Traits and dealing with a puppy that has been mistreated

Traits and dealing with a puppy that has been mistreated

While it is of course to be hoped that any puppy comes into this world as a result of planned breeding, with a loving home waiting for it and appropriate care from the breeder until it finds it, sadly this is not always the case. Thousands of unwanted puppies are born in the UK every year, and may be neglected, mistreated or abandoned before they ultimately get the chance to go to a loving home. The same is true for puppies that are produced by a puppy mill or puppy farm, a commercial breeding endeavour performed with profit rather than wellbeing in mind.

If you do not know the origins of your new puppy or suspect that they did not have a good start to life, you will have your work cut out for you during their first weeks and months with you, while you correct the problems that a poor breeding environment and poor treatment can create. Fortunately, however, because the puppy is still young, they stand the best chance of learning about love and appropriate care, and evolving into a well balanced, happy and well behaved dog.

Read on to learn about some of the traits that may be present in a puppy that has been mistreated, plus how to handle them.


You might not even realise that your puppy has had a bad start to life until you bring them home, and find out that they do not behave and act in the way that you would normally expect a puppy to. One of the most obvious signs of this is their toileting routine; they might never have been taught about the appropriate place to go to the toilet, and might do their business anywhere within the house without realising that this is not correct. They might also be used to being shouted at or punished for doing their business, despite never having been shown the right time and place to do so, so housetraining and dealing with toileting might be rather fraught during the first few weeks.

Interaction with people

A puppy that has not had the chance to get to see people in a positive light, or that has been hurt or mistreated, simply will not know how to interact with you appropriately. This can manifest itself in many different ways; your puppy might simply be indifferent to you and not understand that they are supposed to form a relationship with you, as they will have no experience of bonding or enjoying the company of people. This is something that you will be able to overcome with time, as your puppy gets used to their routine and seeing you every day, being around you and having you tend to their needs.

If your puppy has been bullied, pulled around or poorly treated by people, it may be growly, snappy and display defensive aggression, which is perfectly understandable as your puppy expects the worst from your interactions with them. While growling, snapping and aggression cannot be tolerated long term, be wary of chastising your puppy at this stage, as it may simply reinforce their negative experience. Until your puppy settles in and comes to feel safe in their own home, the best way to deal with bad behaviour of this type is to ignore it, walking away from the pup and of course, keeping yourself safe at all times.


Puppies that have not been raised correctly and gradually and carefully exposed to the world around them will have a tendency to be nervous or fearful of multiple different situations, as they will have no frame of reference to compare it to, and lots of negative experiences will have taught them to fear the worst. Exposure to new things, outside stimulus and new people should be undertaken gradually, and after your puppy has begun to trust you and form a bond with you, so that they have a positive constant that they can rely on and feel safe with. While all puppies will show fear or irrational worry in some situations, this is likely to be much more pronounced in the case of puppies that have had a bad start to life.


Puppies that started off in a bad environment will almost certainly be somewhat retarded in their social development, and will not have begun learning about interaction with other dogs and people. It is important to start introducing your puppy to other dogs and people in a safe, comfortable environment as soon as possible, but wait until your puppy has developed trust in you first, to avoid overloading them with stimulus. If you know of a friendly dog that is good with other dogs and also people, borrowing them or spending time around them can be very helpful for the poorly socialised puppy, as they will be tolerant of mistakes, and also, teach your puppy by demonstrating appropriate behaviour in the presence of people.


Training a puppy that is behind in terms of its social development and relationship with people can be a challenge; they may also be used to being treated badly or bullied, and so it is vitally important to work on a principle of positive reinforcement only, and avoid chastising or telling your puppy off. Punishment should involve ignoring the pup and nothing else; no raised voices, no shouting, no intimidation, regardless of the situation. Plenty of treats to reward good behaviour and begin forming a bond with your pup will go a long way!

Remember that training a puppy that has had a poor start to life will usually take longer than training another puppy, but at the end of it, you will find the whole process of training and bonding infinitely rewarding for both of you.



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