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My Pet World: Helping a dog from a hoarding background learn to trust his world

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

In November, we adopted an eight-year-old chihuahua. He was from a hoarding situation and had spent the previous two months with a foster family. He is a nervous and reserved dog though. He is slowly making progress and will allow us to put a leash on him, but will cower when we remove it. If we try to get near him, he runs away. He won't eat in the kitchen until we leave. He didn't bark much, but he's suddenly barking at my adult grandson, who lives with me. Every few hours, we take him out to relieve himself, but he usually has an accident within an hour of those potty breaks. We give him a treat if he goes outside, but he will usually not take it. He's not food motivated. We have pee pads around the house, but we hope to eliminate them.

We knew it could take time before he trusts us, and we are okay with that. We praise him, rub his head, and try to reassure him. Hope you have some advice that can help.

– Linda, Middle Island, New York

Dear Linda,

Because hoarders hide the number of dogs they have, they often let their dogs relieve themselves inside their homes. They also don’t walk them, so the leash is a new thing for your dog. The good news is, it’s possible to potty train him, teach him how to walk on a leash, and help him trust the world again.


Continue with the scheduled potty breaks and praise him when he pees outside. Over time, remove the pee pads until you are down to just one. Give it a month with one pee pad, and then try moving it outside to see if he makes the connection. If he is still having accidents, continue the training with one pee pad in the house.

You and your grandson can reduce his nervousness and increase his trust by spending quiet time with your dog, like when watching television. This is a good time to place the leash nearby so he gets used to seeing it. If possible, also engage him in play and train him. Dogs from hoarding cases sometimes don’t know how to play so it can take time to find something he enjoys. With training, just praise him with a pat on the head and a kind word, if he likes that. Finally, keep a consistent routine, so he can learn to trust the world around him.

Because of his background, this may take considerable time, but it sounds like you are the right person to help him.

Dear Cathy,


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