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Traumatized Dog

 Reviewed 16 April 2020 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

Got a trauma dog?

Rescue dog traumatized?

Traumatized puppy?

Maybe dog traumatized after attack?

Solutions for this and much more you just found here!

Dog owners send us questions and HELP! requests about dog trauma:

  • While some dog owners know that their dog is traumatized
  • other owners ask for help with their "dog behavior problems" without realizing that actually they are dealing with a traumatized dog.

Here are a few. And with solutions.


Q&AMy Question: I have a 2 years old female GSD who was abused in the past. I need tips on discipline and on her odor.
Spelling has been corrected to suffice search engine requirements

dog traumaSolution: May I be frank? You need advice on dealing with dog trauma and with dog odor, but not with discipline. I always say, a traumatized dog needs affection and direction, not commands and obedience. Heal the trauma first, or else the dog trauma will be in the way of everything you try to accomplish.

If you know your dog was abused in the past, then the now 2 years old dog certainly has a trauma. How much of that, and what, can be noticed you didn't say, but it would be essential to know the dog trauma symptoms, if not the cause of the trauma, to address the trauma correctly. If your dog is adopted (you didn't say), then rarely you can find out the cause of the trauma (not even the shelter may know), so then we focus on the trauma symptoms.

do thisTherefore here's my suggestion: Keep records for two weeks of what you notice, what strikes you. For example, behavior you wouldn't expect (whether you like that behavior or not). How exactly she behaves whenever you seek compliance. What does the dog do, what does she not? And then, how do you react? And what is the dog's reaction to your behavior? Note all of this down, as it will help to understand where the problems really are.

As for the odor: From coat and skin, or from the mouth? I suspect you mean from coat and skin. How does the coat look? Is it shiny, and is she well-groomed? How does the skin look? Any hot spots, lesions, scabs? What smell is it? Like pus, or foul, or what? What do you feed? Does the dog scavenge, indoors or outdoors? Have you checked for parasites, mites especially? Is there hair loss? Any indication of a fungal infection?

You see, there is a LOT we need to know before we can identify the CAUSE. And only after we've identified the CAUSE I would suggest you consider treatment!

Any vet you could visit has the advantage to get or see answers to all the above questions, but most vets you could visit would falsely prescribe treatment without having identified the CAUSE: Ordinary allopathic vets don't care about the cause, because multiple treatments make more money, right?

Anyway, I would love to help your dog/you, but I need to see her on a close-up photo or at least have answers to the above questions. So the next time you seek help with a dog care or dog health problem, I suggest to compile a detailed report first: Note down what you see, both physically and behavior-wise, and what worries you and why. With such preparation you easily save hundreds, often thousands of D$ll$rs in long-term follow-up visits and/or multiple failed treatment attempts of ordinary vets! idea

Let us know how it goes.

Q&AMy Question: How can I notice if my adopted dog has a trauma?

Solution: Your question is great because a trauma in dogs is not always outright noticeable, traumatized dog symptoms can be subtle.

dog trauma symptomsDog Trauma Symptoms

  1. unprovoked aggression
  2. proactive biting
  3. unexplained signs of fear
  4. ducking away or hiding away
  5. tremors (while awake or asleep)
  6. behavior quirks
  7. unexplained sudden barks (while awake or asleep)
  8. signs of excessive stress levels only in one or two specific situations
  9. shy aloof among dogs or among people
  10. frequent gazing

Be aware that the above list neither is complete nor does any of the listed dog trauma symptoms conclusively indicate that you are facing a traumatized dog. Meaning, your dog may have a behavior quirk (6) or tremors while asleep (5), yet your dog does not have trauma. Indeed, even ducking away or hiding away (4) does not necessarily constitute a dog trauma. Yet each of the above dog trauma symptoms is enough to suggest a dog trauma. Whether you are actually dealing with a traumatized dog you will then have to assess by looking at the overall dog behavior.

For example, I remember the story told and explained by our dog expert in interview 3 of the Dog Expert Interview Series which I discussed in the corresponding Interview Review: Her rescued dog was hiding away when her husband undressed and pulled the belt out of the trousers. This is one of the signs of trauma in dogs (number 4 above), and in her case the overall dog behavior confirmed that she was dealing with a traumatized dog.

Note that a generally very stressed dog conclusively indicates a Pack conflict experienced by the dog, a dog that is very stressed only in certain weather conditions or when exercising strongly suggests a health issue, and a dog that is very stressed only in one or two specific situations (other than weather and exercise) suggests a dog trauma. In other words, a traumatized dog is not generally more stressed than other dogs.

Instead, a traumatized dog often is both shy and aloof among dogs or among people: the trauma dog or trauma puppy does not want to be touched or approached at all. She will avoid dogs or people by all means. This is different from dogs and puppies that are not well socialized: missed socialization manifests in unusual/unacceptable behavior, not in shy aloof avoidance measures.

