Friday, February 22, 2013

Canine PTSD: Its Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

How Can You Determine If Your Dog Has PTSD?

Reactivity in Dogs
I got the following email message the other day from a company called Dogwise. They publish and sell books primarily about reward-based dog training.

“Probably the hottest topic in dog behavior and training circles right now is reactivity. You may never be able to ‘cure’ a dog who is reactive—it’s hard to counter poor socialization and/or genetics—but there are a number of ways you may be able to control it, at least some of the time...”

My first reaction was to the word “reactive.” I’ve never understood how or why that term is being applied to behavior problems in dogs. It seems to me that if a dog doesn’t react to stimuli, that’s when he’s got serious physical, emotional or behavioral problems. 

Then, when the blurb informed me that “you may never be able to ‘cure’ a dog who is reactive,” I chalked that up to the fact that behavioral science techniques are usually ineffective, or at the very least only mildly effective, at solving most behavioral problems in dogs, because in my experience they’re geared to focus on changing outward behaviors rather than finding and changing the underlying cause. 

But as I thought more about it I realized that a very high percentage of the dogs being described as “reactive,” are actually over-reacting to stimuli, which suggests that they may be suffering from Canine PTSD, which is, indeed, very “difficult to cure.” 

Stress: The Underlying Cause
The database of the National Technical Information Service—an agency of the U.S. Government—shows that as many as 70% of individuals [human beings] living in the United States have experienced at least one serious traumatic event during their lifetime. But according to investigators at Boston University School of Medicine only 8% of those people whove experienced some form of trauma have developed PTSD as a result. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have a database showing the percentage of dogs who’ve experienced trauma. But given the number of dogs abandoned or brought to shelters every year, plus the number injured in fights with other dogs, and the number who’ve been mistreated by their owners, or mishandled by their trainers, groomers or vet techs (it happens), not to mention those who’ve been struck by a car, gotten lost, were fought over during a divorce, etc, etc, etc, I would be very surprised if the number of dogs whove experienced some type of trauma wasn’t at least 70%. And I’d also be surprised if the number of dogs who’ve developed symptoms of PTSD as a result of such wasn’t very close to the figure of 8% found in human beings. 

This would suggests that since there are roughly 75 million pet dogs in America, theres a real possibility that more than 6 million American dogs might have PTSD. 

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that “more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 deployed military dogs are developing some form of canine PTSD,” meaning that there are only 30 or so who’ve developed the disorder. Granted, in working military dogs the symptoms are usually much more severe than what see in pet dogs. But the problem still exists pet dogs, and in much larger numbers. 

So when does a traumatic event of any kind stay a one-time thing, and when does it actually cause PTSD? And can we apply any of the criteria used in diagnosing PTSD in humans to diagnose our dogs as well? 

I think so. 

Diagnosing Canine PTSD
In humans, PTSD is not just caused by a traumatic experience, but one that causes a tremendous amount of stress. The traumatic event causes the body to release a cocktail of hormones and neurochemicals specifically designed to deal with that stress. But in large doses those chemical agents also can reportedly cause the same or similar kinds of neurological damage found in patients with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This can adversely affect mood, memory and learning in deep and lasting ways. (See: Does PTSD Cause Brain Damage in Dogs?) *

Since much of the literature on how stress affects memory, learning, and behavior in humans comes from animal studies—primarily on rats and mice—and since a dog’s body produces the same basic kinds of stress hormones produced by rats and humans, it’s very likely that dogs—even pet dogs—can develop symptoms of PTSD. 

In humans these symptoms include re-experiencing the original trauma, fearful avoidance of stimuli associated with that event, and increased forms of arousal such as an sleep disturbances, rage, aggression, and lastly hypervigilance, or in the lingua obscura of some dog trainers: “reactivity.” 

Granted, our lives are much more complicated and stressful than the kind our dogs lead. A human being can develop PTSD simply by observing the scene of an accident or natural disaster. Some can develop symptoms just by looking at videos or photographs. Dogs aren’t as deeply affected by the passive observation of horrific events as we are. 

On the other hand, there are far more cultural taboos and legal restrictions against doing harm to human beings than there are about hurting dogs. Remember, up until a few years ago the most popular training book in America—How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete—contained the following “training” advice: “How hard should you hit your dog? If she doesn’t yelp in pain you haven’t hit her hard enough.” 

