Well my girlfriend and I have a female border collie named Lacey. She is a rescue dog who was abused for a long time. From what we were told, she was a bait dog whose teeth were extracted so she couldn't harm the fighting dogs. The owner himself abused her and when she tried to attack him, her "bite" did nothing to him and he abused her some more. Well to fast forward she was in a shelter where she would be safe. We spotted her and the guy who saved her told us what I told you. My girlfriend wanted her so I asked him for more info and then I told him we wanted her. Well he said since she tried to attack him and didn't have her weapons (teeth), she is not aggressive.

Well days passed and after signing the papers for legal ownership, we decided to take her to the vet. I told him the same thing and he said since she doesn't have teeth she doesn't know how to defend herself. Dogs will bite as a warning and since her bite won't cause any harm to you the next thing she will do is run away. So we got home and I tried to call her but all she did was look at me. When I got up to come to her she yelped and she ran behind my girlfriend.

For two months she did this but one day our friends came to visit and they brought their son. They tried stepping to her but she would either cry out loud and run in the room under the bed or she would go to the corner. As they petted her she would scream like they were hurting her. So I called the vet to schedule an appointment and my girlfriend took her. They returned back and my girlfriend said they found nothing wrong.

I tried petting her but she ran away again. We asked for help but everyone we asked say it's new behavior and asked if she attacked me. One day I was alone with her, (gf went to work), and lacey was looking for her and crying when she didn't find her. My friends came (guys) as I went to check on her. She saw me and started crying. I even did a submissive position and she wouldn't budge. My friend went and grabbed her and she started flipping out. She didn't bite but kept crying and when he put her down she just went to the corner and held her head down.

When I give her food in her bowl, I would have to go where she won't see me for her to eat. I looked on the internet to find out why this is happening and one person said their dog reacted like that to her husband because their dog's previous owner (a guy) abused him. Lacey won't even eat from my hand nor would she attack me or any other guy. I seen the same thing everywhere and people said the same thing. A dog without all of its teeth and an abusive background goes to aggression then if that doesn't work it becomes fearful and will have anxiety.

I touched her one day and I was checking her mouth when my finger went into her mouth. I smiled when it happened and she continued to scream but this time she was trying her hardest to get away from me. She was moving her head, and moving wildly to get away. All the doors were closed so she was basically in the room with me whimpering, shaking and staring at me until I look back at her then she looks away. When my gf returned and she heard her voice she was crying and trying to get out.

Please help me I don't know what to do. Did the teeth extraction make her less aggressive or did the fact she couldn't attack that monster who abused her make her more fearful? People keep saying she feels vulnerable now that she knows she doesn't have any teeth and can't defend herself. Sorry for writing all this but I need answers and no one is really helping me really understand because I been nothing but nice to her. It feels so unreal to me.

3 Answers 3


It sounds like she's terrified of you. Dogs aren't great at rational processing, so she probably cant really separate the old situation (man comes near, bad things happen) from the new situation (man comes near, she feels terror). In both cases, she's still experiencing terror.

So you are going to have to let her get used to you, at her own pace. That might take a while. Weeks or months even. But scaring her (by pushing her past where she feels safe) will slow it down.

Our dog was a feral rescue and he has huge amounts of fear.

He's especially anxious around children, so when we introduce new kids to our home, part of the protocol is that you are not allowed to look at the dog. If you want to give him a treat, you can sit down with the treat in your hand and look away while he takes it. If he does that a bit you can let him sniff your hand and he might lick your toes or hand. And then you can play "touch" with him. Most weekend guests never get past letting him lick their hands. We had kids staying with us and after two weeks they were able to pet him. But first he had to get very comfortable with them at his own pace.

This is all more or less what we went through when we brought him home, too. Offering treats with no eye contact. Playing touch, still limiting eye contact. Working up to eye contact and then to petting.

Keep in mind that she can't defend herself. If a dog is in a scary situation, they'll often retreat first, and then snap at the air (a threat) before they move to biting. They'll do their best to say "Hey! Stop that or I'll hurt you!" so if she can't actually hurt you, she's defenseless. And that is really scary. It doesn't take a dog long to learn to be afraid. Unlearning takes much longer.

