Trauma in pets, part 3

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IF your cat or dog has a history of trauma, whether suspected or confirmed, here are some guidelines to remember.

1. The cat or dog determines what’s traumatising, not you. While you may not have thought that holding your pet down for a simple nail trim was that big a deal, your cat or dog may have a different opinion.

Watch your dog’s body language for signs of stress such as lip licking, yawning, slower or faster movement, freezing, and turning away so that you can intervene if a situation starts to go south.

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Pushing through such situations can almost guarantee that they’ll create new fear triggers in many cats and dogs.

2. Create safe places. One of the reasons to teach a dog to go to his or her mat is it is helpful for many dogs due to its clear structure of safety.

The mat is a positive place where treats, relaxation, and massage take place, we can create a positive conditioned emotional response to the mere presence of this training method.

Once the mat becomes a safe place, make sure to keep it that way. Do not allow anything bad happen to your dog on the mat.

You can create other safe spaces as well – places in your dog’s environment where good things occur and where there is no pressure placed on the dog.

3. Give your cat and dog choices. One of the fastest ways to traumatise any mammal is to take away all of his or her choices.

Create opportunities for your dog to make choices about his or her environment, schedule, and care as much as possible.

Whether you let your dog decide which way to turn at the end of the block, wait for your dog to offer a foot for nail trimming, play with nose work, or give your dog several different beds to choose to sleep on, choice is hugely important.

Cats decide where they are going to sleep. Set your dog up to make good choices, then reward those choices to build the dog’s confidence.

4. Always try to end on a good note. Research has shown that people who have experienced identically unpleasant procedures created very different memories of those procedures depending on how traumatic the final moments of the procedure were.

While we don’t know whether dogs have the same cognitive recall abilities, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to make the last few seconds of any unpleasant experience as pleasant as possible.

For example, most dogs are concerned about having their feet handled. I file nails instead of clipping them because this is more comfortable for the dog and the dog is in control of how fast or slow nail trimming sessions go.

Your pet is also free to leave at any time if he gets too scared. At the end of every nailtrimming session, I practise simply touching the nail file to her toenails for less than a second, followed by a food reward.

Because each session ends with these quick successes, they are more comfortable allowing us to handle their feet when it is time for the next session.

5. Your cat or dog is not his story. If your pet has a history of trauma, it’s important to be aware of that past, but equally important to help your pet succeed in the present.

Too often, we get caught up with the stories, we tell ourselves about our pets’ past, and forget to pay attention to the animal in front of us.

Last week’s article was also written by Sara Reusche, but credit was not given due to an oversight.

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