Maybe and Understandably A Little PTSD On Both Ends Of The Leash
Recently (about 6 weeks ago) my 13-year-old Bichon Frise, Charlie was brutally attacked by a much larger dog, clearly intending to kill Charlie. I had just taken him out of my car, he was on a leash, and on the pavement (we had parked next to a park and were planning on going into the park (not a dog park) for a picnic with a friend).
This dog came tearing down the sidewalk, full speed, grabbed Charlie by the throat, and held on, shaking him. I started kicking the dog, finally got down, and beat his face and head until he let go (my friend was pulling the dog by his collar.)
Charlie was terrified, of course, kept looking at me as this dog continued to bite, bewildered and terrified, as I said. I got Charlie back into the car. The dog’s owners finally came to get the dog, the dog was eventually put down (this had happened before.)
Charlie was in surgery for over 2 hours, one wound almost punctured his jugular vein, according to our vet. Now Charlie is more tentative around me, and I can’t help but think that he associates me with that horror. I think seeing his face in the middle of the horror will stay with me until the end of my days.
To clarify- sometimes he will flinch when I go to pet him. He never did that before, and while I am undoubtedly reading into his behavior, it feels like he doesn’t fully trust me. He has always been wary that I have ulterior motives when I am sitting on my couch and call to him, I think because he associates that with my giving him the medicine of some kind (he is prone to ear infections with all the hair in his ears.)
But the flinching is new. It doesn’t happen all the time, even much of the time, but does happen occasionally. There is also, it seems, a certain shyness around me.
Perhaps I am taking this too personally, in the sense that his behavior is likely not specifically towards me. But there seems to be a little less “bounce in his step”. I finally was able to get him to his groomer yesterday, and he was way more scared than he has been in the past. Perhaps because of the lengthy surgery, especially since I could not go in with him to comfort him prior to the surgery (COVID-19 precautions, of course.)
I can’t imagine he understands I saved his life (according to the vet). It seems likely that my face and his pain (he looked like he knew he was in mortal danger) are part of his experience. Have you any thoughts about this, both whether you think he connects me in a bad way with his mauling, and what I can do to try to reassure him?
I pet him all the time, of course, and he sleeps on my bed and follows me everywhere (unless he is exploring our large property- we live in the country and he has acres to roam.)
Thanks for your time.
Martin P. (WA USA)
Hi Martin P.,
While possible, I think it’s unlikely that he negatively connects you to the attack. He’s been with you for a decade+, and that’s a lot of positive history. It doesn’t mean you’re not some sort of PTSD trigger, but the odds seems pretty slight, and likely time will heal that wound.
If he’s food-driven, you might want to take up clicker training him to do tricks and build in a desensitization routine involving the triggers that currently have him flinching.
Alternatively, there are some medications that you might do some research on. It’s likely that they’d only be required for the short term, a year at the most. They might take the edge off enough to open up a recovery door.
If you were a client, I’d be showing you how to use how a dog sees the world and determines who is the teacher and who is the student to counter the newly acquired shyness around you. It’s a technique I use with clients with rescue dogs that arrive with some baggage that, while legitimate, often fills up without being proactive with more ‘drama’ than a real need to behave in a manner neither good for them or those they live with.
You may want to also consider the impact that the event has had on yourself. Sounded pretty horrific, and the incident may be impacting you in ways you aren’t yet aware. Perhaps Charlie is picking up on that as well?
You may want to do a little reading about PTSD symptoms on humans and see if you or anyone who spends any time with you has noticed anything a little off in you. As you say, it was a horrifying experience and visceral events such as these can be more impactful that one might think.
Also, from related literature, the symptoms aren’t always as apparent to the sufferer as they are to those around them. If it turns out to be the case, you’ll likely get it straightened out in your own head and help yourself and Charlie even further.
– John Wade 🐾