Is your dog overly reserved and timid? Does she seem to even be extremely scared at times? We often talk about how much our furry companions are like us. This idea rings true especially when it comes to some mental health issues. Dealing with past trauma (usually known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder in humans) is something that some dogs deal with, especially in cases where they’ve been rescued or adopted. They could have possibly dealt with mental or physical abuse, or simply with being tossed back and forth between homes or shelters. Other dogs may have been through any number of ordeals that have led to trauma-induced stress.
According to the AKC, “Symptoms of PTSD in dogs can include: panic, panting, fearfulness, being timid and clinging to their owners, aggressive reactions in dogs that were never aggressive before, depression, and hyper-vigilance (especially for working dogs and guard breeds).”
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A dog that has faced trauma in the past can’t just speak up and let us know what is happening. You may wonder what she went through in the past that caused her to be so fearful. The good news is that there are still some steps you can take to help her through the past trauma, current emotions and the behavior that goes along with them.
#1 – Provide A Safe Environment
The most important aspect of dealing with past trauma is to create an environment in which she feels completely safe. Many dogs that have suffered traumatic experiences in the past are always on the lookout for danger…maybe even constantly expecting to be hurt either physically or emotionally. Create a safe space for her. Whether it’s a spot in your bedroom or maybe a dog bed in the den, make sure she has a place to go when she’s feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
#2 – Provide A Sense of Control
One of the key aspects to remember when dealing with past abuse is that the victims experience a complete lack of control. Whether the complete lack of control is real or perceived, it puts them in a position of utter hopelessness.
The basis of behavioral training is teaching your dog that the desired behavior results in good things (like treats or praise). This work for us because we get the desired behavior. It also works for her, because she gains her own sense of control. She knows she’ll get what she wants if she behaves the way you want her to. As in any type of behavioral training, it’s important not to use force of any kind. Forcing your dog to do something will strip away her sense of control.
#3 – Provide Abundant Love
If you have a dog that has dealt with past trauma, you know that they may be difficult to love. With a dog being constantly fearful, timid and skittish, it can be difficult at times to show them the affection they need. But the truth is, these are the dogs that want and need love the most. Show as much affection and love as you can, being mindful not to be forceful with it. A dog who is dealing with past trauma will likely resist contact and affection, but it’s important to work through it.
#4 – Take Your Time and Exercise Patience
Most importantly when dealing with this issue, be patient and take your time. Slow and steady wins the race…which is also true when dealing with a traumatized pup. Be sure that all interactions, whether it’s a training session or just hanging out around the house, are positive experiences for her. Over time, living in a positive and safe environment will most likely lead to a calmer, happier fur baby.
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