Was she abused?
I was asked yesterday if my Jack Russell had been abused. A woman walking her dog in the park and hearing that Miss Jessie was not friendly she asked how old she was and if I'd had her from puppyhood. Upon hearing that she'd been with me since 12 weeks of age the woman said "oh; so she wasn't abused?" I must have cocked my head like a dog for this one; then quickly told the woman that being abused does not make a dog; dog aggressive. She seemed shocked by this statement; but said that this was good to know. I don't know how many people have stated "oh that dog must have been abused" when they see a shy, fearful or aggressive dog.
Dogs are resilient; if a dog is truly abused they tend to recover if rescued and placed into a great home. Many have lasting effects but many hold no grudge towards humans; amazingly. Of course there are degrees of abuse; as there are huge variations in recovery but as a whole dogs have an irrepressible zest for life. I have worked with many rescue dogs who have some behavior issues; fear is probably the most common. So if all these dogs that people think are abused are not; then what's wrong with them?
There are several reasons for dogs who display degrees of fearful or aggressive behavior. First off; they can be born that way. Genetic predisposition has a huge impact on future generations; in fact it is the most influential with regards to behaviors. I remember years ago speaking with a woman who had a very aggressive boxer; I mean as aggressive as they come. I met this dog at the age of 8 weeks old and knew then that something was up with this pup. The day that I was speaking to this woman about her dog; I believe that it was 2 years old and had just horribly attacked one of my dogs. She told me that when she went to buy this puppy that they were not allowed to see either the Mother or Father. That they were very aggressive and out back in the yard. Hmmmmmmm.
I know many lines of certain breeds which have been tainted by a few "bad seeds." Breeders now are trying very hard to eliminate certain bad traits that pop up every now and again. With the lack of genetic diversity in breed dogs it can be a difficult task to eradicate an unwanted behavior trait. Even with the most expert and dedicated breeding plan it will probably pop up every couple of generations. But with good breeding over time the bad trait may be seen less and less. Genetics is a huge factor in behavior; so having a look at Mom and Dad is a good idea to judge temperament in puppies, but not a complete one.
Another reason a dog will show unwanted behavior is lack of socialization and stimulus from birth. Puppies that are raised in a sheltered area; given no chance to socialize, climb, play, hear strange sounds, see and smell strange things, these puppies will be compromised mentally. I have seen alot of litters over the years; I've seen some of the best batches of puppies to some of the worst with regards to how they were raised. There is a huge difference in puppies who have extensive life experience; they are given the best opportunity to suceed in life.
Typically a dog that has been undersocialized as a puppy are the ones that everyone thinks must have been abused. They are not capable of dealing with everyday life situations, they cringe and dart away from things that may be quite normal for other dogs. Puppies need to be socialized well; handled and given the opportunity to explore. They must be introduced to many objects; noises, scents and surfaces. And they should be allowed to do it at their own time; never pushed into a situation that they are not comfortable with. Too much or too little socializing can be detrimental. Life at the breeders is extremely influential.
But these fearful and aggressive behaviors can and do happen to many dogs even after they are placed with a new family. The puppies who are well socialized can regress if the socializing does not continue. The whole vaccine/socializing debate is sadly the cause for many puppies lack of environmental confidence. (More on that in a later blog) When a puppy enters a new home; that in itself is a great learning experience but it must continue and puppies should be introduced to many people; animals, material objects, sounds, scents etc if they are to be ready for their life in their world.
These behaviors can also be caused by our human reactions to situations. Our dogs are constantly watching us; and when we freak out about something or react in a negative manner we can instill fear or aggression. "Calm as a cucumber" is what I always tell people. If your dog is overreacting to a situation then you need to "chill." No coddling; for fearful or aggressive behaviors. Just get on with it; keep moving and lead by example. One of the worst things you can do in an less than solid situation is to touch or pet your dog. Hands off and save the petting for relaxed and confident times; even if it is a split second of relaxation.
Often these undesirable behaviors can be worked through; but as you see with the variance of causes, so are the degrees of rehabilitation. Many dogs can be easily "fixed." But often when a behavior is caused by dna; management is the only means of controlling an unwanted behavior. Rehabilitating any dog that has undesirable responses takes time and patience and a head on approach. New owners who are faced with either fear or aggressive reactions from a puppy may tend to stay home. Yep, it is easier to just stay home but that doesn't fix anything; infact it makes matters much worse.
So when you see a dog who either pulls back from your touch; lunges at you or seems very uncomfortable in a certain situation, it is more likely caused by a lack of socialization at some point in their early life or genetics rather than abuse.