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Neglect vs Abuse

Hi John,
I adopted an abused dog from the humane society in April and tried a couple of training classes but it wasn’t specific enough to her needs. She is approximately two years old and was rescued from the states.  She is ok with my kids but not with myself or other adults and children. She will growl or bark in defence but has not yet bitten anyone and does not appear to have an aggressive nature (just a very fearful one) although she did mouth me in a warning once. She does not growl at me but is very nervous and will stay away or get out of my way. What can we do with our dog to help her out of her shell? We don’t know much about her history of abuse just that she’s very untrusting and I would like her learn to trust.
Hi C.T.:
The whole “I rescued an abused dog” thing has always bugged me. Not because there aren’t abused dogs but because it has become such an all encompassing term that we’ve stopped asking; exactly what is meant by abuse?” Is it neglect as in the sense of with holding of food, water and shelter? Is it physical depravity? Is it dumping or abandonment? The reason I think these are questions worth asking is because in the dog world the most insidious from of cruelty/neglect is psychological and it is never included in the definition and it is by far the most common quality of life impeding  and even life threatening form of abuse, more so then the rest combined. I suspect your dog like so many hundreds I’ve seen before is one of those.
A fearful response in a dog is rarely a result of having been beaten. It is almost always the result of having been socially deprived before 12 weeks of age. Whether one looks at psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments on depriving monkey’s of maternal interaction or the Romanian orphanages created as a result of communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu policies or puppy mills or breeders that think puppy socialization classes suffice, the end result has always been the same; difficulty forming permanent attachments, fearful even panicked response to something new, abnormally long adaptation times.
Who’s to blame? Ask rescues like the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, breeders, dog trainers, veterinarians, veterinary and vet tech colleges, what socialization is and you’ll learn who’s to blame. They just don’t know and more disconcerting,they more often then not; think they do. Many think “puppy socialization classes” fit the bill. Not even close. 
The end result are dogs like yours. Socialization is the single most important thing you can do for a dog. That means positively exposing puppies before 12 weeks of age to diverse sounds, sights, sounds and textures as frequently as possible. When this isn’t done a dog’s normal reaction is fear often resulting in aggression.
With dogs like these one thing that can help is leaving her leash on (supervised) so she can’t avoid experiences that make her uncomfortable but can still keep some distance. Once she’s collected herself see if she’ll take something tossed to her by the “threat.” The idea is to keep her fear from taking on a life of its own. Teaching her a rock solid down stay can give her another “job” alternative to fleeing as well. You really should have a professional’s help to get the best results and establish her limits.

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