Neglect is Just Another Form of Abuse

By Tenderfoot Training
Published in The American Dog Magazine, Winter 2009

When someone adopts a new dog with problems like separation anxiety, aggression, timidity or fears, they frequently assume the dog was abused.  Even people who adopt young puppies from the shelter often think their timid, fearful pup must have been abused, when in truth, the dog was most likely neglected and is simply responding to a lack of socialization, understanding and experience.  Check your Thesaurus for abuse, and neglect is right in there with cruelty and maltreatment.

Too many people think that providing the basics of food, shelter and water to a dog is enough, and yes, they are essential to the survival of the body but what about the heart, mind and soul? Take no notice of a fish and he couldn’t care less, but dogs are intelligent, social and emotional creatures who depend on us to provide them with love, play, socialization, grooming, stimulation, structure, and boundaries, in addition to the basics. Being left in the yard all day and the kitchen all night is not good enough; it is merely a few steps up from abandonment.

Dogs are incredibly forgiving animals who can recover from mistreatment and still become loving, trusting members of their family; just think of the success stories that came out of the Michael Vick tragedy.  Rescuing any dog that has been mistreated takes patience and understanding, but rescuing a neglected dog can actually take far greater effort to help him overcome the lack of beneficial life shaping experiences. 

Neglected dogs are likely to suffer from intense fears, insecurities, aggression, nuisance barking, running away, lunging at other animals & people, destroying things, and a gamut of neurotic disorders.  All because their people did not take the time to teach them the world is a wonderful place, how to behave, or keep them from being bored. Neglect is as much about failing to engage your dog as it is about relegating him to the back yard.  You might be in the same room together but if you don’t communicate with your dog he might as well be alone.  He is free to do as he pleases and he becomes impatient, independent and often insecure, like a child who has no teacher for years does not learn to respect his elders, learn to listen or have manners.  Your dog needs your leadership; caring and patience so that he can learn to love, trust and respect others, choose good behavior and be thoughtful in his actions.

A common mistake comes from the well-intentioned person who does not permit their young puppy to explore the world during the most formative time of his life – the first four months.  Everyone is appropriately cautioned to protect their pups from disease until they have received all of their shots, but people often overreact and treat their pups like shut-ins until they are fully vaccinated. It is the person’s job to create successful experiences for their pup from the start and never stop. They simply need to provide structured socialization by exposing their puppy to emotionally and physically healthy people, animals and environments.

Today our lives are busier than ever, and people aren’t as social as they rush from job to home to kids activities.  No one has time enough for themselves let alone a dog; a dog might sound like a great idea until reality sets in and then the dog gets left behind. 

When you bring a dog home you need to rethink your life, your days, and your future together.  Even if your dog spends the whole day with you in the house because you work from home it does not replace being out in the world.  It would be like saying your child is socially healthy because he watches people on TV.  There is no substitute for real life experiences. Dogs need leaders to show them the way in the world, just like kids need parents to guide them and teach them good manners.  Confidence comes from understanding, manners come from training, and emotional well being comes from positive experiences.

Your dog does not have to schedule you into his day - his day is already planned around you.  What have you planned for him?  Dogs benefit from structure and engagement just like everyone else, so you must plan on taking the time to teach him a big vocabulary (20-30 words) and become someone he can count on for support, guidance and leadership.  It is really simple, the more you do with your dog the better your dog will be.   You aren’t likely to go to the gym for an hour if you don’t schedule it into your day, just as you aren’t likely to take the time to train the dog, brush him, or walk him unless you schedule it into your day.  The benefits aren’t only huge for your dog but for you too.  Walking your dog for an hour is better than going to the gym, brushing him gets the hair off of the couch, and training him reminds you how important making a connection with your dog is.  It might add up to less time on Facebook, but it  means the world to your dog.  He gets your special attention for a part of everyday, while he learns manners, looks spectacular with a clean coat, and the outings give him a great chance to learn the world is a wonderful place. His smile says it all “Thanks for loving me”.

Love Them & Lead Them,
Doug & Elizabeth Simpson
Tenderfoot Training