Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to trauma and many dogs face some type of psychological or emotional trauma. Just like people who have gone through a traumatic event, your dog may suffer from anxiety and depression due to a traumatic event.
Dogs are sensitive beings and they can be impacted by negative situations, environments, and abuse. Dealing with trauma in animals is difficult because they cannot verbally tell us what happened to them. We have to use our judgment to help them in the best way possible.
Signs of Trauma:
Trauma manifests itself in different ways and being vigilant of your dog’s behavior will help you understand when your dog is facing anxiety. One of the first signs of trauma is an anxious response to a situation or generalized anxiety. Some dogs will behave aggressively or show signs of avoidance when they become stressed.
Other dogs will become aggressive or try to flee from situations that are uncomfortable or frightening. When a dog is facing a “trigger” they may run, shake, hide, urinate, defecate, howl, pace, or bark. A “trigger” is an event that causes a memory or a flashback that the dog is responding too.
Many dog behaviorists will look for these symptoms when trying to understand a dogs awkward or aggressive behavior. These are also symptoms that indicate past trauma if it is unknown. This is especially relevant to rescue dogs; these dogs don’t always come with a full history and there is a lot of guesswork put into their behavior.
How to Help a Dog with Trauma:
Dogs are surprisingly similar to humans in the way that we approach trauma and past experiences. Science has proven that dogs can get PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) when they are exposed to trauma.
Some of the most common causes of emotional trauma or PTSD are natural disasters, abandonment, loss, combat (Police or Military, Physical and Emotional Abuse, and dogfighting. When working with a dog who shows signs of trauma take them back to the basics.
Create a sense of Safety: This is extremely important because a dog dealing with trauma is constantly on high alert. The first step in working with a dog and their behavior is by creating a safe place where they are comfortable.
If you push a dog too fast, it is likely that the dog will regress. Giving them a space of their own lets them retreat and take a time out while feeling stressed or agitated. Ultimately, your home should be a safe place, but a crate might be an idea space during this period. Dogs associate their crates with dens, and it offers them a sense of security.
Systemic Desensitization: This is a type of exposure therapy where your dog is slowly introduced to their trigger. Finding your dog’s trigger can be tricky but have faith! If your dog starts acting strange and becoming upset or aggressive every time there is loud thunder, this is a good indication that your dog has a noise phobia.
In that case, you would work with different noises to make your dog comfortable. The goal is to replace the negative trigger with a positive association.