PTSD in Dogs Redux

As Memorial Day has recently passed and May winds down, I make a mental note that I have one full year left to the biennial renewal of my LISW and have successfully received a few CEU’s already by attending and even participating in a recent autism conference. Bean and I went to learn from other experts as well as share with others the benefit a well trained dog can provide clinically for children and teenagers and adults with special needs including but not limited to autism / Aspbergers or PDD/NOS diagnoses.

Ironically, my post in Feb. 2008 on the issue of PTSD in dogs has by far solicited the most private comments from people. I thought a lot about that as I tried to share with my kids the real history and meaning behind Memorial Day (no, kids, it’s not about just a day off or shopping sales!)

Veterans of WWII are aging and dying off. My own father, a POW captured in the Battle of the Bulge in Dec. 1944, is himself, although hale and hearty, 85 now. I strongly suspect that being the child of a man whose most seminal event must have been the experiences he had as a young man, 19-21 years of age in war torn Europe — from which such events helped mold him into arguably THE most optimistic person I’ve ever known — trying to imagine the effect of such horror on different temperaments probably helped form the path to becoming a mental health professional.

Veterans of other conflicts and wars, including returning veterans of our current military operations, are often returning to civilian life showing symptoms triggered by connection to the horrors they were exposed. These horrors have affected their minds as much if not more than their bodies, and they deserve to get the treatment, as does anyone with PTSD, to get help when triggered by events that cause great distress.

My most fascinating dog training cases, from a clinical perspective, are dogs who by a combination of nature and nurture, have symptoms of PTSD. These dogs can be triggered by what appear to be benign things that can trace back to their original “traumatic event”. The good news, in my experience, is barring any organic problems, a plan can be carved out to help produce a valuable, safe and enjoyable life IF the dogs are paired with people who understand. People who understand the quirks that such trauma (nurture) can have on the nature and thus the behavior.

When you can observe how the quirks manifest, you can absolutely fine tune, like a laser beam, those triggers that create the problem and modify them to work the dog through the reactive and thus non desired behaviors. Combining behavior modification with a holististic approach can, trust me, really work.

And if you are committed to your dog but can’t figure out where to put that laser beam, seek out a qualified behaviorist/trainer to help you.