How to Handle Post Traumatic Stress in Dogs

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By Tess Thompson

We all know that humans undergo a certain amount of stress if they have experienced a traumatic situation. This kind of stress is called post traumatic stress. Remember the war veterans who could not adjust to normal routine civilian life after spending time in war-torn Vietnam. Further, the Hurricane Katrina disaster was a devastating and traumatic experience.

Like humans, dogs also undergo a certain amount of stress when they experience traumatic situations. The dogs who survived the Hurricane Katrina disaster were probably as traumatized as their owners.

During and after such incidents, dogs can show various behavioral changes that may take you by surprise. You may find that your dog suddenly seems to have forgotten all house training rules. He may defecate inside the house, indulge in excessive barking without any evident reason and become excessively aggressive or overly shy after a trauma. In addition, he may also pant, pace, or lose significant amounts of weight. How your pet comes out of this stress syndrome depends largely upon how you handle the situation.

If post traumatic stress in dogs is handled in a callous manner, the condition can deteriorate and lead to aggressive behavior. The methods used to treat separation anxiety in dogs are not sufficient or effective to treat post traumatic stress as it is much more severe.

The first step in the right direction is to be patient with your dog. Repeated scolding about unacceptable behavior like barking or pacing will only make matters worse.

Extreme care needs to be taken when trying to retrain your dog to handle situations. For example, if your dog has suddenly become frightened of the sound of thunder, then you need to adopt a desensitizing technique to make him comfortable. The desensitizing technique involves a series of steps that you need to follow to be able to make your dog insensitive to certain stimuli. In this case, you could consider investing in an audio track which has some thunder sounds. Play the track at a very low volume while you are around and make sure that you speak to him in a comforting manner. Although your dog cannot understand your language, the tone of your voice is likely to communicate to him that ‘all is well’. Increase the volume slowly so that your dog gets used to the sound over time. If you feel that the increase in volume is not acceptable to your dog, and he starts to show signs of fear, revert to the earlier level, and slowly try again.

This process can get extremely difficult at times depending on the level of stress that your dog has gone through. Therefore, desensitizing requires a lot of patience and love from you. Over time, your dog will get over the fear and behave normally even when there is a storm brewing.

Some traumas can be extremely unnerving for your dog. If the trauma has been extreme, it may actually mean reassuring your dog that all is fine. It may also mean training him all over again as if he were a puppy. Don’t get frustrated by the thought. Instead work patiently towards relieving stress in your pet. Another way that you can alleviate your pet’s stress is by spending more time with him and by indulging in more interactive play. This involves playing ‘catch’, going for walks and much more. Exercise plays an important role in relieving stress in dogs. The earlier you resume normal exercise and walking routines the easier it will be to relieve stress in pets.

The point to remember is that the change in behavior of your dog is not normal, and that it has been caused by a certain level of anxiety. The only manner in which you can ensure that normal behavior is reinstated is to eliminate anxiety and stress. Punishment and abuse are counterproductive in the process and should be avoided at all times.

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