Top 10 Tips – dealing with a traumatic dog experience

All dogs can handle stress, a little or a lot.

All dogs are resilient, a little or a lot.

Most dogs will encounter one or more traumatic events in their life time, by the mouth of another, by the hands of another, through the fury of Mother Nature, from man-made noises, to scary office/medical experiences. No dog is exempt, a little or a lot.

No two dogs will handle the same adverse experience the same way because the factors are too varied – base line genetic make-up, diet, underlying health or lack thereof, early socialization experiences, early exposure to new and different in a kind and considerate way, relationship with the human, previous associations, and the humans compliance to management or not.

How a dog deals with trauma and how they move forward has a great deal to do with how the human handles the aftermath.

  1. STARTERS – Ignoring what happened, or dismissing what happened, or pretending that it didn’t  really affect your dog, doesn’t work. In fact you will purchase escalating snowballing types of behaviors, and will be consumed, over time, with ‘where did that come from?’, ‘my dog has never done that before?’ You must acknowledge what happened, acknowledge that the event at hand was traumatic for your dog, and acknowledge that you now must create dedicated time to deal with it. Puppies and young dogs won’t show a lot of ‘post stress’, but it will come back to rear its ugly head right around eighteen months of age, on the cusp of young adulthood. So acknowledge and deal you must!
  2. BEHAVIORALLY HOT – When a dog has a traumatic experience, or an experience of tremendous change, adrenaline is released into the system. Adrenaline, typically  increases the heart rate, blood pressure, free fatty acids (which are important sources of fuel) and amount of sugar in blood causing dilation of the bronchial tubes and pupils. This results in a number of factors including the increased need for oxygen, causing a dog to pant. Adrenaline also indirectly causes the increasing amount of stress hormones that are released such as cortisol. Cortisol (one of the glucocorticoids), causes an increase in the concentration of glucose, fatty acids, amino acids in blood. This ensures the body’s cells are fueled with energy, helping the dog to be primed and ready for action – fight, flight, or freeze, the fear responses. High levels of cortisol stay in a dogs system after a traumatic event, or an experience of tremendous change for or up to 10-14 days, causing a dog to be ‘behaviorally hot’, edgy, cautious, uneasy, and sometimes dangerous. Creating an environment where your dog can have good exercise that is appropriate, restorative sleep, good nourishing species appropriate food, and no external stresses is vital. They need a cooling down period, and they need to feel safe.
  3. SOUND – Create calming and soothing sounds in your home. Music that is under 60-90 beats per minute is recommended, as well as gentle white noise. Calming, soothing, and lulling is what you are trying to create. If you are uncertain of what this might sound like, check out iCalmPet, we have partnered with Joshua & Lisa for over six years now, and it has helped so many of our dog clients.
  4. SCENT – Create a home that is ‘scent calm’. Because dogs are sensitive to scent, you don’t have to douse your home in anything. Drops, a few drops is all you need, maybe once a day, diffuse or use as an aroma mist, please never directly at or on your dog. Our Scent Project offers aroma mists for this very reason, gentle, and just right for the canine nose. Please use 100% plant based essential oils, and the most calming would be – lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, vetiver, frankincense, cedar or sandalwood, and sweet orange. No essential oil should make your dog tired, or act as a sedative or drug, these essential oils, through inhalation, relax the nerves in the bronchial area, and digestive area, creating and allowing for a deep breath, and with a deep breath you are creating more blood and oxygen to the system, which helps to create balance. So essentially, you are creating a deep breathing home.
  5. EXERCISE – Both mental and physical exercise, that is appropriate for your dogs age, breed, and physical capabilities, is necessary each day. Your dog needs to solve concepts, reason, and move their body. Please create this time each day. In saying this, after a traumatic experience, it is always best to exercise and work with your dog at home, in a fenced yard, or a fenced field. The space you use counts, and must be safe, and feel safe, with no conflict. Please do not go to public places with off leash dogs or people, bikers, skiers, passing through. Good exercise in a safe and calm environment.
  6. EMOTIONAL BALANCE – While your dog is recovering from a traumatic event emotional balance in the home counts for a great deal, so make the adjustments necessary in order to support your dog.
  7. SOCIAL BALANCE – If your dog has a favorite best dog friend, or a favored person that is not part of your family, please wait to see them for atleast 10-14 days. Allow your dog time to cool down, to heal emotionally, socially, or physically.
  8. DIET – We all know that healing is not just a cut turning into a scab and going away, it is a cellular thing, on all levels, and takes time. One of the best ways to encourage healing of the mind, body, and spirit is through nutrition. If you are already feeding a species appropriate diet, continue to do so and add more calming items like bone broth, dandelion powder, and golden paste. If you do not currently feed a species appropriate diet, consider adding some top dressings to your dogs diet to encourage more bio-available nutrition – bone broth, whole fat plain yogurt, raw trachea, and raw green tripe.
  9. NEW BEHAVIORS – Depending on the trauma your dog experienced, you will need to do quite a bit of work to help your dog feel safe again. The real reality is, they will never be the same dog, because now they have experienced something, and have a new association, a new way of looking at their world. This never goes away. So again, depending on what the traumatic experience was, you will need to learn how to desensitize your dog with realistic expectations, and start to build a comfortable CER, or conditioned emotional response. If this is unfamiliar to you, please find a trainer to assist you in this journey. Please, for the love of god, do not throw your dog back into the very environment that caused the trauma in the first place, so your dog can ‘get over it’. That is not how it works. And please, please, please, if your dog needs you to be patient, be patient. If your dog says ‘no fucking way’, it means you pressed them too far, too fast, too soon, and were thinking of your needs for them to get over it, and not your dogs needs for healing.
  10. A NEW NORMAL – Be prepared for change, a new normal, a new way of looking at your world. Sometimes a dog can bounce back from a traumatic experience over time, and sometimes they can’t, and then there are all the dogs on the spectrum in between. Triggers, social pressure, and physical pressure are all very real, again finding a new normal is now in your future. You will learn to be your dogs advocate, their voice in the human world, and their guardian on a whole new level of care. Can a dog who has had a traumatic experience, or an experience of tremendous change still have an awesome and complete life? Yes, absolutely. But you as your dogs owner has to be willing to give, to change, to try, to shift, for this all to happen.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mickey Maynard says:

    NANCY, Thanks again for your words of wisdom regarding our dear canine friends. I shared with a lot of my favorite dog friends. You need to put your articles into a book. I for one would like one.

  2. Nikki Brown says:

    I totally agree with Mickey!

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