before making the decision to adopt a rescue dog with trauma. They can provide valuable insight and guidance on whether it’s the right fit for you and your family. If possible, get them to assess the dog’s behaviour before adoption and identify any potential issues or challenges that require more care and treatment.

They can develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses you future pup’s specific needs and challenges. This may include training, medication, and other forms of therapy. They’ll also be able to give guidance on how to ensure a smooth transition for the dog into your home and help you establish routines and boundaries to help your pup feel safe and secure.

With their help, you’ll be best able to provide the ongoing support your deserving rescue dog needs to overcome their past and thrive in your home.

Final note on adopting a rescue dog

While most abused dogs can make significant progress with the right treatment and love, it’s important to acknowledge each dog is unique and may have individual challenges and limitations.

For some abused dogs, trauma can have long-lasting effects on their behaviour and temperament. If so, they’ll require more specialised care and treatment. Others may have pre-existing health conditions or genetic factors that can affect their ability to recover from abuse.

However, with the right care and support, many abused dogs can overcome their past to lead happy, healthy lives.

Being loving, patient, gentle and kind is one of the most important factors in restoring your dog’s faith in humans and healing them emotionally. Though it may take more time and effort, adopting a rescue dog may very well be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!

Read more:

pet behaviourist helps adopted dog overcome trauma. caring for an abused dog can be very rewarding.

Expert resources

Our article only covers a small part of what you should learn about caring for an abused dog. Below are some wonderful resources written by professionals in this field:

  • Rescue Your Dog from Fear: Tried-and-True Techniques to Help Your Dog Feel Secure, by Liza Palika
  • The Secret Language of Dogs: Unlocking the Canine Mind for a Happier Pet by Victoria Stilwell 
  • The Book Your Dog Wishes You Would Read by Louise Glazebrook
  • The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant
  • Fear and Anxiety in Dogs by Caroline Clark
  • Inspiring Resilience in Fearful and Reactive Dogs by Dayle Smith 

Insure your precious pet

So, you’ve made the decision to adopt a rescue dog? A big part of being a responsible pet parent is ensuring they’re covered for accidents, illnesses and other emergencies. It’s a big plus for your pet and your purse strings, protecting both. Just read all the reasons why pet parents think insurance is so important.

Cover your beloved dog with a PD Insurance policy so you know you can give them the best care. Our three simple dog insurance policies offer you the cost-effective protection your furry family member deserves. Get pet insurance quotes online in only a couple of minutes.

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