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How to Help Your Dog Heal from Trauma

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Preparing to welcome a furry companion into your life is an exciting time. It’s normal to envision cozy fall walks, couch snuggles, and playing rousing games of fetch and tug o’ war in the yard. But adopting a pet who's experienced trauma can make the transition from rescue facility to home a little trickier than expected.

If you adopt a shelter pup, you might not know the extent of their history of trauma. Unfortunately, many rescue pets suffer from isolation, abandonment, abuse, and neglect before they make it to the safety of a loving family. And some missed out on critical socialization experiences as puppies, which greatly impacts their development.

So, just how does trauma impact pups? Traumatizing past experiences often evolve into serious behavioral issues, which can cause behaviors related to PTSD that include (but are not limited to):

· Timid or fearful avoidance

· Changes in temperament or increased irritability

· Fear aggression

· Hyper-vigilance

· Social anxiety and/or separation anxiety

Most dog owners want their pooch to live their best, happiest life possible. And, while it takes time, most pups CAN get past their traumatic past. Here are some tips on helping your dog heal from trauma.

Meet their Basic Needs

Anyone that has remotely studied psychology has heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and it’s a theory that has been proven crossover to the animal kingdom.

Traumatization leaves individuals, whether human or otherwise, with a brain set on constant alert. Without creating a baseline of ensuring your pet’s basic needs are met and creating a sense of security, it’s impossible to provide an atmosphere of healing. It might sound simple, but a full belly, a warm, cozy place to sleep, and regular exercise will set the foundation for a healthy approach to building a relationship with your pup.

Create a Sense of Safety

Remember that you are your dog’s most ardent advocate. Taking some extra precautions to make sure that your pup not only IS safe, but FEELS safe can ease the transition for a traumatized pet.

Providing a comfy, private space will help soothe an anxiety riddled pooch. Covering their crate with a blanket will provide a great hiding spot, especially if you leave the door to the crate open so that they can retreat whenever they need to. And, if you have the space, try setting up your pet’s safe space away from high traffic or noisy areas in your home. A quiet bedroom, bathroom, or laundry room can be perfect for this.

You can help reinforce the idea by making sure only good things happen in their safe space. Never send your pet there as punishment, and don’t invade their territory. Eventually, their safe place will represent the idea that the world isn’t scary.

Provide Some Bonding Moments

One of the most longed for experiences of pet ownership is bonding with your pup. But for a dog that has experienced abuse or neglect, bonding can take time and effort. If you can, it may be a good idea to adjust your schedule or take some time off from work so that you can be home with your pup for the first few days.

For most pets, food is a great motivator. And if you've spent time around dogs, you know that treats can be a powerful tool for influencing their behavior, including helping you to create an emotional connection with your pet. Treats can help your companion view human relationships as assets, and practices such as hand feeding or rewarding positive behaviors with treats will teach your pet to associate you with good things.

Also, providing plenty of positive and reward-based training, along with exercise, mental stimulation, and ample play opportunities will lay a strong foundation for your dog to see you as his person.

Be Patient

It can be hard for anyone to adjust to a new environment, including your pet. Give your dog several days to settle in before starting to introduce unfamiliar people and experiences. For a dog that might be fearful or suffer from anxiety, it’s important not to overwhelm them with too much chaos early on. Instead, let them set the pace when introducing anything new.

And, most importantly, if your dog has a history of trauma, remember to be aware of their past, but don’t let it dictate your dog’s future. You have the power to help your dog succeed in the present by providing plenty of patience, love, and opportunities to see that the world isn’t a scary place.

While trauma can have lasting consequences due to its impact on the way the brain develops and processes information, providing an environment of safety and implementing behavioral modification practices can have equally powerful effects.

Helping a dog rebuild confidence after trauma is a long and winding road, and rebuilding trust is a life-long process. But the process is so very, very rewarding.

We currently have many pups needing a loving, safe home at BCARL. Do you think YOU might be the one to provide open arms for one of them? To meet all of our available animals, visit us on PetFinder.

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