Traumatized Dog

by Tay

How do you win the trust of a traumatized dog?

My pitbull is suddenly terrified by me. I've never hit her but recently she got her head slammed in a door by accident. After that she has been terrified of me but nobody else.

When I'm with her she shakes uncontrollably and as soon as she feels like she can get away from me she bolts. I've never harmed her nor has my family except for the door incident. What should I do to get her trust and love back?

Gale's Reply:

Hi Tay:

It's heart-breaking when a dog you love is terrified of you. The two things you most need right now are patience and objectivity.

In other words, don't take it personally. Your dog has been traumatized. She doesn't understand what happened to her or why. She only knows that it hurt. And, she's afraid it might happen again.

You don't say how old your dog is or how long ago the incident happened. But, my first concern would be physical injury and its potential residual effects.

Some symptoms of head trauma include:

1. Stumbling when trying to walk
2. Disorientation
3. Pupils that don't dilate or constrict in response to direct light
4. Loss of or abrupt change in consciousness
5. Inability to move
6. Bleeding from the ears or nose
7. Keeping the head tilted to one side
8. Seizures

If you see any of these warning signs in your dog, drop everything and go to the vet. If it's been awhile and she seems fine, I think it's still worth a phone call to discuss the incident with her regular veterinarian.

Now, as to her fear response towards you, you must be patient with her. If
you've been trying to force her to have contact with you, my recommendation is that you stop doing that altogether.

Notice how much distance she seems to need to be comfortable and reasonably relaxed when you are in the same room with her, but not directing any of your attention her way. Let that be your baseline.

Depending on her reaction, you may want to sit on the floor or in a chair. But either way, ignore her. Watch TV. Read a book. But, don't pay her any attention. Allow her to stay put or wander around as she pleases without any reaction on your part.

However, if at some point she does wander even slightly closer to you, gently toss a treat in her direction. Don't say anything. Don't make a fuss or try to coax her to continue her approach. Be as nonchalant as possible and continue with whatever else you were doing. Toss her a treat anytime she moves closer to you. Let every step she takes closer be entirely HER decision.

It's important to manage your expectations with this exercise. She may come up to you within a few sessions. Or it could take daily sessions over a period of weeks.

Depending on your dog's reactions, you may need to make adjustments to this exercise as well. So, I highly recommend you read The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears by Patricia McConnell. This will help ground you in the principles of classical counter-conditioning so that you can tailor this type of exercise to your dog's needs.

The bottom line is, it takes as long as it takes. Extreme patience is the key. Good luck and feel free to let us know how it's going.

Comments for Traumatized Dog

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Sep 10, 2011
that's sad,,,
by: Anonymous

I know you want the best for your Pibble..and from the bottom of my heart I wish that she will trust you whole hearted again soon...

Jan 13, 2012
thats sad i go thru the same thing
by: triston

i just bought a mixed chihuahua and she is traumatised like a mutha i never seen anything like it sometimes she sits next to me on the bed but digs her head in the blankets i try to pet her and she runs away she shakes with fear so bad she makes the mattress vibrate today i took her out but i had to carry her cause she wouldnt walk then at the homies house i put her down and the door was open so she booked it she was under a car so i called her and she came out then i walked inside the homies house and she followed me but before that she was running in the hallway i tried to stop her so i can carry her and she almost bit me i got hella mad but you got to be patient if you want to earn there trust im not gonna give up on her but if i see no changes in behavior im just gonna let her go on with her life alone in the streets shes real traumatised and she hurts my feelings when she doesnt let me pet or hold her!!

Jan 13, 2012
Traumatized ChiChi
by: Gale


Whatever you do, please do not release your dog to the streets to fend for herself! In most jurisdictions, this is considered abuse. For example, a woman in Chicago recently decided she no longer wanted to take care of her dog. She stopped feeding it and turned it out on the street. The dog was subsequently beaten by a group of school kids. The police caught up with the owner of the dog and charged her with animal cruelty and failure to perform an animal owner's duties.

More to the point, you'll be abandoning your dog to all kinds of dangers. She could freeze to death, starve to death, succumb to disease, be abused like the dog in the news story above or be killed by another dog. You seem at least somewhat fond of the dog. Do you really want that on your conscience?

Your dog doesn't mean to reject you or hurt your feelings. She is simply scared out of her wits.

If you don't have the willingness or the ability to take her to obedience class so that you can learn how to work with her and gain her trust, the upstanding thing to do is to give her to a humane shelter or rescue that can try to find her a new owner who really understands her needs.

Abandoning a dog is NEVER the answer!

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