I had never thought as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as something that would necessarily be associated with animals. I mean, I have fostered and rescued many different animals, throughout my lifetime, including dogs, cats, chickens, horses, horses, and horses. Most of these fosters or rescues came from not so nice homes so almost all of them had “things”, ya know? Like, for instance, Ellie will absolutely loose her mind if you take out a fly swatter. I have never struck any animal with anything like that, so I know that reaction didn’t come from something that happened here. Then there was Skittles, who was absolutely terrified of men. Mostly white, middle-aged men, but men, none the less. She would cower and cry if a man tried to pet or talk to her. I learned later, that she had had her shoulder shattered by a man and was then physically abused, later, by another man who was going to “make her like him”. The stories of horses who have suffered similar issues could go on for hours, so I will spare you those…especially since this is a dog blog. 🙂
I bring those examples up because it recently occurred to me that our three dogs, who were in the house during the time of the fire, are all suffering from different levels of PTSD. It is heartbreaking. Ellie will sit and stare at the ceiling of the RV…just waiting for it to burst into flames. If there is any sort of reflection or light that hits the ceiling, she freezes, in terror. Banjo has always been a tad timid but now, if there is any sort of loud noise, like live firing range fire from our local military base, or garbage trucks banging trash cans at a louder-than-normal rate, he will literally jump behind me and physically shake, until he is calmed down. Payton simply doesn’t want to be inside anymore. She is one of our “princess dogs” and was always wherever my husband was. Now, she will stay close to him, as long as he is outside. The moment he turns to come in, she sits in the yard and looks at him.
I was recently at the vet, for my Aussie’s yearly check-up, and I mentioned all of these things that had been going on with the fire dogs. He told me that they could always be given pills that would calm them down, like Xanax, or something similar, but that would only mask the issues. Sine he knows I would never even consider drugging my dogs, he suggested that I look it up, telling me that PSTD in dogs was actually quite common. So, I did. I found a lot of information on combat service dogs or police dogs that suffer from this residual trauma, but I also found a lot of information on pets who are afflicted by this. It is suggested that the dogs are played with, very vigorously, to help produce the brain hormones that will rebuild new, positive memories. It was also suggested that the dogs go through some desensitization exercises, on a daily basis. Basically, you would slowly start subjecting them to the things that they are most afraid of and then reward them, with a treat, when they stop reacting to it. For instance, with Payton, I will start requiring her to come into the house, every time my husband does, and will give her a treat and tell her what a good girl she is. It is basically re-teaching her the behavior that she had before. With Banjo, we will create loud noises, from a distance, and not too loud, at first, so he’ll work his way up. Once he is okay and not reacting to these noises, he will get a treat. With Ellie, I will purposefully show reflections, via a flash light, or something similar, and as soon as she stops reacting, reward her, even if it’s the tiniest amount of non-reaction. I remember, when I re-homed Skittles, the dog that was deathly afraid of men, that her new owner would take her to the park, every single day, and would ask men to talk to Skittles. When she stopped being afraid of them talking to her, my friend started asking men to pet her. It worked, like a charm. Skittles soon became comfortable around most men and was able to live a mostly, non-traumatic, life.
I have lived with and dealt with PTSD, for many years with a lot of my friends and loved ones. Those who have served in any war or who have been victims of abuse are very much traumatized and suffer from regular triggers. Some have learned to work through them, some have learned to navigate around them, and some taken more serious steps to try to control these reactions, but one thing they all have in common is the feeling of terror and loss of control. I know this is exactly how these dogs are feeling when they are triggered and I am going to do everything that I can to help guide my fur-babies back into a normal life.
Many blessings to you and your four-legged-loves ~ Tammy