Hurting dogs is pervasive in our country. People like Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick—who spent time in prison for running a dog-fighting ring out of his home—are just a drop in the bucket in terms of the kind of people out there brutalizing dogs on a regular basis.

With all that in mind I would be very surprised to find that the number of dogs in America who have Canine PTSD isn’t more than double or even triple the 6 million I suggested above. 

Diagnostic Signs of PTSD in Human Beings
  • Criterion A – Exposure to a traumatic stressor. 
  • Criterion B – Re-experiencing the event (flashbacks). 
  • Criterion C – Avoidance and numbing. 
  • Criterion D – Hyperarousal. 
  • Criterion E – Duration of symptoms for at least 1 month. 
  • Criterion F – Significant impairment of normal functioning. 

Personally, I think dogs can exhibit all 5 of these signs and symptoms. The only one that might seem controversial is the idea that dogs can have “flashbacks.” I think that depends on how we view the differences between how memory operates in humans and dogs.
In human beings, memory operates on three basic levels: physical (i.e., unconscious or procedural) memory, emotional (or affective) memory, and mental, or declarative memory (which includes semantic, episodic, and autobiographical memory). Only the last requires both a sense of self and a linear sense of time (knowing that there’s a past, present, and future), forms of cognition that dogs don’t have (or don’t seem to). 

In human subjects, flashbacks come primarily from sense memory; the sound of chopper blades for example. This then triggers emotional memory, where the fear, panic and helplessness experienced during the original trauma, come flooding back, raising blood pressure, releasing stress hormones, etc, etc. In many cases, the subject doesn’t even realize that he or she is not actually safe in bed or hiding in the closet, but is convinced that he or she is back on the battlefield or is about to be sexually assaulted, etc. 

It seems to me that dogs are quite capable of experiencing both sense memory and emotional memory. In fact, the work of two Russians—physiologist Ivan Pavlov and theater director (and inventor of “method acting”) Constantin Stanislavsky—show quite clearly that sense memory and emotional memory are inextricably linked. 

I should point out that the 5 diagnostic criteria I mentioned above are only broad categories, and that there are many much finer points to be looked at when diagnosing PTSD in humans. I think the same should hold true for diagnosing Canine PTSD as well. 

To help with this I’ve created a mock-up for a potential Canine PTSD questionnaire to be filled out by a dog’s owner, veterinarian, trainer or behaviorist. It can be found by clicking here. (I would be very interested in getting feedback, whether some things should be added, subtracted, or tossed out altogether.) 

Please keep in mind that most of what I’m saying is hypothetical. We need more research, we need to create a much larger yet credible database. We need to start thinking along new lines. PTSD is not something that can only happen to human beings, or to our military dogs. Those brave and hardworking four-legged members of our armed forces are showing us that there’s a much larger problem right under our noses, affecting millions of American doggies, animals who are currently nestled safely on their doggie beds or sleeping on our couches, and yet who may be in emotional distress and need our help. 

If you agree with or relate to anything I’ve said, please pass it on to your vet, dog trainer, and anyone else you think might be able to help us move forward in making this problem more widely known. 

I firmly believe that Canine PTSD is a very real condition that can be found in a great many pet dogs, and we need to start addressing it now.

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  1. I believe my dog has canine PTSD. when she was younger, she witnessed her sister and another dog die of heat stroke and was in the beginning stages of having one herself by the time we found out... and just last year she was bitten by a five and a half foot rattle snake because she was protecting me. Thankfully she made it through that but ever since the day she almost died of a heat stroke, she has had really bad anxiety. It doesn't take much of a stimulation |it could be anything from a gunshot or thunder to someone just talking too loud to just riding in a car| for her to start shaking really hard and panting so fast it's almost hyperventilating. I want to help her push through it but nothing seems to help. One of my goals is to get her used to riding in a car because I'd really like to take her with me when I go places but she gets so scared in cars that I just leave her home... I don't know what else to do...

  2. Hi, Shelby,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Hopefully some of the articles I've written here will help with your dog's PTSD.

    Have you tried doing "The Pushing Exercise?" That's usually the best first step. Bark therapy can also be helpful.

    Best of luck.

    Please keep in touch!


