As a professional dog trainer, dealing with everything from top level competitive dog sports, helping people have well behaved family pets or behavioural problems, the focus of my work is partly on the dog, but more times than not, it is about helping the owner/handler/trainer.
A reoccurring issue that I deal with is the past experience or issue that the owner has experienced with another dog, affecting the current relationship they have with the dog they have now.
In dog sports, this can often be the case where your previous dog had a significant issue or trait that caused you problems. For example they may have had too much drive, or not enough drive… and you struggled to deal with whichever end of the spectrum you faced. Or you had a training issue, for example your dog was a pole knocker or tracked badly, and you are overly determined that you WON’T have that issue again. So inevitably, you get the polar opposite….. the phrase careful what you wish for is definitely relevant here. Someone who has had a dog with low drive, over compensates and creates a ‘monster’! Or the person who has had the out of control head bangers creates the meek and mild wilting wall flower.
The other variation to this theme, is when you have had a dog that has had an ‘issue’, or a trauma paired with that dog, this could be an untimely loss, or a all consuming behavioural issue that governed your life.
This could almost be defined as a form of PTSD. Dogs that have had behavioural issues or ‘problems’ can have a life changing impact and as a result, affect the subsequent choices, behaviour and mentality of care giver.
For example, a rising phenomenon is that of the ‘reactive’ dog (a label I dislike, and even written a blog series on). Anyone that has lived and dealt with a dog with any form of aggression, even, as is often the case, if it is based in fear, will verify the life altering affect it can have.
It can affect your behaviour, devising intricate coping strategies to circumventing a simple task such as a walk or the visitor attending your home. It can result in relationship break downs, or stresses on a interpersonal relationship.
It can induce anxiety, depression or trigger an emotional response to what would previously have been an insignificant event. It can leave you with a sense of shame or failure. This might all sound extreme but, I can assure you, this is very much the daily plight of thousands if not millions of people worldwide.
It could be that the outcome has had a long lasting affect. Maybe the dog had to be rehomed, or you used methodologies you now regret. Or the dog injured you or another being, either dog or person. Or the dog may have had to have been euthanised.
It would be more abnormal if any of this didn’t have an affect on you. The trauma and affect could be obvious, but sometimes it could be buried deeper until you get your next dog.
So how do you have prevent and overcome this, which can be described as ‘second dog syndrome’.
I write about reactive dogs and the causes of reactivity in previous blogs.
But the affect of PTSD in owning a dog that has caused you to feel anxious, apprehensive and affected your sanity is real. It could simply be that your dog is being an obnoxious adolescent, testing boundaries and reaching sexual maturity. This is a challenging time for anyone, and often sees dogs behave out of character or a new ‘personality’ emerge. This can be both over whelming and all consuming, considering that adolescence can occur till up to 3yrs old. The daily challenge of having to deal with varied unpredictable behaviour can be, in truth, exhausting. It can knock your confidence, or make you hyper-vigilant, which can lead to anxiety related issues.
I have had many people express a sense of ‘relief’ when the dog that has caused them so much stress and anxiety, passes or they make the decision to home that dog. This in itself creates an internal conflict. Guilt and shame over feeling a sense of relief versus the love and loss they also feel. This can resonate with someone and they bottle this up, so when their next dog arrives they over compensate for this guilt.
Or it could be the trauma experienced with seeing that dog attack another, or being attacked themselves. The list is endless. But the concept, very real.
So how do you avoid this? How do you deal with PTSD?
Here are some simple words of advice, to help:
- There is No failure just feedback. Every dog I have owned has guided me to the point where I am now, and irrespective of my career as a professional dog trainer, and sports dog coach, they have given me a ‘life lesson’. It could be acceptance, it could have been perseverance, it could have been overcoming obstacles. Whatever the lesson, there has been one. At the time, in the midst of the storm, it can be hard to see, but it’s there. Just be patient, trust that it will show itself and embrace the struggle.
- You are one step closer to what you do need. You don’t always get what you want, you get what you need. Having a dog that challenges you, tests you or even drains you, is all part of the process. No, it isn’t always easy, but nothing in life worth having is. If you’re in the midst of a struggle, hold onto this. If you’ve had one in the past, make peace with it, and learn to let it go.
- Everything happens for a reason. Good and bad, everything happens for a reason. Its being able to trust that, which can be the test.
- Being humble enough to ask for help, isn’t a reflection of your inability to ‘solve’ the issue, but you ability to recognise and accept support! Pride comes before a fall! Put ego aside.
- I’ll say it again….Make peace with the past. It’s behind you for a reason.
- Train the dog in front of you! The dog in front of you deserve a ‘chance’, don’t put the burden for living in another dogs shadows on their shoulders. Doing so, will only cause them to never shine.
- Be aware of labelling! A label is limiting, as is putting your past dogs on a pedestal. What you project is what you receive! So be mindful if what you put out in the universe.
- Be open to change. Growth and knowledge lie ahead if you are open to change, changing your approach, changing your perspective or changing your mind.
- What you would/should and could do is often not what the person needs to hear. Offer support, not judgment.
- Talking about it, and being open can allow others to share in your story and reduce the feeling of being on your own, or sense of shame.
Owning a dog that is a companion, friend and member of your family is the most joyous experience you can have, and sometimes the path you are on, will lead you to that. And thats ok. We are all presented with challenges, lessons and experiences that ultimately give us lessons. After all, the movie to your life would be pretty boring without a little ‘drama’ 😉