Help With An Emotionally Shut Down Dog
The dog rescue world often comes across dogs who have emotionally shut down. It is hard to observe and takes time and patience to get these poor dogs to start interacting again.
Here we will take a look at why this happens and how to get a dog who is shut down to start trusting a human and enjoying his or her life again.
How To Tell If A Dog Is Emotionally Shut Down
From my experience, a dog who is ‘shut down’ feels in a similar way to a very badly depressed person. I compare it to a feeling of complete hopelessness and the dog’s emotions are switched off to avoid further hurt.
It is believed that dogs suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) just like humans do.
The symptoms of emotional trauma vary greatly. This depends on the dog and also the type of trauma inflicted.
I would always advise taking the dog to a vet or animal behaviourist to establish the correct rehabilitation.
Dogs can react in any of the following ways if they are experiencing physical pain, so this should always be ruled out completely.
Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:-
The dog will avoid eye contact.
He could pace frantically or remain in a curled up position.
The dog may hyperventilate, bark, whine or remain completely silent.
He will not respond when spoken to verbally and may act defensively if touched.
A traumatised dog will visibly shake.
He will not display any signs of being housetrained and may soil himself if someone approaches.
He may find a spot which he considers to be safe and not move from that one spot.
Reasons Why A Dog Shuts Down
There are many reasons why a dog will shut down emotionally.
Here are just a few:
The dog may have been mistreated by a previous owner.
There may have been a complete lack of socialisation when the dog was a puppy or harsh training methods may have been implemented.
He may be from a puppy farm and possibly used as a breeding machine or from a puppy farm litter.
He may have been kept isolated or outside for long periods.
There is a chance that the dog could have been used in dogfighting or dog racing.
The dog may have been moved around from one owner to another.
He may be grieving for an owner who has died or become too ill to care for him.
How To Help A Dog With Mental Health Problems
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how long it will take to rehabilitate a dog who has completely shut down. However, when the dog begins to respond there is such a feeling of fullfillment.
Firstly you need to understand that the dog is feeling
At this stage the dog trusts no-one.
The rehabilitation of a dog in this condition is long and will need lots of patience.
Don’t expect anything from him at this stage, don’t set targets or time limits, he will come round in his own time.
This is a personal experience of fostering a very badly emotionally shut down dog. I was given only brief details of his background. Every single case will be different, however, it might help someone who is dealing with a problem of this nature.
I used this approach after taking the advice of my vet.
I once fostered a dog who came straight from a puppy farm. He curled up behind the sofa, shaking and refusing to make eye contact. He cowered when I spoke gently to him and I knew instinctively not to try and touch him. I simply sat on the floor in silence a few metres away from him, I didn’t even directly look at him. The dog who was a Lhaso Apso badly needed bathing and grooming, his fur was matted and I suspected he had sores on his skin. However, first I needed to gain a little trust and it would not come overnight. I continued sitting on the floor for hours at a time for several days. I moved a few inches closer when I saw his body relax a little. He would go outside to urinate but run straight back inside to his spot behind the sofa.
After a few days I began to speak quietly but not directly to him. (I actually read a book out loud) I knew I was making progress when I could move a little closer without seeing him flinch. Then I started putting a radio or television on in the same room. I put a crate close to him but it was up to him if he used it or not.
He bolted his food as soon as I put it down so I knew food would be a great bargaining tool. I put a treat in between the two of us and he moved towards me to pick it up. Slowly I began to offer treats by hand and very tentatively he took them. It took around ten days to get to this stage. Then one day he climbed on to my lap and I let out a huge sigh of relief.
A bond had been formed but that is not to say that the rest of the little guy’s rehabilitation was easy. It didn’t take much for him to go scurrying back to that same spot behind the sofa. Housetraining was difficult and training had to be done at a snail’s pace. He formed a tight bond with me but was deeply suspicious of anyone else. By chance, I discovered that he really enjoyed the company of other dogs. He came on so quickly after I introduced him to my existing dog and learned so much from him.
These days he is happy, still preferring to keep his affection for just one person and gains confidence from having other dogs around. He is a little skittish but nothing like the dog he used to be. It was a painfully slow process but so worthwhile and I would do it for a different dog in a heartbeat
If you live in a calm, quiet environment and have the time and patience to help a ‘shut down’ dog I really recommend that you do so.
The photographs show a gradual progression from sitting in a curled position to a more relaxed position.
Then finding comfort and security from a calm confident dog.
Finally direct eye contact and sitting waiting for a treat. (It looks like he is growling on this photograph. He isn’t he has an underbite.)
Tips To Help A Dog Who Is Emotionally ‘Shut Down’
1 Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can heal a traumatised dog by showering him with love. It is much more complicated than that and sometimes it is best to take a step back and let the dog decide exactly what he wants from his owner.
2 Provide a ‘safe place’ for the dog. This could be a crate, a bed next to the fire or a spot which he chooses himself. The thing to remember is that no-one disturbs the dog when he goes to his safe place.
3 There is no way of knowing what triggers may affect your dog. However, by careful observation, a new owner will learn to avoid certain areas. I once fostered a dog who became very stressed when he saw men wearing yellow fluorescent work tunics. We soon recognised this trigger and did our best to avoid encounters of this type.
4 Take the advice of a qualified behaviourist who uses Positive Reinforcement Training.
5 Add security to the dog’s life by sticking to a routine. Dog’s like to know food times and bedtimes etc it makes them feel safe and secure.
6 Ask family or close friends to take care of your dog if you go on holiday. A dog who has a history of trauma will not cope in a boarding kennel.
7 Consider using a natural stress reliever at certain times of the year eg bonfire night, Christmas, etc
8 Only consider adopting an emotionally traumatised dog if you can maintain a consistent and calm environment for the rest of his life.
9 I would advise not to adopt an emotionally shut down dog if you have children or grandchildren visiting. There is always the chance that an anxious dog will show fear aggression.
10 Dogs respond well to other dogs who have calm, confident and placid temperaments. Including another dog will help with training and offer security to the nervous dog.
These articles may be helpful to anyone who is fostering or thinking of adopting a dog who is emotionally shut down.
Thank you for reading.