  3. Hi,
    I think my dog also has a form of PTSD. When she was a puppy she was passed around to different homes until she was about 5 months old. The home she was in before us kept her kenneled directly with a very mean Great Pyrenees. I also believe she was kick because her rib cage seems to have been broken because it doesn't align properly. When we got her, she showed signs of submission. I thought it was just because of yet another home. She soon adapted to her new home and became a great dog. She is very non aggressive. she is a very sweet and loveable dog. Recently she has become very skiddish when you try to pick her up. She will yipe as if she has been kicked and is some cases she will "cry" and pee a little. She had an incident where my dad was leaving for work and wanted to take her outside to make sure she could go to the bathroom(she has recently started going to the bathroom in the house). He picked her up and she started to yipe like she was hurt and squirmed and when my dad tried to get a better hold of her she bit him.

    I have read in previous articles that biting can be a sign, along with some other personality traits. I am wondering if this sounds similar to canine PTSD. I went through your questionnaire but could not find contact information to send it on.
    Any Help would be great. I would also like to submit my questionnaire that i filled out if you are still accepting them.

    1. Please take your dog to the vet. Yelping when being picked up, when it is new behavior, often signifies injury or illness--the old broken ribs may be causing a problem or she may have an internal problem. Avoid picking her up and take her to a doctor.

  4. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for your comment.

    The questionnaire is just for your personal edification. I haven't figured out a way to make it interactive yet. I hope to do so soon.

    Since the doggie yiped when your dad picked her up, I would take her to the vet. It's possible that there's some physiological problem that needs to be accounted for or ruled out. The fact that she recently started going to the bathroom inside the house could also be due to a physiological problem.

    As for helping her out psychologically, outdoor play is one of the best antidotes for PTSD, particularly playing tug-of-war (where you let the dog win and praise her for winning), and fetch too. If she won't play with you outdoors, you could start hand feeding her all her meals outdoors. I wouldn't recommend doing the pushing exercise until you've had her checked by the vet.

    Thanks again,


  5. Hi,

    In March we adopted two rescue pup siblings, Max & Penny, terrier mixes. Raised in a wonderful foster home since birth along side their mother and the rest of the litter, these two were particularly closely bonded. They quickly picked up on house training, sit, stay and so forth. They get plenty of exercise, chasing each other and rough housing although they are very careful not to hurt one and other.

    Unfortunately, a month and a half ago at the conclusion of our evening hike, the neighbor's 10 yr. old male dalmatian escaped out their front door and attacked me and Max. My husband desperately held onto Penny while trying to stave the dog off. Max's front leg was split up the center from the knee to the shoulder and he was in shock.

    Although he is now mostly healed and beginning to use the leg again, neither he or Penny are the same as before the attack. Both have begun eliminating in the house, become destructive if left alone for so much as 5 minutes, desperately clinging to us. They are overly anxious when approaching other dogs, although as soon as the other dog responds, they yipe as though they had been attacked. Just as with the Oddy and Penny case, Penny seems more traumatized than Max although she was not injured. We are beginning to do the Pushing Exercise, although there are times they are too pushy such as jumping up into our laps while we are eating and grabbing food away from us. As far as play goes, they have withdrawn from us playing only with each other.

    Would you say it's time to call in a professional trainer?



  6. Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for contacting me.

    I'm sorry to hear about what happened to Max and Penny.

    I would concentrate on helping Penny. Spend time working with her, without Max present. It doesn't need to be a great amount of time. 10 or 15 minutes 2x a day would be helpful.

    Where do you live?


  7. Hi - I just came across this after googling PTSD in dogs for the first time; thanks for the information. One of our rescue dogs came to us in very bad shape; we thought a stable loving home and time would heal her, and they've certainly helped turn her into a happy girl over the past year or so, but she still has daily panic attacks and is deathly afraid of new people, loud noises, and all sorts of other things. Among many other horrors in her past life she was shot twice (we only know this from xrays which show the air rifle pellets lodged in her neck and side). I really like this idea of "bark therapy" for her, to try something more proactive. We've done some basic training with her so hopefully we can figure out teaching "speak" and "quiet"! Anyway, I look forward to learning more about PTSD in dogs as you continue your research. Lisa

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for posting.

    Bark therapy can be very beneficial. I also highly recommend doing "The Pushing Exercise."

