7 Red Flags That Your Dog May Have Been Abused

Although it's very sad, some dogs have a history of neglect or abuse. Here are some ways to identify that past so that you can help your dog to flourish in a new environment.

We often don’t like to think about it, but knowing if your dog was abused is an important element for understanding their behavior and how to best care for them. While it’s hard to ever know for sure, here are some things to look out for.

Food Issues

A puppy eating with his litter


Is your dog very territorial around food? Does it scarf it down so quickly that it can’t possibly be enjoying it? Does it ration it out carefully like it has no clue if or when it’s getting the next meal? This might mean that your dog has a history of abuse or neglect with infrequent feeding or not enough food among several dogs.

Physical Scars

Close up of a dog’s scar


A lot of the scars of abuse are on the inside, but some are very obvious. If your dog has physical scars on its body, they are quite possibly signs of abuse, especially if there are many and they’re all similar in shape or size.


Close up of a dog’s scar


All dogs have quirks, but if your dog is very nervous around humans or dogs, it may have experienced abuse. Seeking to remove itself from the situation when around humans, even people other than you, can be a sign that there is just cause to keep away from people. An avoidance of dogs can sometimes signify that your dog was in a violent situation with other dogs, including dog fighting. This isn’t necessarily the case, but if it’s something you notice in extreme and persistent ways, it is worth thinking about.

Extreme Submission

A very submissive dog


Submission is something we want a bit of in dogs for training purposes, but too much is a red flag for possible abuse. A dog who cowers, urinates, and drops to the floor on a regular basis has likely had to indicate submission a lot in its life. Whether with an aggressive human or another aggressive dog, this is a defence mechanism used to deal with extreme dominance.


A husky with aggression issues


Some dogs can be a bit aggressive, and that’s always something that needs to be worked on in general, but it’s valuable to know where this aggression comes from. If your dog shows aggression nearly relentlessly, especially if it’s targeted at a specific type of person, they’ve likely been abused in the past. A lot of abused dogs tend to have an affinity for most people and wariness or even active dislike of men, for example. This is generalization, but a dog doesn’t really know to distinguish regular people from their past abusers.

General Anxiety

A very worried dog

High strung and anxious behavior runs in many breeds and pops up in dogs for all sorts of reasons. Though it’s not always the case, persistent anxiety without any other explanations can be a sign of abuse. If your dog is rarely settled or easily whipped into a frenzy, this is one possible reason.

Obsessive/Self-Soothing Behaviors

Sad dog soothing with face licking


Just like humans, dogs have their own ways of working out their feelings. From frequent pacing to obsessively licking themselves, these coping mechanisms aren’t great for them and don’t complete the cycle of fear, stress, or pain they’re feeling. There are any number of reasons for this kind of obsession and self-soothing, but frequent occurrences, especially paired with particular situations or stimuli can indicate past abuse.

All of these red flags can be explained away, but it’s in your dog’s best interest to look at this list and see if anything clicks. If you think your dog has been abused, there are lots of books and trainers available to find kind, caring ways to meet their needs and help them to feel more safe and secure with you.

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