My Dog was Abused
The pup was clearly skittish and fearful of people. She did not trust them. She was, however, excellent with other dogs and had a very submissive nature. The owner had explained that the dog had just been rescued and had only been on the ranch for a few months.This ranch was perfect for this dog, but what concerned me was that the Golden Retriever pup would once in a while bark at and circle around kids and some adults. The dog clearly didn't trust certain people, most likely due to its past abuse. When the dog would behave like this, the owner would explain to the child, their parents or whoever the dog was barking at, "It's OK, she was abused. She won't hurt you." But no one told the dog they didn't agree with the behavior. Instead the owner would call the dog in a soothing tone to come. The tone of voice said to the dog, "Good girl. Good girl for not trusting those people.”
Dog’s brains are different than our own. Unlike a human, the brain of a dog is not complex enough to plot, plan or act on logical reasoning skills. They do not premeditate or plan attacks. Their actions are results of both instincts and experiences. Dogs do not dwell in thoughts of the past or worries about the future. They live in the moment. In this case the dog’s past experience had taught her not to trust certain people. Anything could have been setting her off, from a smell that was associated with her past to a type of look—for example someone who was the same height or walked or carried themselves the same way as her past abuser. The dog was barking and circling out of fear and distrust.
Over and over again the dog would suddenly start barking at someone and I would hear people say, "Oh that dog was abused." Never did I see anyone communicate to the dog that her barking and circling was an unwanted reaction. Even dogs that were abused in the past need to know the rules. Telling a dog “no” is not abuse, it's communication. If no one ever says “no” how will the dog know what it’s doing is not what you want?
For as young as the dog was and with the level of insecurity the dog had during the time I observed, I believe that this dog only needed the owner, whom the dog did trust, to give the dog a voice command of displeasure when the dog began to react to another human in fear—a "Shhhhhh!" with a look that says, “I do not agree with the way you are reacting to this person.” A dog’s brain is not complex enough to reason out that the current circumstances and the people she was coming across were not the same as the person who had abused her. She was also not able to work out the reasoning that her new owner’s pity was their way of showing love.
The longer the behavior is allowed to go on the more it will escalate and the harder (but not impossible) it will be to change.