Mental Effects of Abuse on a Dog

By Heather Vale

Just as people suffer mental and emotional effects from abuse, so do dogs. Even after cuts, bruises and broken bones have healed, the psychological suffering can continue.

Types of Dog Abuse

Some types of abuse are more obvious than others, but all of the following activities are considered abusive:

  • Physically punishing a dog by hitting or beating him
  • Physically restraining a dog with a short rope or a crate that's too small
  • Verbally punishing a dog by yelling at him
  • Over-pressuring a dog to perform a task or pushing him past his capabilities
  • Rejecting a dog's need for affection and attention
  • Socially isolating a dog from people and other animals
  • Neglecting a dog or failing to provide proper care, feeding and grooming
  • Terrorizing or otherwise deliberately inflicting pain or stress onto a dog

Effects of Dog Abuse

Beaten Dogs

An abused dog who has been beaten experiences mental effects related to fear and depression. A physically abused dog may:

  • be distrustful and withdraw from people
  • be hostile and vicious towards people
  • become depressed and act defeated
  • be reclusive and quiet
  • not want to play anymore
  • be afraid to explore his surroundings or go outside

Isolated Dogs

An abused dog who has been forced to live in isolation suffers mental effects related to abandonment and anxiety. Isolated dogs may:

  • be afraid of being left alone
  • become overly attached to his rescuer or new owner
  • develop separation anxiety¬†when his owner is away
  • become afraid of people due to not learning how to interact socially

All these effects can be long-term or shorter-lived, depending on how soon and how well an abused dog is rehabilitated. Some of them can last a lifetime, including fear of people and learned hostility.

There are obvious physical effects of abuse, including wounds, broken bones and physical inactivity due to pain or depression. Most animal cruelty laws only tackle the immediate physical harm that abused animals suffer, because it's hard to see or measure the emotional and mental repercussions.

But while physical effects are relatively short-term issues, resulting mental effects can cause higher degrees of pain and suffering, with the damage lasting a lot longer. In fact, a multitude of studies have shown that emotional and mental harm is even more excruciating than physical hurt, and when animals are forced to choose, they would rather endure physical pain.

Rehabilitating an Abused Dog

If you've rescued an abused dog and want to rehabilitate him, it won't happen immediately. The process can take years and the dog may never fully recover. However, it can be rewarding to make even a little bit of difference in his mental health and happiness.

  • Let him get used to you at his own pace, without pressure or force -- sometimes this just means sitting in the same room with him and strategically offering treats now and then
  • Show him that he is loved without overwhelming him
  • Feed and care for him properly and exercise him regularly
  • Clearly communicate with him in a soft voice
  • Protect him when he acts afraid
  • Build his confidence through small outings or situations that you know will end successfully
  • Give him a safe place he can retreat to and plenty of toys to keep him busy when alone