In short: While the above list of dog trauma symptoms obviously is very helpful, always consider the overall dog behavior before you conclude that your dog indeed suffers a trauma.

do thisFor another dog trauma case see the third question under Cats and Dogs.

Q&AMy Question: We just got a very young puppy. He behaves so strange, also he bites us most of the time, we think he may have been traumatized at the breeder. Question, is a puppy trauma even possible at age 8 weeks?

abused dogAnswer: Yes certainly, an 8 weeks old trauma puppy is possible. Remember here that a trauma in dogs is not always caused by an abusive person. In fact, VERY few people abuse a very young puppy: The increased level of the "cuddle hormone" Oxytocin in the blood when we merely look at a cute young puppy prevents just that (unless the actions of the particular person are triggered by a traumatic experience for himself).

However, in your case, based on your brief case description, I am certain that your puppy does NOT have any puppy trauma at all. You didn't say if this is your first puppy, but even if it's your third, be aware that puppy behavior varies a LOT. Thus if you feel your puppy "behaves so strange", in fact your puppy may behave entirely puppy-like normal, it's just that your prior puppies behaved different. Most often a "badly behaving puppy" is just missing systematic socialization, see the comprehensive Puppy Development Guide - Puppy 101 f for how to do that.

The same with "he bites us most of the time": That's not biting (actually impossible with an 8 weeks old puppy), that's nipping or mouthing. There is NO puppy biting problem with such young puppies. The linked article will lead you to many further important articles, one of which is our Periodical on Bite Inhibition Training - which you must start at puppy age (but not because the puppy is "biting"). This too of course is described and explained in the Puppy Development Guide f.

So please proceed as discussed here and there, and let us know how it goes.

Q&AMy Question: We've had our German Shepherd named King since he was a young puppy, and we've always treated him very well (everyone in the family). Our King is now four years old, and recently we noticed that his behavior has become unpredictable in some circumstances. We think he may have a trauma?

Solution: Your question is great because we already discussed dog trauma symptoms, so now we can continue here with the CAUSES of dog trauma - in case your review of the symptoms above has confirmed your concern?

Pavlovian conditioningCauses of Dog Trauma

  1. one-off attack on the dog (by another animal or person)
  2. dog abuse
  3. injury to the dog
  4. involvement in an accident (without dog injury)
  5. chaining the dog
  6. prolonged isolation (eg locking the dog in a kennel!)
  7. prolonged denying of social interaction with people
  8. prolonged denying of social interaction with other dogs
  9. some methods of Pavlovian conditioning aka "classical conditioning"!

Again, be aware that the above list neither is complete nor do all of the listed causes of dog trauma necessarily entail a traumatized dog. Meaning, your dog may have suffered an injury (3) or may have been involved in an accident without getting injured (4), yet your dog does not become a trauma dog.

However, for each of the above listed causes of dog trauma it is rather likely to result in a trauma dog or trauma puppy. This is certainly the case for dog abuse (2) and for prolonged isolation (6) and prolonged denying of social interaction with people (7) or with other dogs (8). If the chaining (5) restricts the dog's access to people or to other dogs (as typically is the reason for chaining) then chaining too rather likely results in a trauma dog!

"Rather likely" because all of this obviously depends on the individual dog and how long "prolonged" is in the particular case. I can imagine that some dogs already suffer a trauma when they are isolated for 24 hours, while some other dog may not show a single trauma symptom after the dog was isolated and lost at sea for 5 weeks.

Mark this: Some methods of the so-called "classical conditioning" (9) actually result in a traumatized dog! Classical conditioning is an integral part of Obedience Training. If only all the backers of Obedience Training knew this, Obedience Training never would have gained the popularity it has today: Those who employ trauma-causing methods of Obedience Training would stop promoting their dog training methods because no one wants to be seen to willfully or carelessly cause a trauma in dogs.

So now, does your dog named King have a trauma?

We cannot know, you did not clarify what you mean with "his behavior has become unpredictable in some circumstances". That means a lot of different things to different people: What you may find "unpredictable" I might find predictable, etc. But now you can check for yourself the above: Do you know of a possible trauma cause? Have you noticed a trauma symptom?

do thisAgain as a tip, the next time you seek help with a dog behavior problem, I suggest to compile a detailed report first, similar to a dog health or dog care problem. Note down (else details get forgotten):

  • What dog behavior strikes you in a certain situation?
  • What happened immediately before this, and what was the dog doing?
  • How did you react, and why?
  • How did the dog respond to your reaction?

Our list of descriptive dog behavior adjectives will help you to precisely describe behavior. We have made this required reading when you seek a Help With Dog.

A safety warning, regardless what exactly you mean with "his behavior has become unpredictable in some circumstances": Do NOT leave your dog alone with small children (yours or others), now that you know that the dog's behavior is unpredictable at times. And start taking notes as described above, so that you or we can restore the happy relationship with your dog.



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