How to help a dog that’s spent most of its life chained up, by top trainer Ben Randall

A heartbreaking letter from an overseas reader gives our resident dog training expert Ben Randall one of his toughest challenges to date.

Although it is heartrending to hear how some dogs are mistreated, it is an unfortunate fact of life, which is often exacerbated by some peoples’ misunderstanding of how much responsibility — as well as utter joy and devoted companionship — that owning a dog entails.

As a trainer, however, I never cease to be amazed and encouraged by how, with a little love, care and undivided attention, even the most traumatised and damaged dogs can learn to trust humans again and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Thank goodness then for kind and determined owners such as M.V. who has written to us via our [email protected] email address all the way from Belgrade in Serbia to ask how best to rehabilitate her rescue dog:

Dear Ben,

I have recently adopted a female half-bred golden retriever that was chained up in a yard for years. I am trying my best, but it is very hard to manage her. She has seriously attacked my other dogs in the house a few times and also managed to escape and have a go at my neighbour’s dog. What can I do — please help. — M.V., Serbia

I’ve been perfecting my BG (Beggarbush) foundation methods for nearly 20 years, and it is often possible to quite literally turn an abused dog’s life around. That said, it is difficult to retrain a dog that has been so badly treated for a long time. It needs lots of love and careful retraining in a bid to rebuild their trust of and perception of humans.

I was so sad to read to this letter, but sadly, I know from bitter experience throughout all my years of working with dogs that keeping them chained up and causing all sorts of behavioural issues, such as fear and aggression, is a common problem, especially when it comes to rescuing dogs from other countries.

The trouble is that this poor dog has spent all her time in that place — even being fed there and having to go to the toilet there — and she will have understandably become very protective of her domain. That confined space is all she’s had, but it has very much become hers.

Therefore if a human or another dog enters that space — even if they approach in a friendly, calm way — I would imagine that this dog will react badly. She’ll see any incursion into her area as a challenge or a threat, hence her defensive and fearful behaviour in your own home now.

It is obviously very hard for me to advise on how best to rehabilitate this dog without seeing it in the flesh and observing her behaviour for myself. And it’ll be long road, with no guarantees. Sometimes, even our best efforts aren’t enough in these cases.

Please don’t lose heart though, as I often find that retraining a dog in this way and giving it a purpose — as well as someone to look up to and protect it rather than having to protect itself — really relaxes these dogs and you can achieve some really good results, which will ensure that your golden retriever leads a much happier life thanks to your kindness, care and perseverance. And I can recommend the following steps in a bid to try to resolve this problem.

Ben’s three tips to retrain and help a dog that’s been kept on a chain:

1. Reteach the foundation commands

I realise I might sound a little like a stuck record because I say this so often, but — and most importantly in this case — we need to start to teach the dog to work with us as a partnership and understand the fundamental foundation commands, such as:

  • Sitting patiently around distractions (whether that be other people, dogs, noises or toys, balls or food
  • The ‘leave’ command, which means to ‘leave’ or ignore all distractions (people, other dogs and food, etc)
  • The ‘heel’ command
  • The ‘in’ command, which can be a really useful way of teaching your dog to get ‘in’ to its bed or to jump into the back of the car

It’s incredible to see how a dog’s temperament changes once it starts to have some one-on-one attention and you start to build a better partnership with your dog.

What I often see after teaching these basic commands is that the dog trusts me much more and is less inclined to feel threatened by dogs or humans entering their space. It’s almost as if you can see them thinking: ‘Oh, there are some people coming or dogs approaching, but that’s fine — I trust mum or dad, so I am fine with it.’

Once you start this process, you will hopefully start to see results.

2. Take your time and be prepared to take a step back if needs be

As we all know, teaching an old dog new tricks, particularly one that’s had a hard time of it, is no easy task. So please take this slowly and be prepared for a few setbacks. To begin with, I’d keep your new rescue dog away from your other dogs and concentrate on building a better rapport with her.

3. Set up the reintroduction of other dogs in a controlled environment

Once you’ve started to establish your new training regime and you feel it’s going well, try to find someone with a calm, but confident dog — preferably an experienced trainer’s dog — who is happy to help with the reintroduction of dogs into her space. What we definitely would not want once initial training is going well is to get overconfident and rush it. Taking her into a lively area full of random dogs could compound the issues.

Above all you’ll have to remember that your dog could be mentally scarred in lots of ways. We have to carefully reboot and restart her training so that she learns to trust you and other humans and dogs.

You can learn more about Ben and his methods via @beggarbush on Instagram and his dog-training app (this link will let you get a free trial), or you can ask your own question by emailing [email protected]

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial


Over the past few months award-winning dog trainer Ben Randall has been sharing his advice to Country Life readers.

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