    Best wishes,


  10. Hi,
    My name is Andrea, and I NEED your help!

    I rescued a Chihuahua from ACC in NYC 8 months ago, Four months after he lived with my family and I, my partner and I moved to a different neighborhood close by. Baldor has been living here for another 4 months, and his symptoms keep escalating.
    There was howling during nightmares on 4 occasions. He will have good days, and then fall back into a pattern of pacing, shaking, and needing to be in close physical contact with me. I have been number 1 since the day I took him home wrapped in my coat while the snow was falling, I would find this flattering if it didn't cause him so much distress. He howled a lot for the first month we lived here whenever we would leave the house. Now he still does it from time to time. He has started allowing my boyfriend to take him on walks but is listless or hypervigilant while they are out. He has grown fond of my partner, but can barely trust him outside the home 3 blocks from us.
    If we walk to my parent's house which is 30 minutes away, he will be elated to see them and feel right at home. Unless I leave. But if we leave together after sunset he will not walk after we leave the block and will just stare back in the direction of the house.
    The only thing I know about his back story is that he was abandoned in a park on the last days of January with another chihuahua. They shared a cage in the shelter before I took Baldor home.
    He was extremelly sick for the first week with me, he had kennel cough and an infection from the stitches of his neutering operation. He had ear infections that took months to clear. The tartar buildup in his teeth was so bad that he needed to have a professional cleaning3 months after. He was on a recovery diet as well.
    At present his physical health is good but his nervousness is getting to me. He needs to be on top of me day and night or in very close vicinity or he cannot stop shaking. He has his own daybed but sleeps with us at night. He likes this a lot.
    We feed him a raw diet of frozen dog food which he also loves, and we give him cut veggies or fruits for treats. He is a very loved, wonderfuly little dog and I truly love him with all of my heart. It kills me to see him struggle so much and I am at a loss of what to do. Recently he has started eliminating indoors again. I take him on long walks in the park, and we interact with other dogs, Although briefly because he uncomfortable and aggressive 80% of the time.
    Any and all questions and tips are incredibly welcome from anyone, thank you so much!!!! :)

  11. Hi Andrea,

    I'm sorry to hear about what's going on with Baldor.

    This blog is meant to be a resource for solving such problems, but sometimes it's hard to figure out what to do.

    You might consider coming to the Rescue Dog Owners Support Group I hold on Monday nights. We meet at 131 West 72nd Street from 8 - 9 PM.

    You can find more information here:

    For now, I would start feeding Baldor outdoors, using the pushing exercise.

    This article may also help:

    Best wishes,


    1. Thank you for the tips. I have since then moved to a less congested city and have found that this helps his issues greatly. Although the move was stressful, there are less triggers for him and he has more access to quiet outdoor time. He has since traveled to the country and also become a completely different dog when hiking. In nature he is no longer a fearful, shakey dog but likes to run around, scamper rocks, and will explore away at a safe distance without being hyper vigilant of his surroundings. He has adjusted well to new people and grown more trusting of them as well. I find that carrying treats around to reward him for being outside takes his attention away from panicking. I did the feeding exercise and this changed his eating habits completely. He now eats alone and enthusiastically like a normal dog and no longer needs to be petted while eating in order to nourish himself. This was a huge issue and I'm glad that it's not anymore. Thank you o much for your help!

    2. That's great news, Andrea! Thanks for sharing.

      If you need anything else, let me know!


  12. My small ten pound dog and I were attackd by a 60/70 pound pitbull. My wounds were not bad and I know I have PTSD. My little queen was shredded and terrified. She is recovering nicely. I have to take her to the vet daily for bandage changes and to make sure she does not get an infection. Tonight at the Vet's office a pitbull that looked like the one that attacked us came into the room, not next to us but close. My poor dog with a leg that can not be used and in what is like a body cast, tried to climb out of her container an into my arms..crying the whole time.It was horrible. I explaind what happen and would they walk their dog out of the room. They smiled, said they were sad to hear this and said of course. It took my dog an hour to calm down. She is sad, scared, bored, dispressed and now PTSD. I have no clue how to help her.

  13. Hi Terri,

    The good news is that if this recent attack was the first time your dog found herself in a stressful, traumatic experience, and if you work on the problem starting now you have a better chance of eliminating the problem.

    Please read all of the articles here and follow the instructions on how to begin working on the healing process.

    If you need any further feedback, let me know.


