Gold and Mond (Jindos) Photo courtesy of Adopt Korean Rescue https://adoptmekoreanrescue.org/
Can Rescue Dogs Recover from Trauma? Ten Surprising Myths
Rescue dogs are beautiful souls who have likely experienced some form of trauma. Love is important, but pet parents must also know how to respond to their dog’s trauma responses and provide optimal nutrition, emotional support, teaching, desensitization and respect for the dog’s pace of healing from trauma.
If you’re thinking about adopting a rescue dog, thank you for your kind heart! You will likely have a lot of questions – and that’s good! You are entering into a commitment with a dog who has probably experienced some degree of trauma, and you want to know what to expect and how to support her. You might also be a little worried about how trauma could affect your dog’s ability to bond, learn and thrive.
One of the greatest rewards of welcoming a rescue dog is giving her safety, security and love – things she may never have experienced. In return, if you’re willing to listen to what your dog will teach you about healing, your lives will be changed “furever”.
Healing Fur Souls is here to guide you through the myths and realities of helping your rescue dog recover from trauma and live a joyful life.
All Dogs Respond to Trauma Differently
It is likely that all rescue dogs have experienced some degree of trauma such as loss, neglect, abandonment, fear, violence, major catastrophe or sudden change. However, every dog responds and recovers differently. Some dogs may be able to quickly adapt to a new loving life, while others can become depressed, fearful and show responsive behaviors that require extra support.
If you’re adopting a rescue, go in with your eyes and heart open. Learn about trauma responses and how to support your dog as she heals safely and slowly.
Top Ten Myths About Rescue Dogs and Trauma
You have a rescue dog with a trauma history. Will she have health problems or not be able to bond with family members? Will she be more grateful because she knows she is now safe and loved?
You may be surprised at the answers to the top ten myths about rescue dogs and trauma.
1. All a rescue dog needs is love.
Let’s be clear – love is necessary to build trust and help your dog heal from trauma. However, dogs with a trauma history may not have learned how to accept love (or how to show typical signs of love). A dog may have learned to be extremely afraid of people (or certain types of people and situations). Because of this, they may avoid interaction at all costs and find it stressful to be showered with love and attention. A household of playful, active loving children may seem like the perfect environment for a rescue dog, but may be overwhelming and stressful for some dogs.
Always demonstrate your love – but instead of a physical cuddle, kiss or playful rumble, try sitting on the floor and beaming a great big smile to her, telling her how loved she is. She will feel it – without the worries about physical closeness that may have caused her fear in the past. She may even begin to approach you for more!
Follow your dog’s cues – if she hides, avoids interacting or shows signs of stress, give her space but continue with predictable routines and gentle interactions.
Your dog may not have learned how to accept love. Follow her cues and allow her to set her own pace.
2. A traumatized dog will eventually “get over it” with time.
Although some dogs – like some people – are resilient and can learn to function in most situations, the effects of trauma can be long-lasting and the dog may require extra support. She may need you to gently teach her, give her emotional support and predictability. She may not have learned how to “get over” adversity – but you can teach her.
Recovery from trauma is an active process and, just like people, dogs can take two steps forward and one step back. Be patient and expect ups and downs.
A loving, safe environment could be enough for a dog to heal herself from the effects of trauma, but always be willing to seek professional help from trauma specialists, nutrition experts, energy healers, rescue dog organizations and experienced pet parents.
Expect ups and downs. Seek help if you need it.
3. Rescue dogs are more appreciative than purebred or “designer dogs”.
Sometimes we place our own emotions onto our pets and interpret these as our dog’s own feelings. When our dogs express joy with a wagging tail, smile or lick, we might interpret this as appreciation. Perhaps it is, but it’s difficult to tell for certain. Animal communicators and Animal Reiki Masters tell us that dogs are very aware of their life situations, relationships and needs – but that doesn’t mean that dogs who have endured the worst lives are more appreciative than those who have not.
Dogs who have been exposed to trauma can learn to embrace safe and joyful experiences but their trauma symptoms may limit how much they appear to “appreciate” them. Instead of waiting for licks, paw holding and wagging tails, watch for other positive signs of “appreciation” like:
- approaching new things with curiosity
- willingness to taste new healthy foods
- sniffing plants and the breeze
- listening to nature’s sounds
- rolling in the grass
- seeking interactions with you
- exploring new areas of the house or yard
- engaging with other animals
These are signs that your dog is learning to experience joy in the moment – and isn’t that something to appreciate?
4. Expose a rescue dog to loud noises to desensitize them.
Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, whether they have come from a rescue organization or not.
Although dogs will eventually become familiar with normal household sounds like the furnace coming on or a refrigerator hum, loud, unpredictable noises can shock their nervous system and regress them into a state of fear and fear-based reactions. If your dog reacts to noises by barking, hiding, running, becoming aggressive or fidgeting, she is showing fear.
In some cases, a dog who is terrified of loud noises or other triggers can work with a canine behaviorist or trauma specialist to gently and systematically expose them to triggers in a controlled manner – but this must be done under professional supervision and only once you have had time to observe your dog and identify what those triggers might be.
