Caring For A Dog With Trauma
Adopting a new dog is an exciting and nerve-wracking time, but not all dogs are happy with their forever home. Unfortunately, the number of rescue dogs with emotional trauma is far too high and their needs are quite different from a confident, well-adjusted dog.
Emotional trauma could be caused by a range of things from neglect, physical abuse, or even accidental injury. Just like humans, dogs have complex emotional responses to frightening situations and they can find it difficult to cope.
So, how can we help a traumatized dog feel safe and secure in their new home?
A Place of Safety
Your first and most important job is to create a safe space for your dog away from the busy areas of the home. A dog crate covered with a blanket is ideal. It provides your dog with a secure, warm and hidden spot where he can go whenever he feels overwhelmed.
Leaving the crate door open is vital. Your dog should be able to enter and exit the crate whenever he needs to. Preventing him access or locking him in the crate will only increase his anxiety.
Choose a place that is quiet and not used frequently during the day. This is important as loud noises and lots of people can trigger your dog’s trauma, so a bathroom or laundry room can be perfect for this.
The crate should have a comfortable pad or blanket to lie on, a water bowl and a cuddly toy. Keep in mind that nervous dogs seek out den-like places to hide when they feel afraid so ensure the blanket you drape over the crate covers both sides and the roof.
Dogs who have suffered trauma take a long time to adjust to changes. You will need to be patient with them and allow him/her to settle on their own. Do not invite visitors to the house for at least the first week, and then once you feel your dog is relaxed in the home, introduce one person at a time. Keep the visits short and do not try to force your dog to interact with your guest.
Remember to also keep your own emotions calm, this is because your dog can tell when you are angry or frustrated. To allow your new dog to adjust easily, you must remain relaxed whenever you interact with him.
Dogs who have suffered neglect or abuse will have no trust of their surroundings and will be in a constant state of alertness.
Creating and sticking to a routine will eliminate the fear of surprise. Get up and go to bed at a similar time every day, feed your dog at the same time, and allow him access to the yard to go to the toilet at regular intervals. The consistency and repetition will reduce your dog’s fear of the unknown and he will feel comfortable knowing what to expect each day, so by Introducing new things gradually you will give him/her time to get used to the change.
Training a traumatized dog is a very slow process and you should never scold them. You may not know your dog’s history, so disciplining your dog could exacerbate their fear.
Use their favourite tasty treats to encourage them to bond with you. Food can be a great training tool for gaining trust with you and eventually others.
Only when they are comfortable can you begin to introduce training. Start with something simple like ‘sit’. If you sense your dog is getting anxious, end the session and try again the next day. Even simple things like allowing them to choose which direction you go on a walk, or letting them leave the room whenever they want will give them a sense of safety and control. Let them set the pace.
Delilah Wolf Pack is always taking in traumatised animals, we understand that it can be so difficult to care for a hesitant dog. That’s why we urge you to seek out to a dog behavioral specialist if your dog is getting progressively worse or you’re not seeing an improvement. Sometimes we just can’t understand how severe their pain is and it’s so important to not underestimate how tough they are or what they are fighting.