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PTSD in Dogs?

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August 20, 2011 by wcobserver

Well, we used to call them fear biters but now our pets have PTSD instead. I’ve had to treat dogs that were totally untouchable without chemical restraint. That would be understandable if the dog had been living in the wild and never had interactions with humans before. But the ones I’m talking about belonged to someone. While battered children and spouses don’t generally bite, this is a defense mechanism for a dog or cat that has been abused. You need to be careful when adopting a pet from the pound as many are fear biters. Be sure to observe the pet carefully before taking it home, especially if you have young children. And have an understanding that you can return the pet if it shows signs of aggression. This is not breed related. I haven’t seen near as many fear biting pit bulls as I have Cocker spaniels.

There are other symptoms of PTSD that pets may exhibit. Often times we don’t know the reason for an unusual behavior. PTSD can be caused by many unfavorable conditions such as car accidents and victims of natural disasters including tornados and floods. Separation anxiety can be a symptom of a post traumatic experience. Some dogs have to be on anxiety medication for storms. Bomb sniffing dogs and those service dogs that have been exposed to combat trauma are often affected as are some soldiers.
Fears can be overcome or at least suppressed with a huge amount of TLC and patience. New, good habits can replace bad ones with training and time. Desensitizing is often employed to mask or overcome a bad habit. Another word used is conflict training. This involves putting a dog in a state of conflict over what the dog wants to do and what you want it to do. The pet needs to know that it will not be harmed and that obeying will result in some sort of reward. Once an animal feels safe it will be more likely to behave in a natural and predictable manner for that species.

Wolf behavior is dog behavior. Studying the way wolves interact with each other and how they learn to obtain food can give some insight into what seems like strange reactions in pet dogs. Chasing and biting “prey” objects is normal. Dogs like to catch Frisbies, balls, sticks and other objects. In the wild a wolf that won’t hunt and catch things won’t live long. Rough and tumble play is normal for dogs and wolves and dogs enjoy this and bond to humans this way. Rough and tumble play can reverse the signs of panic attacks in dogs.

TLC and trust are the key tactics to helping a pet overcome PTSD but it can also be a dangerous and time consuming endeavor. Study what behaviorists do and watch some wolf behavior videos to help you get some clues as to how to best cure this mental illness of dogs. Drugs and antidepressants can help but there is no substitute for the human-animal bond.

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