How to Tell if a Dog has Been Abused

An abused dog won’t always show the physical scars of her past trauma. Instead, the signs might be subtle, such as shyness around strangers. Consulting with an animal behaviorist or dog trainer can provide some clues about a dog’s history. If it’s your dog you’re not sure of, you can study her behavior. If the dog belongs to someone else, you might see indicators in the animal’s physical condition or living environment.

Dog at home
Dog lying down on floor in home
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Social Withdrawal

Some abused dogs are so fearful they shy away from interaction with people or other animals. For example, a dog might hide in the corner of the room, too scared to explore her surroundings or initiate contact with others. She may even resist leaving the house. Some dogs will turn away from attempts to distract them with treats, toys, playtime or affection. They may even become frightened and cry out, cower or flee.

Clinging to Humans

Some abused dogs’ behavior is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of avoiding social interaction and bonding, they cling too tightly to their human caretakers. A dog might exhibit signs of separation anxiety, or become anxious and even destructive when left alone. Some dogs might be fine when their human companions are present and only act out when they’re gone, or might insist on being on someone’s lap or on the couch next to a person at all times.

Aggressive Behavior

While some abused dogs are so traumatized they withdraw completely, others take it out on the people and animals around them. They might develop aggression as a defense mechanism, learning early on that a growl or snarl can deter an attacker. An abused dog might overreact to stimuli such as a child attempting to pet her or the veterinarian trying to examine her. She may associate physical contact with harm, lashing out in an attempt to protect herself.

Physical Indicators

If you’re worried a dog belonging to someone else has been mistreated, you might see signs in the animal’s physical condition or living environment. For example, multiple wounds or signs of several healed wounds can indicate ongoing abuse. Trouble walking also can suggest physical abuse. In addition, the way an animal lives can be evidence of overall neglect. This could include being chained up outside in inclement weather or without food and clean water, or housed in dangerous or unsanitary conditions.