  14. I am so glad I found this website. My name is Carolyn and I believe my dog Moose has PTSD. She is a year and a half old pittie mix. Sweetest dog in the world. She is 1 of 5 dogs in my household. She had a litter of puppies back in October and ever since she has not been the same. She reacts horribly around other dogs. She begins to whine, rear back, and start barking. I know it's because the puppies are gone. But I do not know how to help her. Before she had her litter she was in training to be a service dog. She loves people, behaved impeccably, and everyone was just drawn to her. Now she is jumping all over guests, whining for affection constantly, and constantly taunts my other dogs. I can't leave her out of her cage anymore because she is now chewing (she never chewed anything even as a puppy). But every time I put her in the cage she tries to bust out, she has literally torn her mussel up from trying to break through the door. I don't know what to do. When we go on walks she reacts to dogs. I try and distract her with food but she doesn't care. She is 100% focused on the dog.

    Do you have any advice for me?

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I'm sorry Moose has been going through these changes.

      Please read all of the blog articles here. There are numerous exercises described in them. (It would be difficult to explain them all in a reply to your comment.)

      I will say one thing, having the puppies was probably not the root cause of her PTSD. There was probably an event or series of events that took place before she had them that's causing her to over-react now. The stress her body went through by giving birth, etc., just caused those unresolved emotions to come to the surface. The fact that her feelings are now being exhibited and are in plain sight is a good thing. (Also, the fact that she's now engaging in destructive chewing suggests that she was punished for using her puppy teeth when she was going through her oral development phase, then repressed her oral urges in order to feel safe.)

      The first thing to do is to NOT punish or scold her for these behaviors. It not only won't work (at least not in the long run), it will backfire and make things worse. Also, try not to put her into situations that tend to overload her emotional circuitry if you can.

      Here are some basic exercises I would recommend.

      1) Pushing for food.

      2) Playing tug-of-war and fetch (mostly tug) outdoors for about 15 - 20 minutes, 2 x a day, with a cool-down period afterwards where you give her some gentle, deep tissue massage.

      3) Teach her to speak on command.

      4) Slowly teach her to hold a long down stay (for up to 30 mins., starting with 30 seconds, then 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 5, then 10, etc., using game of tug or fetch as a "reward."

      5) If she's not as big as her name implies, teach her to jump up on command, then teach her to only jump up when the command is given.

      I hope this helps!

  15. Hi, interesting info. I am a canine massage therapist and volunteer with a mill dog rescue. The 2 dogs I am currently working with are extremely hyper vigilant. I can trigger the relaxation response in them, but their trust of me is a very slow progress. Within the confines of a large kennel and many volunteers, do you have any suggestions or resources? The 5 steps listed above seem more designed for a one in one home environment. Any suggestions or resources would be appreciated!
    Thanks- Beth

  16. Hi Beth,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Can you hand feed the dogs at least one meal a day?

  17. Hi... so glad I found this. I was thinking PTSD for our Pitbull Loki before I even knew it was a thing. We have had him for almost a yr. He had been found running down the middle of the road, dragging a tow chain, and half of his head chewed pretty bad. I don't know how he escaped what those people were doing to him, but I know he was meant to live forever safe with our family. I will now be researching how I can help Loki to be happier, with us and the rest of his pack. Thanx for letting me know I am not crazy. Now onto the healing process

  18. Hi Meshell,

    Thanks for the comment. I hope the articles here and on my website will help you and Loki!


  19. We have a small pitty mix.We rescued her in october from ga.she was found a new mother with no pups .on the side of the road.She is just over a year.We have never had this breed of dog.But she was just wonderful.She attached herself to us .We actually registered her as an emotional support dog for my husband who has dementia.She was full of fun ,loving,happy to do anything .Her and my husband built a routine after the long winter of going to the fire-pit at night.She would have her frozen marrow bone filled with yogurt .Then climb on his lap while he massaged her and told her stories.Everything was great my husband was happy Ginger thats her name was happy.Then last wednesday she got tangled up with a porcupine that came into our yard after dark.We pulled over 100 quills out.sedated her and the next morning took her to our vets.They said we got all of them.It took 2 1/2 hours .we had to restrain her with a blanket to get the ones in her face.Our poor dog is now cowering,wont look at us.trembling.She eats and drinks ok No more bones or snacks though.She goes in her crate which we had to set back up.and she turns around and faces the wall.Dont know what to do.We want our dog back.I believe she is suffering from PTSD. cheryl in NE

    1. Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for checking out the blog, and for sharing your story.

