I have been writing lately about fearful versus aggressive dogs and also about how the grooming process can flood dogs and set up unwanted aggressive behaviors It is not uncommon in a grooming salon to have a new dog in and when you start to do something like check in their ears or scissor or clipper near their face the dogs go ballistic. Screaming and throwing their bodies around, even biting. Why would the dogs do this when the groomer has never touched them before and didn’t touch them in an aversive way?
Not all dogs are flooded in professional settings and not all dogs react to aversive events in the same way. In humans a disorder known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is well known. It is commonly seen as a result of being involved in traumatic events. There will be a number of PTSD cases as a result of the tragic school shooting recently in the US. It is well known in soldiers and policeman who are regularly involved in traumatic events. What is not understood is why PTSD affects some individuals and not others even thought they have been through the same experiences or why a person can get PTSD from one traumatic event whereas others who get it experience months or years of trauma before being affected. Even people who do not witness the event but are affected by it can get PTSD.
PTSD is not well documented or understood in dogs. Do dogs get PTSD? If you take a dog that has lived many years in a puppy mill situation regularly being punished with lack of food, heavily matted coats causing pain, fleas, worms and even dog fights, or suffering spacial deprivation it would stand to reason that the repeated trauma to those dogs would result in some degree of PTSD. Do dogs that attend a groomer that regularly exposes them to forceful procedures that the dogs are forced to endure, such as dryers and clipping get PTSD? Do dogs that are harshly punished day in and day out at home for simple normal doggy behaviors such as barking get PTSD?
View the video from Channel 7’s Better Homes and Gardens show where Dr Harry recorded a segment on a dog that had a traumatic grooming experience. View video here
Go back to the example I started with, a dog that when you put scissors to its face goes ballistic and bites. Some years ago this happened to me when grooming and after finishing the groom I returned the dog to the owner and asked why he was so upset about scissors near his face. The owner then told me that they had been trying to trim the dogs face and had cut his face a few times. I also regularly see this effect of dogs retaining memory of trauma when it comes to issues with feet. If I get a dog that fights badly over a particular foot it is not uncommon for the owner, when asked, to tell you the dog hurt that foot badly years ago. A puppy that was living with me years ago broke her front leg and to this day she panics whenever that leg is about to be touched. This is not a physical issue as the panic starts before touching the leg.
The work I have been doing with River demonstrates this as well. River is a farm dog, rarely goes into town and in order to take these videos and have him see a vet for allergies I had to forcibly put him into the car crate to take him to town. He was not impressed but eventually I got him in and traveled the short distance with no ill effect. However on every day since then when he gets into the car crate he lets go of his bowels. I have had to perform the desensitization/counter-conditioning process for the car crate as well as the grooming salon crate. One bad experience and he was traumatized, likewise one bad experience for a dog when being groomed and they may be traumatized. One bad experience or ten of an owner who is trying to clip their dogs face or pluck ear hair and they may be traumatized This may well fit the diagnosis of PTSD in dogs. There is very little in the literature about this disorder in dogs. How often do we force our dogs to do something they don’t like and how often do we think about the consequences of doing this and find a more humane way to do it or do we just adopt the attitude “they will deal with it” Luckily many dogs do deal with it and do get over it but not all do.
The Pet Care Magician
Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.