Not All Cowering Dogs Have Been Abused

Some dogs are just naturally fearful.
By Karen B. London PhD, June 2009, Updated June 2021

Whenever we don’t know an animal’s full history, we tend to assume the worst. That means we often suspect that a dog who cowers has been abused, when in fact that may not be the case. Sadly, many dogs are abused, but not all the ones who act terrified of new people and new things have suffered in that way. Concerns about past abuse have come up so many times during consultations that I felt compelled to address the issue this week in the blog I co-write with Professor Con Slobodchikoff.

I think there are many animals who people suspect have been abused that luckily did not suffer that fate. I wish it were true of all the cowering animals out there. I’m hugely in support of working to prevent animal abuse and of helping the animals who have been so badly treated. Do you have a pet you think shows signs of having been abused? If so, does it lighten your heart to consider that your beloved family member may not have endured such mistreatment?

Photo: iStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life