The old saying goes, “He’s behaving like a whipped pup.” So, can dogs have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD? The answer is yes, and anyone who has rescued a whipped pup can show you.
A recent article in the Nueces County (Texas) Record Star quotes a veterinary expert, Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
She says dogs can suffer from psychological conditions just like their human counterparts. She also said owners can benefit from having an awareness of possible causes and a diagnosis. From there, owners can be coached on how canine PTSD can be managed.
Teller told the Star that roughly 5 percent to 17 percent of dogs are affected by canine PTSD. And like so many things with animals, there is a lot to learn in part because the condition has only been defined in the past decade.
“We don’t always know what may cause PTSD in dogs, but some potential causes are military or police work, being a bait or fighting dog, being raised in a puppy mill, severe abuse, living as a stray after being abandoned, trauma from a disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, explosion), or being attacked by other dogs or animals,” Teller said.
“The symptoms of PTSD in dogs are similar to those in humans and include chronic anxiety; hypervigilance; avoidance of certain people, places, or situations; sleep disturbances; fear of being alone; decreased interest in a favorite activity; or aggression,” she continued.
Teller also said that PTSD could emerge in a dog after one brings them home. The reason is, one may not know what the trigger is, and the dog behaves normally at first. Then, whenever that trigger may hit, the dog’s behavior can change.
So how is it “fixed?” Well most often, it is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. The first stop should be your veterinarian. Often, they can prescribe medications to help. But to resolve the issue, one has to work at it. Let’s say your dog panics during lightning and thunderstorms. If you live here, those are few and far between normally, so keeping a prescribed medication around for those times might be all that is necessary if the dog is well mannered otherwise.
If one were to live in the Midwest or south, lightning is a much more common occurrence and thunder much louder. Dogs there need behavioral therapy and medication, at least initially.
Behavioral therapy takes time and patience. Using this example, get a thunder recording from a lightning storm. Get some high value treats, too. High value treats are the ones your dog loves so much they will run through a window to get at them. Remember, the treats do not have to be big. In fact, tiny is better.
Begin playing the sound at the lowest volume possible. Reward the pup. Repeat. Quit. Yes, quit for the day.
These training sessions are never more than just a few minutes and start out only once a day. After a while if the dog is progressing, the times can be slightly increased but the treats keep coming.
Over time, one gradually increases the volume, too. If the dog balks at a level of sound and regresses, so should your behavioral therapy. Start back at the last acceptable step and begin working up again.
This description is simplistic and incomplete. Lots of resources abound on the internet and television shows.
One of your best resources are veterinarians trained in behavior. The problem is, they are few and far between with none residing in Washington. The closest is in Oregon.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.