my dog has ptsd
April 4, 2011 7:34 PM   Subscribe

My sweet natured, playful dog was attacked by another dog on an off leash trail last week, how can I best help her regain her former confidence?

We meet many dogs on off leash trails. When this attack happened, she caved and shrieked in a way I have never heard before, and did not fight back, but escaped physically unharmed. How can I best help her return to a non-fearful baseline? She is suddenly (and understandably) very fearful of other dogs, but unfortunately that includes even the friendly playful ones she used to have the most fun with. Help!
posted by k8oglyph to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dogs really take their energy from us. If you are nervous and worried about her being around other dogs and are fearful of what is going to happen, then your dog will pick up on this and be timid and scared.

That is not to say that she won't be a little timid on her own, just slowly reintroduce her to other dogs and keep it positive.
posted by TheBones at 7:43 PM on April 4, 2011

She follows your emotional cues.

Get very very happy, happy, happy, pant, pant, pant, about playing with friendly dogs!!!!

Oh God, pant pant pant this is so fun!
posted by orthogonality at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You'll need to counter-condition your dog to have a positive response to the fear-provoking stimulus (i.e. other dogs). Right now, she expects that when she sees a dog, bad things are about to happen. If you yell at her, pop her leash, etc., you'll be reinforcing her expectation that other dogs=bad things. (Not that you said you might do that, but it's a common way that dog-owners respond to fearful dogs.) Counter-conditioning means providing a positive experience every time she encounters the stimulus. The easiest way to do this is by using small, high-value treats (high value meaning, something she REALLY, REALLY likes, like small pieces of hot dog or meatballs. Dry dog treats won't work for most fearful dogs). Do this enough times, and she'll eventually expect that other dogs = meatballs. Once the fear-response has been successfully counter-conditioned, you won't need meatballs anymore. You'll just have a dog that feels happy again around other dogs.

Here's an article that provides more information:

You may also consider hiring a dog trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement techniques (disclosure: my partner is a positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in fear and aggression cases). These trainers work using well-researched, science-based behavioral modification techniques. And, personally, I've seen a lot of fearful dogs get better this way. My own dog used to be afraid of fireworks and vacuum cleaners, but she *loves* them now.
posted by buddylove at 8:03 PM on April 4, 2011

What everyone else said. You have to demonstrate to your dog that other dogs aren't all scary.

I just wanted to add that a close friend of mine had a similar experience last spring. Her dog, a very sweet and elderly greyhound, was mauled by a German shepherd while she was walking with him to the mailbox. The shepherd basically tried to eat him; he almost died and needed extensive reconstructive surgery, including multiple skin grafts. Now, a year later, he's back to his old self: happy and not fearful at all. He just needed some time. It is possible that your dog can recover with minimal psychological damage.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:18 PM on April 4, 2011

The answer to this as with so many other things is "start as you mean to finish." If you want the dog to be happy about other dogs, be happy about other dogs. If your dog is fearful, ignore her and ignore the fear and be happy about the other dog. Do no reassure her when there's nothing to be afraid of. Sit down on the ground and roll a ball for your new dog pal and she's likely to come around in her own good time.

I say this as the owner of the world's most traumatised, fearful, submissive rescue dog ever. She is literally afraid of falling leaves. When you throw her in with other dogs and expect her to get on with it instead of grasping a leash and hovering over her protectively, she does well given enough time and the occassional happy encouragement.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 PM on April 4, 2011

What age is your dog? There are distinct psychological learning periods that maturing pups and young dogs pass through (link, link). This might impact how your dog absorbed the knowledge from the attacks.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:32 PM on April 4, 2011

I would find a dog owner friend to help re-socialize her a bit. It might speed up the process some if she makes friends with another pooch that you went on puppy play dates with.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 5:37 AM on April 5, 2011

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