      With PTSD a dog may seem fine for the most part until another traumatic event (like meeting a porcupine) takes place. This re-triggers the old trauma.

      Also, too much physical affection -- cuddling in an owner's lap -- can sometimes backfire because it makes the dog feel safe and secure to a certain extent, but it doesn't give a sweet dog like Ginger the emotional tools she needs to deal with another highly stressful situation.

      If I were you I'd start out by hand feeding her her meals outdoors. Just sit in the grass with her, get a small handful of food and let her eat it from your hand.

      The next step would be to see if she'll tolerate being touched lightly while she's eating.

      Again, these are just first steps which might help her and you begin doing some of the 5 Core Exercises listed on this blog.

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      - Lee

    2. she has come around about 50 % she looks at us and will let us rub her belly,She ate fine all along.The one thing she will not do is go into our bedroom .thats where we pulled quills out.GENERAL INFO FOR ANYONE. HEAVILY Sedate the dog before you pull quills I believe it was painful but i did not have thousands of dollars for emergency visit I should have used more benedryl or tramadol .But she is coming around its been 10 days

  20. Thanks for the update, Cheryl.

    Best wishes for you and your doggie!


  21. All the horrible things these puppies have been through brought tears to my eyes. You're amazing to answer all of these comments too, Lee.

    I'll try and avoid typing my dog's entire story here. I'll keep it to: she's a rescue dog who was dropped at the shelter when her original owner was arrested. She was adopted from them by a homeless man in Montreal who had her for six months and then abandoned her on an island in the middle of a very large river, in a section of rapids for weeks to fend for herself. This is where a friend of mine found her and how she ended up with me. I know she has damaged vocal chords (likely from improper use of a choke chain), and a badly healed, untreated compound bone fracture in her foot. Like all of these dogs, she's highly "reactive". She's very relaxed with me, in the house and in places once she's used to them. Fully house trained, not remotely destructive and never misbehaves. Storms and even just wind, fireworks, flashing lights - all make her go insane with fear and hyperventilation and absolute blind panick. She reacts quite aggressively to other dogs she doesn't know on walks, but really really loves the only dog she's been able to make friends with. And she's got terrible prey drive, from having to catch her own food no doubt. She's just generally an over stimulated, hyper vigilant spaz when we're outside or in new situations or with new people though. And it's really starting to damage my social life and many of my friendships and family relationships with anyone who gets stressed out by her stressed out, spastic energy. She's such a dear though and I love her to pieces and all I want in the world is for her to be comfortable and relaxed, happy and sociable. Poor thing.

    The reason I'm writing here is because I refuse to try any of this "dominance/alpha/pack mentality" training. I don't see how intimidation and force from the only person she trusts could possible help anything. I've been seeing a highly recommended training school - I've tried both group and private classes. They teach positive reinforcement methods for redirecting her attention to me in stressful situations. But honestly, I'm just not seeing results and it feels like a little itty bitty tiny band aid for a really big and deep emotional trauma. They claim it works and they see it work all the time. But I'm not seeing it with my dog. And yes, like your articles say, their claim is that she will never be cured, that she will always be a "reactive dog" and I will always have to manage it.

    Do your methods really work? Like really work? Not the kind of "work" that my trainers claim theirs do? Is there really a chance she could actually be a relaxed and happy, laid back dog? That would be glorious! I wish I lived in New York and could train with you if that were the case. No chance you've got people in Ottawa, Canada?

  22. Hi Laine,

    Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it.

    I'm sorry to hear your dog has been going through such emotional turmoil. And I know it must take a toll on you and your family and friends.

    Yes, Natural Dog Training methods really work. Dominance makes things worse and positive reinforcement is almost totally ineffective. The 5 Core Exercises, developed by Kevin Behan, are very effective.

    Does she like to play tug-of-war outdoors?

    I've asked around to see if there are any trainers using NDT in your area. I'll get back to you if I hear anything.

    Meanwhile, I often do long-distance phone sessions with people outside the New York area. I'm currently working with a woman and her dog in LA and a couple and their dog in San Francisco.

    Feel free to contact me directly if I can't find a trainer for you. My contact info is on my website.

    By the way, what's your doggie's name?

