Dogs experience fear just like a human does, but they don’t cope with fear the same way. They may flee, cower, or even show the most miniscule of signals to indicate that something is unsettling them. These may be signs of trauma in a dog’s past, and is often triggered by something as simple as a man with a hat on. These small details can be difficult for your pup to deal with alone, so you’ll have to better understand their traumatic origins and help them cope with it.
Each dog has their own unique personality and will reflect signs differently. Some may be extreme while others may be miniscule enough that others may not notice. Many times, only a dog’s owner will see many of the signs that their pup is frightened, intimidated, or suffering from trauma.
Most of these characteristics would include: cowering, and the classic “If I can’t see it, it can’t hurt me” position where they jump under the covers, hide their head, or dive under the bed. Another is their eyes dropping down and the inability to make direct eye contact may come in different levels of extreme, and may not always be noticeable. This usually forces them to cock their head to the side and stare at the target of fear through their peripherals. This sign is the most overlooked, often resulting in them being forced into their already fearful situation and making things worse. The most noticeable is the slightly aggressive bark to intimidate the source of their fear, which is usually a person (or vacuum cleaner).
Remember that the worst thing you can do to a dog that is frightened is force them to deal with the situation. If your pup is pulling back on their leash, cowering, and whining for you not to go down that dark, ominous, and shady forest path, don’t force them too. It only makes them more frightened, and can damage the trust bond between you and your friend.
Not all fear is related to trauma, so don’t always assume that signs of fear indicate mistreatment or trauma. Some dogs are naturally shy or outgoing, reflecting personalities similar to us humans. A dog may simply have a shy natural instinct.
Perhaps some of the most common traumatic events are ones that an owner isn’t even aware of. Not everyone who gets a dog will know how to treat them. Dogs are very emotional creatures and live only to love and bond with their owners and those around them. During the first twenty weeks of a dog’s life, they learn and process the basics of life. This would be the prime potty and house training time, but it’s also the social development period of their life. Have you ever seen a dog that’s spent most of its life in a crate or in seclusion? They would usually have an “I don’t know you, I don’t trust you” attitude when around just about anyone but their owner.
During these first twenty weeks of their life, it is important for dogs to be around other people, dogs, and even animals (cats, horses, and any other critter around the homestead) to build relationships and develop trust with others. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and seclusion can lead to problems in a dog’s social life.
Coping with trauma
This undeveloped social bonding is possibly the most common trauma for dogs and is seen in many rescues. It takes time to redevelop their social abilities, but can still be overcome with time and patience. But not all these problems are associated directly with the lack of social development. A dog may have encountered a bad experience with a previous owner. You may wonder why your dog doesn’t like your friend, but only when they’re wearing a hat. Certain triggers can bring up bad memories or experiences. For each dog, the cause may be different, but helping them cope with it can be dealt with similarly.
Take for instance this scenario: You’re a woman and your pup is relatively discriminatory against men. In a previous relationship, your pup was mistreated by a man, developing a traumatic experience and lack of trust and fear of any man. For a dog to redevelop a positive relationship with men, you’ll have to slowly reintroduce men back into their life. Do not leave your dog alone with men or force them to directly interact. Instead, you positively enforce the experience. Treat your dog when the man is around, and have the man offer treats as well. During these sessions, you’re pup will begin to associate their previous fears with good qualities. Rather than being scared, they’ll become eager towards the experience. Eventually, they’ll learn that not all men are going to do harm.
This doesn’t happen overnight, so take things slowly, and let your pup decide when they want to interact with the subject of their fear. With patience, positive situations, and some time, your pup can learn to deal with their past, so that they can enjoy a happy and fear-free home.