Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - In Dogs?

So I've been doing some thinking. After last night, I am thinking there is something more severe than a tattered past in my dogs eyes. I believe he has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. As I am unaware of what exactly happened in his past, I can only hypothesize.

Last night when I went to bed, Schaeffer jumped in crawled up by my pillows. He buried his head into my chest so his head was hiding. His body was all curled up in the fetal position pressed right against mine. His heart was pounding so fast, and his breathing became very laboured and quick. He turned his head away from me and buried it under a bunch of pillows. He tucked all his legs under him and laid like that until I fell asleep. I'm not sure what happened after.

The first time this happened I thought he was maybe having cardiac arrest. I stayed up with him but he eventually fell asleep. It scared the hell out of me, but now I am kind of getting used to it. I usually just snuggle up with him and rub his belly to try and relax him until I fall asleep. I'm thinking this goes way beyond anxiety. It's almost like a panic attack that people get, but I believe this may be a result of the stress he endured throughout his life.
What I do know about Schaeffer is that he is 7 years old, 8 this year. For the first 6 years of his life he lived with a gangster, thug type guy. He was used to show off to his friends, brought to parties, and play fought with...except his play fighting was actually full contact. After a few years his owner had a baby with a girl, and the baby momma did not want the dog near her baby. Schaef spent the rest of his life at that time locked in a crate, or in a bathroom. Only let out to use the washroom. When his owner moved from the West coast, he decided to give away the dog when he got to this city. The girl who adopted him had no idea what she was in for. She wanted a laid back cuddler, but instead got a deaf, high energy, neglected, anxiety ridden beefcake...and after 3 months posted an ad on Kijiji looking for a home for Schaeffer. That's where I come in.

We exchanged e-mails, then eventually I went to go see him. Having another Catahoula at my mom's, which I had given to her as she has a great displease for the city, I knew I could handle this one. I fell in love with him instantly and knew he was not in a good place. His then current owner explained to me how I would have to handle him. He would need to be punched in the face, kicked in the gut, and dragged around if he got too strong. To get him to behave all I had to do was make "the fist", and the dog would hit the floor. When he annoyed her, into the crate it was. The story goes on, but it makes me sick to think about so I will spare you all. I agreed to handle him the way she requested, just to get the dog out of there. She handed over his leash and he was finally safe, and going to live out his life in comfort and love.

Schaeffer had a difficult time adjusting. He never came out of his crate. I would have to lock the door shut just to get him to spend time with me. He didn't like you to be more than a foot closer to him. A hug was out of the question. He would NOT lay on any blanket, or bed I got for him, let alone get on my bed or the couch. He ran away if he thought you looked at him the wrong way. He was a loner and didn't care for people. I knew he had a rough life, but I never imagined how bad it might have been.
Now that things have changed, and Schaeffer is an old' ham...I'm beginning to wonder just what might have happened to him. He loves people now, let's me hug and kiss him. He sleeps in my bed (bad I know but I get lonely), and occasional I can coax him onto the chair. So now that he seems to be able to live a relatively normal dog life, what's up with these night episodes?

This article explains how dogs experience stress much like humans when they are in a traumatic situation. Depending on the severity, dogs can become anxious to showing full blown PTS symptoms. Their behaviour will change. Some dogs forget all aspects of training, while others become aggressive. Schaef has been known to exhibit signs of aggression in the past. Some dogs become obsessed with barking, panting, or pacing. These activities can be very horrible for both the dog and the owner.
So how can help a dog that suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?
The key is to eliminate as much stress as possible. The best start to relieving stress is walking. If your dog is stressed, walk, walk, walk the stress away.

Try not to put your dog in situations you know will create anxiety and stress. For example, if your dog does not like to be home alone, consider a doggie day care or dog walker. If your dog gets nervous in the car, avoid it whenever possible.

If your dog has a specific event that has traumatized them, there are methods to over come their fear. It involves patience, and baby steps. Seek a professional dog behaviorist.
If your dog is crate trained leave the crate available for them when they need to find their comfort zone.
Lots of praise, and lots of love. Negative re-enforcement in an already anxiety ridden dog will just blow up in your face and make things worse.

Physical abuse, abusive or fear training is NEVER the answer. This will destroy the dog more and more, and create additional anxiety.

The most important thing for a dog who has anxiety or stress is comfort. If they feel safe and comfortable in their home, they will gain trust and show improvement over time. Of course, not all dogs can be fixed. Schaeffer may have come as far as he can, only time will tell. At least he can live out the rest of his days worry free, knowing there are many who will love him forever.


  1. Veramente un bel blog, complimenti!

    Ti visiteró piú spesso in futuro!


  2. And that's what's important for him, that love. So, maybe it's not PTS, but wanting to be spoiled :-).

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  3. I am soooo glad you have that dog now!!
    your mom looks fab on her little horse, they make a great team!


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