  23. Thank you for having this web site that answered my questions and provided me with a method to get my service animal assistance. We were held captive by a sociopath for 8 months; both of us being drugged continuously. My dog, Princess exhibits strange and concerning behavior although we r now both safe. In addition, she is now the best drug sniffing dog there is when it comes to Meth. IDK how she smells or locates it, however it concerns me deeply. I am extremely sorry that she had to endure the traumatic experience with me, however she kept me alive. I am thankful to have her in my life. She has always been there for me. Now it's time for me to be there for her. God Bless.

  24. Hi Sophie,

    Thanks for posting your story.

    Best wishes to you and Princess.

  25. Hi Lee, Thank you for all of the information you have provided. I am doing research for a friend that lives in Pa. They rescued a Pitbull from a dog fighting ring in ohio. When she was rescued she had no physical signs that she had been in a fight but did have her ears cut off and a broken front shoulder. They have had her for 1.5 years and she has been a dream dog. Loves people, snuggles with both her Pomeranian brother and the house cat. 5 months ago she started showing signs of aggressive behavior towards the Pom and was peeing in the house. The behavior has escalated and now she is showing extreme fear with the female owner and spend her day refusing to eat and cowering at the back door shaking and avoiding any contact with anyone in the house. The only thing that they can think of as being a trigger is the chicken wire fence they recently put up to keep the dogs in the yard. They have put her on 40mg of Prozac and have seen no changes in her behavior. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Since she has fallen so hard and nothing they do seems to help they are at a point were they feel they are causing more trauma then they are helping her and are considering putting her down to end her suffering if we don't figure something out fast.

    Lori Tinkham

  26. Hi Lori,

    Thanks for posting this story.

    First of all, while I applaud your desire to help this friend and her dog, I find it's hard enough disseminating truly helpful information online, but doing so via a third party is even harder.

    Secondly, if they've had the dog for a year-and-a-half, and she hasn't shown any signs of post-traumatic stress before these new behaviors started, and there doesn't seem to be a recent precipitating event -- other than the chicken wire -- then I'm not sure what to tell you. I would need a lot more information and I would need to talk directly to the dog's owners.

    That said, have they tried getting rid of the chicken wire?

    - Lee

  27. I'm wondering if my dog has PTSD or not. He is 2yrs old, and was a rescue. We have had him for almost a year. He constantly chews on blankets, and won't stop even when corrected and Givin a toy he can chew on. Now as of last night, I don't know if he was having a flashback or something, but he lashed out at one of our small dogs. The injury to my small dog ended up being fatal, and we had to put him down last night. Any advice would be great, we still have 3 small dogs, and don't want this to happen again.

  28. Hi,

    Thanks for the comment. I'm sorry to hear about what happened to your little dog.

    There are a number of things you can do to help your dog. There are lots of posts here with training suggestions.

    I think the main thing to focus on right now is ways to prevent another episode where one of your other dogs could be harmed.

    Do you have a crate for your PTSD dog?

  29. I believe my dog experiences "flashbacks." He is a 100 pound, older, alpha male rescued after perhaps "being attacked by a bear." He was chained outside on the Iron Range. One of his front legs was amputated, and the remaining legs have issues. He has a fair amount of mobility issues, but it seems like he might have a few quality years left in him. He is gentle, and almost never aggressive (once he reacted to a man and his dog who "snuck up on us" at night.) I have had him for about nine months.

    When he exhibits anxiety, he becomes very vocal. But he's usually pretty laid back, and it isn't terribly concerning. He is the definition of a gentle giant. However, these rare PTSDish episode are on an different plane than his "normal anxiety" response. His eyes go glazed. Initially he starts to whine, then he goes silent and starts panting and retreats. The most recent time he went back into my bedroom - where he actually hasn't gone since his first week here. He usually remains this way for about an hour. He won't acknowledge treats, or me. It's like he goes somewhere else. I just hold his head on my lap until he starts to reemerge. But it's as if he is only "present" in small glimmers toward then end, when he starts to come out of it. Looking back on the other night, the very friendly gathering was probably a perfect storm of triggers. Lots of people drinking and laughing. Children wandered into the apartment and had mini-meltdowns when asked to leave (could be perceived as children in danger). Children with poppers smelling like gunpowder. People drinking beer.

