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The Truth About Dogs and PTSD Revealed

In light of the recent Boston sadness and tragic events, the topic of my blog post this week deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As people, we have witnessed many emotionally devastating events in the past 15 years. Just as the visual nightmares have a tendency to stick with us, the use of social media has become both a blessing and a reminder: Of a society that has dealt with many national tragedies.

What about our canine family members? Do dogs react to stressful situations and have the propensity to suffer from PTSD? According to many experts, yes. Military dogs returning from war zones are often diagnosed with PTSD. Sometimes they exhibit signs that they are affected with nervous exhaustion; others appear distressed or confused and forget routine commands. These dogs require post deployment immersion into society where folks train them, provide a loving environment, and work on basic skills before they can be adopted out to a new home. Sadly though, the health and deployment histories of dogs are not tracked like their human counterparts.

Household dogs who have experienced trauma can also suffer from emotional issues and/or PTSD.

What The Experts Say

"Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is not a fully recognized veterinary behavioral phenomenon but some believe it exists and is probably more common than we think,” according to Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Dipl. ACVB. Dodman is one of the world’s most noted and celebrated veterinary behaviorists.

Consider dogs then who are dumped at shelters or are fostered from one family to another, perhaps being exposed to abusive or neglectful situations. Dogs might exhibit behavioral changes, snap or snarl at strangers, or engage in excessive barking if stressed. Some pets pant, pace, yawn, or have changes in eating patterns. Like people, the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma vary from dog to dog. This is not to say it cannot be treated.

Just Ask Freddy

I received an email about Freddy in early March. It read,  “Urgent Foster needed in Connecticut. Freddy is tied to a dog house 24/7 the owner no longer wants him. He cries for attention. A concerned neighbor has got the owner to agree to give him up. He is 8 years old. Please help us find a foster so he doesn’t spend another cold and lonely night tied to a dog house.”

Fortunately, a good Samaritan stepped in, connected with the Life’s Little Paws Rescue Group, and Freddy was taken from the situation. It was not clear whether Freddy was a male or a female dog because he was so badly matted and skunked. Imagine living your life on a chain, tied to a doghouse, no human contact, and left to the emotional isolation of your own thoughts. That was Freddy’s life.

I am happy to report that thanks to Life’s Little Paws Cocker Spaniel Rescue Group, Freddy is now safe and sound in foster care. He has been checked by a vet, has been groomed, and is awaiting his forever home.

To help acclimate him to the good people of the world, Freddy is currently in foster care and was recently transported to a second family for a week’s stay. Nancy Height is showering Freddy with love, companionship, exposure to her three other Cocker Spaniels, and teaching him manners. He is already thriving in this environment and despite some territorial marking, he is adjusting just fine.

If you can help Freddy and want a forever Wigglebutt friend, visit my buddies at Life’s Little Paws.

Trust Issues

Dogs, like children, are watching our mannerisms. The way we treat a dog will also determine how he or she behaves in general. Putting your hand(s) on a dog as a form of punishment is not only wrong but as harmful to the relationship you want with your dog; counterproductive in fact.

In her book, It’s Me or the Dog famed positive reinforcement trainer and star of her own dog behavior show on Animal Planet, Victoria Stilwell, writes, “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the one who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.”

Seek the help of an animal behaviorist who believes in positive reinforcement. Be sure the dog's veterinarian gives you the green light and a clean bill of health to rule out any underlying medical issues that can cause behavioral changes. Do yourself a favor and check out the Canine Thyroid Epidemic book by famed vet, Dr. Jean Dodds.

Dogs are bigger spirits than we as humans. Watch an abused dog as he or she is rescued from a kennel; I’ve lost count to the number of dogs I’ve seen wag. They trust us, believe in us, and give us second chances. Give dogs a break and a second chance. Teach, strengthen the bond, and simply love them and the rewards they give back will be immeasurable.

Carol Bryant

Carol Bryant

"A dog lover of the highest order,” is how Gayle King introduced Carol Bryant when she and her Cocker Spaniel appeared on Oprah Radio’s Gayle King show to dish dogs. She is founder of her own canine-centric magazine-style dog blog, Fidose of Reality,

Read Carol Bryant's Full Bio