Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Why it Can Cause Severe Dog Aggression in Dogs
Thanks Dr. for Dog for the photo
I just had a question from a reader that I, unfortunately, get fairly frequently about dogs that develop severe dog aggression after a dog attack and how to work through that.
It is sad that this happens and that both owners and dogs then have to deal with the aftermath, but the aggression that often results is not an easy behavior to fix.
Imagine if the same sort of thing happened to you.
There you are our shopping at your favorite store; minding your own business when someone dressed in black comes up with a gun to mug you and threatens to kill you before punching you in the face or cutting you.
Depending on the damage depends on whether you need to go to the hospital to be stitched up or not; but clearly this would be a terrifying ordeal.
The next time you go out you might have a panic attack. It may also take you a while to have a desire to go out of the house at all!
And, once you conquer that fear or agoraphobia then how are you going to feel if you see someone dressed in black, or someone in black approaches you?
Would you take firearms classes and arm yourself with a gun?
Would you take self defense classes?
Would you need medication to be able to deal with the anxiety the situation created?
Or would you be completely okay to go back out and have no fears or anxiety if the same situation started to happen again?
I Can Tell You I Would Suffer From Anxiety
I can say pretty clearly, that I would have anxiety issues.
Last year I was threatened by a business owner and was in need of an emergency restraining order. I dealt with that pretty well, I thought, I contacted some police friends of mine for advice and I was pretty comfortable knowing I had “attack dogs” at home to keep me safe.
But, when I had to go to court it seems someone broke into my detached garage was broken into and trashed. Motorcycles were turned over and beaten with a bat or something that dented them all and I didn’t even find the awfulness until the next day because I didn’t park in my garage after my court case.
I was in shock when I rounded the corner, turned on the light and saw the total devastation (my husband was out of town). I turned right back around and called the police.
In my opinion, if I had not left my dog out loose in the house (she is a wonderful and scary guard dog) they would have broken into the house. I thank my girlie for keeping them out of the house so the devastation was reserved only to the garage.
I’m a pretty tough girl, I played tackle football with the older boys in high school, I get into a dog bite suit and take bites from attack and police dogs, and for the most part I am pretty well adjusted.
But having my garage broken into (even though I am sure I was gone)and being threatened with physical harm was a little traumatizing. I didn’t even technically get attacked. I had trouble having the desire to leave the house, and I had difficulty sleeping for a while.
Now Imagine How Your Dog Feels
Most dogs don’t get a lot of dog/dog interaction on a regular basis, so they don’t even have that “warm happy dog communication” feeling to fall back on when something bad happens.
Instead they tend to generalize, one dog was bad = all dogs are bad. One fuzzy dog, black dog, big dog/ small dog whatever the dog looked like tends to get lumped into the same category and the dog gets defensive on site.
So when the dog sees another dog that is similar (or any other dog) he thinks the best offensive is a good defense. He learns to get aggressive in an attempt to scare the other dog from interacting.
Sometimes this is effective. Some dogs see a very aggressive display and want to back away or hide, or slink past as a means to avoid confrontation.
And, then there are the dogs that when met with a vocal and physical display of aggression retaliates and want to engage in a fight.
Think back to human interaction. For the most part, I am a very non-confrontational person. You could yell obscenities at me from across the road and I will look away, turn away, or probably not engage you at all.
But, I have a friend who is very confrontational. If you were to shout obscenities at him or challenge him in any way; you would have a very physical fight on your hands. Different people behave differently, just like different dogs behave differently. Some are non-confrontational, happy go lucky, or very territorial or dominant when challenged.
Although it Seems Like Blatant Aggression
Although it seems like blatant aggression on the part of the dog who has been attacked or is suffering from PTSD, the truth is it is a severe fear and a desire for avoidance that is causing the aggression.
What Can You Do?
Before It Happens
Be very careful letting your dog play or interact with other dogs, especially those you don’t know. All it takes is a fraction of a second of a poor choice and you can have a traumatized dog.
When my dogs are young, I only let them play with dogs that I know and am very aware of how they play, with a variety of dogs.
As I watch my dogs grow and play I become used to what kinds of dogs they enjoy playing with; and if they enjoy playing with all dogs or only some. I don’t allow my dominant dogs to play with other dogs freely or in dog parks because I cannot control that environment.
Dog parks can be very scary places if you don’t have an excessively submissive player with all other dogs.
After It Happens
Unfortunately we can’t control all situations all the time, and sometimes dogs get into dog fights and our dogs can be attacked on walks and once something traumatizing has happened we can’t go back in time and un-do it.
So we are left trying to constantly combat the environment and desensitize our dogs.
Some dogs desensitize easily with very little work and only a few controlled sessions with good dogs; others can take months or years to properly desensitize and still they may never be the same or ever trust dogs again.
If Your Dog is Stressed to the Point of PTSD
If your dog can’t function around other dogs you have to let him work at his own pace. If you stress him or put him too close to his triggers you are going to make the problem worse.
Dogs like this need to work at a distance that is comfortable for them, where they are not bothered by other dogs. They also need to be very good at obedience.
If your dog is not normally obedient, then he is going to find it difficult if not impossible to listen to you under the distraction of other dogs, especially if he is scared. Obedience can help a stressed dog feel more confident. For help with your obedience click here for our store.
He needs help with desensitization and to understand more about Desensitization click here.
Dogs with severe anxiety need to work at their own pace, we can’t force them to work on our timeline. Understand you are in this for the long haul, that may take weeks, months or years to learn to control and may never be a behavior that is changed completely.
Instead of letting my dogs get aggressive or stare I teach them to give me eye contact and focus (for how to teach your dog eye contact and focus click here) by getting your dog to give you obedience and behaviors on command you can avoid the aggression and bad behaviors that he has defaulted to show you!
Be patient! Imagine your worst fear (Spiders, Heights, Claustrophobia, etc.) now imagine having to deal with it… it might take you some time and you might need to rely on the patience of someone who can help you work through it.
It helps to understand your dog and put yourself in his paws, sometimes! It helps us rethink and see things as he does, and also help him to overcome his fears, because avoiding them is not a solution either!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.