Go to any dog park and you are going to see man’s best friend engaging in all different kinds of play. They are fetching, chasing, tugging, and tackling, but what about the emotionally hurt and traumatized of the lot? For these dogs, the mere act of letting loose and having fun is an alien concept. Not knowing how to play while not having the confidence to engage with others is something which affects dogs of all different breeds as well as backgrounds. It is true that some dogs are naturally less energetic than others, but each dog deserves the chance to embrace their playful side.
If your dog has a prior history of trauma, here are some guidelines you need to remember and follow.
The dog determines what is traumatizing, not you
Whilst you might not have thought that holding your dog down for a simple nail trim was that big a deal, your dog might have an entirely different view. Watch your dog’s body language closely for various different signs of stress for example lip licking, yawning, slower and/or faster movement, freezing, and turning away so that you can mediate if a situation starts to go south. Pushing through such situations can almost guarantee that they are going to create new fear triggers in most of the dogs.
Create safe places
One of the many reasons that mat work is so helpful for many dogs is because of its clear structure of safety. By making the mat an optimistic place where treats, relaxation, and massages take place, we can generate a positive conditioned emotional response to the simple presence of this training tool. Once this mat becomes a safe place, it is important to make sure to keep it that way. Do not let anything ruthless happen to your dog on the mat. You can generate other safe spaces as well, places in your dog’s environment where good things happen and where there is no stress placed on the dog.
Give your dog choices
One of the easiest ways to traumatize any animal is to take away all of their choices. Create opportunities for your dog to make choices about their environment, schedule, in addition to care as much as possible. Whether you let the dog decide which way to turn at the end of the block, wait for him to offer a foot for nail trimming, play with nose work, or give your dog numerous different beds to choose to sleep on, the choice is immensely important. Set your dog up to make decent choices, then reward all these choices to build up the dog’s confidence.
Always try to end on a good note
Research has revealed that people who experienced similar unpleasant procedures had very different memories of those processes depending on how disturbing the final moments of the process were. While we do not know whether dogs have the same cognitive recollection abilities, it certainly does not hurt to try to make the last few seconds of any nasty experience as enjoyable as possible.
Your dog is not his story
If your dog has a prior history of trauma, it is very important to be aware of that past, but correspondingly very important to help your dog succeed in the present as well. Too often, we get too caught up in the stories we tell ourselves about our dogs’ pasts, and forget to pay close attention to the animal who is in front of us. Whilst trauma can have long-lasting consequences because of its huge impact on the manner the brain develops and processes info, patient behavioral alteration and an environment of safety can have equally drastic effects. See your dog for who he is in the moment, instead of who you expect him to be. He might just surprise you.