So that's where I'd start. Stop trying to pet her altogether. Offer her treats from time to time without even looking at her. If she starts offering kisses, try playing games like "touch" but let her adjust to the idea that this new man in her life is not going to terrorize her.

PS. If you don't know "touch" check out this answer to a similar question on bonding with a territorial dog: https://pets.stackexchange.com/a/9770/1222


First of all, kudos to you for taking on such a challenging situation and trying turn Lacey's life around. It sounds like Lacey is especially afraid of men, which is understandable given her history.

I'd ask for some advice from the shelter you got her from, as they may have a lot of experience working with dogs from difficult backgrounds. Perhaps ask them and the vet for a recommendation for a (preferably female) trainer/behaviourist who can meet with you, Lacey, and your girlfriend a couple of times to observe Lacey's behaviour and make specific suggestions. This might involve, for example, rewarding Lacey for sitting quietly beside you without cowering or whining for a certain period of time. Gradually you extend the period of time that she has to sit quietly.

Until Lacey's anxiety is under control, I suggest you not let anyone else but your girlfriend, yourself, and of course a vet or trainer approach the dog. Stand between Lacey and any other people or animals so that Lacey can feel that you are protecting her. This should help her feel more at ease with you.

Based on her history, when a human (especially a male) approaches Lacey, she has no idea what will happen next and fears the worst One way to counteract this is to establish some predictable sequences of events. So, for example, Lacey can learn that when you say "Lacey, snuggle" and extend your hand, she's going to get some loving attention. Always use the same words, and do things the same way so that the sequence is established.

Now, this may sound a bit counterintuitive, but if you have to do something unpleasant to Lacey (e.g. give her ear drops or a pill), it's best to let her know what's coming. That's because is actually going to happen isn't nearly as bad as what she fears might happen. But how do you let an animal know what's coming? Again, establish a predictable sequence of events. "Lacey, ear drops", followed by the ear drops, and then a reward (affection or treat).

Another tip: when you do pet Lacey, don't bring your hand down from above (that can trigger fear of being hit). Instead, move your hand down below her eye level and then bring it toward her. Imagine if you had a friend twice your height. If he brought his hand down onto your head, wouldn't you flinch, even if you trusted him not to hurt you?

Never "pat" Lacey (too similar to hitting); stroke her instead.

Finally, whenever you do approach Lacey, make sure you are relaxed and your breathing is even. The easiest way to do that is to talk to her as you approach her.

EDIT: I just realised that your Lacey is a border collie, same as my Dougal*. Dougal must have had a hard life before I adopted him, as he had a broken hip and leg that had healed badly, was very depressed, and was terrified of everyone, especially men. But he settled in nicely, adored me, and even became a little more comfortable with strangers.

Border collies are extremely intelligent which can work to your advantage. And that reminded me of something else that may help. You'll probably think I'm silly for suggesting this, but talk to Lacey about the problem. Yes, yes, I know dogs can't understand language, but they can pick up a lot from your tone of voice, your posture, the context, etc. It will amaze you what an intelligent dog can understand. The more you talk to her, the better. At the very least, your voice will help her relax because your breathing will be even.

Here's a story to illustrate my point, and perhaps inspire you. After I had Dougal for a week, he had settled in, but still seemed a little tense, still on his "best behaviour". So I got down on the floor with him and talked to him softly. I didn't expect him to understand my words; I just hoped that my voice would relax him. I told him that this was his home and he was allowed to make mistakes. As soon as I finished, he ran off, picked up one of my socks and dropped it a few feet away! From then on, on the rare occasion he felt mischievous, he did the sock thing. To the end of his life, that was the only "naughty" thing he ever did.

*Dougal is no longer with us, but he raised a wonderful cat named Porpentine, who is with me still.


Our 4 month old border collie was that way with teeth. What cured her...I mean really brought her out of her shell of fear was a giant stuffed animal. No kidding. Just follow me.

I set it in her hiding area the first night she came out from under our fishtank table, and a couple of day's later when I went to wash it she was right behind me ...the first time ever not hiding.

After that she would come to me and whoever held the stuffed dog would be ok for her to go to. Try it. It brought her to us unafraid

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    Please add some facts how your dog was similar to the very special situation the question describes. I hope not, but was your dog too abused before you got it? I am not sure, how a puppy can show the same behaviour as an long abused and defentless adult dog. Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 18:39

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