What is trauma in dogs? They're just reactive, right?
Wrong. Trauma in dogs refers to an event that causes the dog to experience fear, anxiety, or physical harm. The experience of trauma can lead to long-term behavioural and physical changes in dogs. These changes can include increased anxiety, nervousness, and aggression towards other animals or people.
It can also lead to shut down, freezing on walks, hiding at home, weight loss, poor coat and other noticeable physiological changes and of course internally, externally you may see vomiting and diarrhoea as an example.
One way to help a dog heal from trauma is through various therapies that support their emotional wellbeing and help them process their experiences. These therapies may include cognitive behavioural therapy, desensitisation and counterconditioning, and emotional support therapy.
A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that the combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and medication can significantly reduce anxiety in dogs. Another journal published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science recommends the use of desensitisation and counterconditioning techniques, which work by gradually exposing the dog to situations that make them anxious, in a controlled and positive way. This helps the dog to feel less anxious over time.
But when we apply this holistically we don't want to do this in an intense way, first we need to work on healing and re establishing a secure emotional attachment to ourselves, we need our dogs to feel safe with us and secure and the connection needs to be settled and secure before beginning desensitisation. We focus on healing first.
Building a secure attachment with your dog is essential for their emotional and mental well-being. A secure attachment can help your dog feel safe and supported, reducing any potential anxiety and stress they may experience. Here are some tips to help build a secure attachment with your dog:
1. Spend quality time together: Whether it's taking your dog for decompression walks if they want to go and can manage this or playing with them, make sure to allocate time each day to spend one-on-one time with them. This helps build a bond between you and your dog.
2. Use positive reinforcement: Reward your dog for positive behaviours, praise them often and take time to set up training sessions at home where they feel safe to utilise these opportunities. This positive reinforcement helps to develop trust and a positive association with you.
3. Be consistent: Consistency is essential when building a secure attachment with your dog. Be predictable, if they ask for cuddles, give them, if they need space, allow them their space, if they want to play, play. If they need enrichment rather than play, utilise this on an individual basis of what your dog enjoys as an individual. Give them time to rest and heal through sleep, allow them to express their emotions such as barking and allow them to release the tension which may have built up, another great thing you can do is set a dig box in the garden, https://youtu.be/Yvt8C1UHc98 herbal safe plants for sensory enrichment and to encourage curiosity and confidence, bringing puppy behaviours back.https://youtu.be/JwUfqJXTCO8 This consistency helps your dog feel safe and secure. This is also a great link for beginning a sensory garden https://www.rufflesnuffle.co.uk/creating-a-sensory.../
4. Provide comfort: Dogs seek comfort when they are feeling anxious or stressed. Providing a comfortable space for them to rest, cuddling with them, or giving them a favourite toy to play with can all provide comfort and make them feel secure. Watch a film together or try out DogTV. This has helped us a lot and they love watching it. https://youtu.be/WNOls9-0On0
5. Attend classes online: Attending classes online with your dog can help establish a healthy relationship and provide valuable training. This can give your dog confidence and help them feel secure by remaining in their own home and not having to face other dogs and feeling overwhelmed and scared.
Building a secure attachment with your dog takes time, patience, and effort. But with these tips, you can develop a strong and healthy relationship with your dog.
Zombie has taught me so much, I knew I was taking on an anxious puppy and I didn't realise how anxious of course until he came home. The first thing I offered him and he sought was a secure attachment. This photo of him as a puppy was the day after he came home. I was studying and he chose to be next to me and go to sleep and he's been like this ever since. When he was overwhelmed on a walk after an off lead dog came bolting into the field and tried to play with him, he hid behind me without being cued, when we got the dog away and asked the owner to put their dog on a lead who was not even at the entrance of the field he jumped onto me and took deep breaths like a human, it's really hard to explain but it was like watching a human taking breaths in a pattern following a panic attack. We stayed there for ten minutes, breathing, gentle stroking, cuddling allowing him to lick to soothe himself and waited until he felt he could walk home. He slept all night (as he had to be walked as close to midnight as possible due to his fear of daylight walks and other dogs and people) and he slept for two days after, only waking for the toilet and his meals.
It was awful for me to see at the time but the fact that he knew he could immediately use me as a shield and seek me for releasing all of the panic immediately after the dog was gone was a relief to me as if he hadn't this could have been much worse.
With careful management, building on the secure attachment, showing him he can consent and refuse to consent, playing with him, dropping everything when he seeks my connection, gentle training and allowing him to express his biological needs paired with complimentary therapies he's gone from strength to strength. He can now select dogs he can play, he can walk in daylight and ask to go out in daylight, he can now seek out fuss from other humans and has no fear around women and is only slightly cautious of men.
He sleeps a lot less and he's comfortable with seeking out my company rather than his enrichment area to be alone.
Acknowledging that he didn't want to be around people or other dogs, that he didn't want to attend clubs or socialise in groups and that he needed to have space as he grew and matured has set him up to be an awesome and confident dog, I even had people say to euthanize him because of how nervous he was and I'm so glad that with the power of holistic care, complimentary services and love that he's a happy, confident and securely attached dog.
In summary, healing from trauma can take time, but with patience, love, and the support of a village, dogs can overcome their traumatic experiences and lead fulfilling lives.
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