Dogs and Trauma

We had a conversation recently with someone who’s dog (let’s call her Lady) has been through a traumatic experience and how they should manage the situation. It was a very important conversation to have and one that we feel should be shared.

 We won’t go into full details, but Lady was attacked by something or someone in her backyard while her owner was at work. Lady ended up with a substantial puncture/hole in her head. At first the owner thought the two dogs had a fight, so she arranged for her boy (lets call him Mr) to stay with friends while Lady recovered. The vet is unsure what caused the wound but assures her it was not a dog bite.

 Lady is home recovering but is now unwilling to go outside on her own. She will follow her owner out to the yard but won’t go out or stay out alone. This is TOTALLY understandable.

 Mr is still with friends and the owner wanted advice on when to bring Mr home, making sure that Lady has time to recover. We discussed making sure Lady has quiet places to go when Mr gets bouncy and playful until Lady is recovered.

 We recommended that Mr be brought home so that things can go back to normal in the home for Lady. The owner was worried that Lady would need lots of time to recover from her experience, before Mr should come home.  The owner also mentioned not taking Lady to her Agility nights anymore, for fear of her bumping her head on something.

 We asked if the vet had recommended that and was told no. The vet has given Lady the all clear to go about her normal life once her wound has healed. In this particular situation the owner is concerned for the well being of Lady but stopping the kinds of activities Lady loves is not the answer.

 Let me explain. Dogs live in the moment. They don’t live in the past. When a dog has suffered from a traumatic experience, the best way to help them is to get their life back to normal as soon as possible. Yes we have to be aware that in some circumstances their behaviour may be different, in this case Lady not wanting to be outside alone, but completely changing her whole life (by stopping agility) is not going to help Lady.

 I can guarantee you that Lady is not going to think about her backyard incident when she is at the agility field, or eating her dinner, or sitting on her favourite couch or going for a walk. Humans are the one’s who struggle to live in the moment and that’s when we can create a nervous wreck of a dog.

 Getting back to normal, acting like nothing has changed and ensuring Lady is healthy and fulfilled is the best way to help her get over her ‘trauma’. Don’t molly coddle them, try to act the same way you did BEFORE the incident. Dogs need leadership, they need to see from you that things are back to normal so they can be comfortable in their environment.

So weather you have a ‘rescue’ dog who you ‘think’ has been mistreated, a retired greyhound or your own dog that has been attacked, the same advice applies….. Acknowledge your dog’s past but live in the present with them.

How many lessons will I need??

This is one of the first questions that 99.9% of people ask when they enquire about dog training, that and ‘How much does it cost?’

My answer is essentially, ‘How long is a piece of string?’  Let me explain….

Do you have a dog that pulls you down the street on a walk? Why do they pull on the lead?  Is it excitement, or that they have never been taught to walk nicely? Each of these two possibilities have different potential solutions that depend on you and your dog learning the new skills.

Do you have a dog that barks and lunges at other dogs? Why do they bark and lunge? Is it frustration, fear or aggression? We can’t know what the root cause of this behaviour is until we see it in person.

Do you have a dog that jumps all over the family and runs the household? Why do they jump? Is there something the family is doing or is the dog stressed out or overly aroused? We don’t know the answer until we come to your home and see the behaviour in action, in the home environment.

There are so many reasons why dogs do the things they do and we can’t tell you over the phone, without ever meeting you or your dog, how many lessons you will need. For us to know what we can do to help you, we need to see the behaviour, talk to you and ask a million questions to get to the bottom of the issue. This can’t be done in a phone call.

Think of a dog trainer like a counsellor. If you went to a counsellor to work through some issues, would you expect them to be able to tell you in a first phone call that all your problems will be fixed in X number of sessions? They need to meet you, ask you questions and understand the problem you are having in order to provide you with guidance and help on ways to manage and fix the problem.

We don’t just teach the dogs new behaviours, we teach people how to have a better relationship with their dog. Many times, we are dealing with people who are at their wits end, who are feeling frustrated, embarrassed, sad or even just fed up with their dog’s behaviour. A dog trainer is the person to help you and your dog rebuild your relationship. And to be that counsellor, we need to meet everyone involved and see what kind of relationship you have now in order to give you help and guidance to manage and fix the problems.

We don’t just train dogs, we help people train their dogs and work through all the emotions that go along with it. We need to know how to communicate with people when they are having a good day or a bad day. We have to be empathetic and some days we need to be tough. But through it all our goal is to better the lives of dogs and people alike.

So next time you call a trainer and then get frustrated because they can’t tell you over the phone how many lessons you will need, remember that they are doing the right thing by you in wanting to meet you and your dog first. They will become your counsellor, your mentor, your sounding board and the person you turn to when you’ve had a good day or a bad day in your training.

And if you are surprised by the price, consider this, you are paying a professional who has spent years and thousands of dollars on their education. Ask them about their qualifications and continued learning. Would you expect to pay any other professional $25 an hour? We, like any other small business are trying to make ends meet and earn some money at the same time, just like you.

A good trainer is worth their weight in gold and they need to be seen as a professional in their field, not just a dog lover.

Food for thought!



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If you and your dog need some counselling, call or email us now so we can help rebuild your relationship.