Invisible injuries

The majority of the dogs I work with are those who have been abused at the hands of humans. We see the horrific pictures online and commercials that can make us cry because we start to imagine what they have been through physically, but we forget to take into account their mental health. Dogs will start to go through several stages mentally during their physical healing. Typically, in the beginning, they are very uncertain of the things that are going on around them. This is the time that is extremely critical. They are assessing their environment and reevaluating their surroundings. If a dog is on limited activity, it is NOT safe to assume that their brain is too. The next stage is when the dog starts to feel better physically. If it is still on limited activity, this is when it will start to act out. Most of the time it’s out of boredom, or just craving mental stimulation. It can be extremely hard for them because now they feel better than they did previously. Lastly, when they are back on regular activity, they act excited or “wild.” In my experience, this is when people give their dog an invisible crutch or a “free pass” for this excitingly, wild behavior. Dogs will see this lack of leadership as a sign of weakness. At this point a dog will feel insecure and it is imperative for you to build their confidence back.

Dogs that don’t have obvious injuries can also suffer invisible pain. For example, I see it in many fosters who have been bounced from home to home and shelter dogs that were rescued. We as humans that see dogs flinch from fast movement assume that they had a bad experience which made them react that way. Unfortunately, these dogs are given free behavior passes because some humans feel that coddling will make their dogs feel better. In all actuality, when you coddle insecure behavior you are subconsciously rewarding these behaviors.

Recently I heard the comment that behavior is behavior comparing dogs behavior to human behavior. As I previously stated in my article “Aggression and Stress in Rescue Dogs,” when we apply human behavior characteristics to dogs, that is a mistake. Our interpretation of a situation is not the same as how a dog interprets the situation. For example, let’s just use how some dogs react to a postal delivery person. The human assumes the reason that their dog reacts is that they are being protective of their home, they don’t like the noise, it’s because it’s a man or a woman, something comes flying through the door and startles the dog, etc. Human interpretation puts too many variables into individual situations. The main (not only) reason a dog reacts is because of the humans hat and/or bag.

There is invisible pain that is unintentionally inflicted upon dogs by humans. This happens when a person thinks they are doing “what’s best for the dog”. Some examples are owner surrenders, post for free to “good home” on classified, giving a dog away to a friend, etc.

When rescues take on these dogs, they take them on fully, no questions asked. I just ask that you recognize that sometimes these dogs don’t just need to be healed physically, they need to be assessed mentally, too. Most rescues have contacts for dog trainers that specialize in behavior that you can contact, or the rescue can contact, to get guidance in rehabilitating these dogs. If you donate to rescues, please keep in mind to donate towards their mental help. Rescues can use that money to purchase tools for these dogs and their foster families or get outside help when dealing with some of the more sensitive issues. Please consider buying puzzles, interactive toys, or treat balls to donate to a rescue.

The primary thing that all of these issues have in common is insecurity, lack of self-confidence and a lack of necessary mental stimulation. This sounds time consuming when using human interpretation of these items, but in all actuality, it isn’t. Please keep some of these examples in mind when working on rehabilitating your dog.

These tips are for dogs that are NOT on limited or no movement:

-The first thing I recommend to my clients to help their dog is to teach them something. I recommend to start with 5-10 minute sessions at least 3 times a day. That isn’t a definitive amount of time. Some high energy dogs need more and some need less, just watch how your dog is responding.

-Always end each session on a positive note. If you are trying to teach your dog something new and they aren’t getting it yet, don’t worry (your dog will sense it) and ask them to do something they already know and reward them then.

-If you have more than 1 dog, make sure to spend individual quality time with them separately.

-Celebrate the small victories!

-Keep the sessions short and sweet. We don’t want the dog to be bored.

Here are a few tips for dogs that are on little or no activity:

-Stationary mental stimulation feeders such as puzzle toys, Kongs or kong-like toys, maze feeders

-Stay present when your dog is using these toys/tools and verbally praise them when they are using them properly.

-Don’t make these things constantly available in their crates or small rooms. When they have access to the same thing all day everyday, it’s not exciting anymore.

-These toys/tools can be used to encourage them to use their noses which will provide mental stimulation.

-These will give your dog something to look forward to, which will break up the monotony of their day.

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Sarah Gill

Owner of Total K9 Focus


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