    I can't really have active play with him. He can JOYOUSLY walk about half a block at a time, then we head back, so I know he has enough strength to get home. But if he sees a squirrel, he can sprint faster than me, and often forgets the missing leg and nosedives. But I honestly think he misses his recently amputated balls more than the leg, sometimes. Are there options to help out this old man? I just worry when he goes into the vacant place.

  30. Hi Walrus (I'm assuming that's the dogs name, not yours),

    Thanks for your comment.

    It sounds like you're doing a wonderful job with this doggie.

    I understand that he has physical limitations, but I still think that you can do a few of the 5 Core Exercises with him, and that they'll be helpful.

    I would recommend that you hand-feed him all his meals outdoors in a quiet spot. Just let him eat out of your hand the first few days. After he starts to enjoy eating from your hand, you can use your other hand to put a small amount of pressure against his chest. He may not like this at first, so go slowly, and use an encouraging tone of voice.

    Here's a video that should give you an idea of how this exercise works. Just keep in mind that the dog in the video would not push for food initially, but as she became acclimated it to the exercise she came to love it. With Walrus you have to take things very slowly.

    I would also recommend doing the collecting exercise if you can.

    It would also be helpful if you can get him to chase you around the yard a little. Tease him with some food, then run away, encouraging him to chase you.

    I know he has some physical and emotional deficits, and it isn't clear to me how far you can take him, but these exercises may be of some help.

    Thanks again,


  31. I was so pleased to run accross your blog on Canine PTSD. I am a clinical psychologist and I have fostered for my local shelter for several years now. A cuople years ago we were fostering a one year old chihuahua named Ozzie. We knew nothing about his past. Ozzie was very clingy and anxious, and most of the time was sweet and afffectionate. However, when he was startled by a noise or sudden movement he seemed to panic and react with rage, snarling and snapping. It was impossible to calm him down as he did not seem to be able to hear or see you when he was in this state. If you were near him, you would likely be bitten. He would often wake from a sound sleep in this state if startled awake. Oncwew I dropped a book on the floor, making a loud bang, while hw was sleeping on the sofa. He reacted with intense aggression, even though there was no one near him. he acted like he saw somone there and was attacking them. It looked exactly like the flashbacks I have seen when working with veterans with PTSD. This happened many times a day at first, and he bit me many times, drawing blood. I felt he also showed hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and avoidance. He was fine with our dogs and cats, and fine when he was outdoors. I talked to several trainers about these episodes and none of them had heard of PTSD in dogs. We worked with him for about 6 months, building trust, using "calm training" and teaching basic obedience skills. I do use massage and he enjoyed this. He spontaneously began carrying a toy with him every where he went, and it seemed to help him remain calm, so we encouraged it. The episodes decreased in frequency to about once or twice a week, but when they happened they were still very intense. He was finally adopted to someone who was committed to continuing to work with him. Through a mixture of luck and trial-and-error we seem to have stumbled on several of the techniqes you use. I wish I had known about your approach back then, I would have made more effort to encourage play and to teach him "speak." Thanks again for your very helpful blog.

    1. Hi Kerri,

      Thanks for posting this! It's a very interesting case study.

      And I'm glad you found my blog!

  32. We recently adopted a 3 year old Beagle who was rescued from a high-kill shelter. He had been surrendered by his owner stating, "I don't want to deal with him anymore." That's all the information we were provided. He is currently on Prozac and it was recommended he be kept on it while he transitions into our home. He seems to be having nightmares, cries for long periods of time, not just little whines and his breathing quickens. He first hid in corners and then he found the couch and I guess this is his "safe zone." He is extremely skiddish and bolts frequently. He still crouches when approached as if he's expecting to be hit. He is a very sweet dog if you approach him at the right time, but it's hard to predict. He just sees terrified of everything - hypervigilant. We were told he is an extreme flight risk, and escaped from his first foster home for three weeks. It seems like each morning he wakes up just like the first morning we had him. We don't quite know what to make of that.

  33. Hi Cathy,

    It certainly seems as if your dog has PTSD. And since the Prozac doesn't seem to be making things much better, I would suggest that you begin working with him using The 5 Core Exercises.
    At his stage it would be best to do only two exercises now: pushing for food outdoors and suppling (or massaging his shoulders, back, and (if he'll let you) his haunches.
    The Pushing Exercise:
    Another video:
    The Suppling Exercise:
    Another video:

    Thanks again. And best wishes.