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.