Never intentionally expose a traumatized dog to noises such as fireworks, gun shots, or even loud music, spray cans, yelling or other startling household noises.
Consider using calming herbs like lavender, chamomile or cannabidiol (CBD) before thunderstorms or fireworks events – and practice being calm with your dog to show her she doesn’t need to fear loud noises.
Always respect your dog’s pace. Practice desensitization with professional support and only when the animal is in a calm, relaxed state.
5. My traumatized rescue dog should get better every day.
Recovery is not a linear process. Unlike healing from a simple wound, a dog recovering from trauma will experience ups and downs. The dog may be doing well and then accidentally be exposed to a trigger that sets them back into days or weeks of fear-based reactive behavior.
One of our pet parents was seeing slow but steady progress over a few months until his dog was triggered by being gently lifted into the car. She began to hide, avoided interactions and would only come out to eat at night when everyone was asleep. He was so upset and guilt-ridden by this setback that he considered surrendering her. With encouragement, he continued with a predictable routine, and gave her lots of positive reinforcement for showing curiosity near the car. She eventually put her paw right up on the seat and stuck her head out the window like a pro! She still has occasional setbacks, but her beautiful personality and confidence are blooming!
When your dog has a setback, step back, maintain a predictable routine and proceed at your dog’s pace – not yours. Be her steady, calm role model and teach her that she can feel safe even when she senses a threat.
Dogs who have experienced chronic stress benefit from foods and herbs to soothe their nervous system. By bringing down the level of stress hormones in the body, our dogs are better able to adapt and learn. We love these homemade herbal dog treat recipes to help reduce overall stress:
6. A rescue dog won’t be able to trust anyone.
Some people believe that a dog who has experienced trauma can never trust a person enough to develop a loyal relationship. However, once you introduce a rescue dog to your family in a safe and calm manner, most dogs will learn to accept you and begin to develop a connection.
To you, trust may mean your dog should be at your side all the time without a leash, will jump off a dock into the lake without questioning and can walk past a loud construction site wagging her tail. In your dog’s mind though, trust may mean accepting food from you, poking her head around the corner when you come home or allowing you to place a harness on her. Listen to her wisdom and go at her pace.
Relationships take time, learning and consistency. Be patient. Some of these connections will be the most profound, soulful relationships you will ever have with an animal.
Even if your dog remains a bit aloof with you, look at how she relates to nature, plants, food and other animals. If she’s engaging, she’s experiencing joy and developing trust.
Remember that dogs who have been fostered or moved frequently may take a longer time to develop trust (or on the other hand, may adjust more readily). If you feel your dog is taking an exceptionally long time to develop trust, consider hiring a Trust Technique practitioner or Animal Reiki Master.
7. Rescue dogs are damaged goods.
Oh boy. Let’s unpack this one.
Firstly, dogs aren’t “goods” – they are beautiful creatures with personalities, souls and a loving nature, who develop relationships with people and other animals. Secondly, it’s true that they have likely suffered some physical or emotional trauma that has indeed affected their development. But are they forever “damaged” by their trauma experience?
If we stop to think about trauma, it’s likely that each and every one of us has also experienced some emotional or physical injury that has impacted our lives. Maybe you’ve suffered from abuse, a life-altering injury, divorce, death, miscarriage or other loss. Regardless of the type of trauma, how we process and move through it is what is important.
Here is the incredible connection then – you and your dog can both bond and recover together through life’s experiences. Are you damaged goods? Absolutely not! And neither is your beautiful Fur Soul.
You and your dog can grow and heal together in wisdom, love and joy in each moment.
8. Rescue dogs have a lot of health problems.
Dogs that have experienced trauma or are under chronic stress can be prone to stress-related health conditions like diabetes, poor immunity, digestive problems, joint disease and obesity.
Sometimes, these dogs are diagnosed with Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but this is a diagnosis usually reserved for military, police and service dogs. Regardless, if your dog has experienced stressful situations for an extended amount of time, it is important to monitor her ongoing health. Fortunately, rescue dogs are assessed and treated by a veterinarian before they’re adopted. And regular check-ups can identify potential issues early. But the best part is that dogs have an innate ability to heal and can thrive in excellent health for years!
Just like with people, optimal nutrition, a consistent, calm approach, good health care (we really love Holistic Vets) and a safe, predictable environment go a long way toward restoring excellent health and a full joyous life.
Find a Holistic Vet (or Conventional Vet) that you are happy with, and start your dog off with excellent nutrition that gives her the best opportunity to heal her mind, body and spirit. Introduce real, healthy foods like salmon, bone broth, apples and home made natural dog treats.
Note: Dogs who have been fed processed kibble (often full of mould, mycotoxins and rendered, chemical-laden products) may need a longer time to adjust to real food. Damage to their gut needs to be repaired, and sometimes gently cooked meat, rice and vegetables with a multi-vitamin can help heal their bodies until they are able to digest a beneficial raw diet. Consult a Holistic Canine Nutritionist, Holistic Vet or try some of our recipes.
Consider limiting stressful procedures such as unnecessary grooming, chemicals, pesticides and over-vaccination.
9. Rescue dogs won’t bond with people or other animals.
Some dogs show trauma responses by withdrawing from people, because people may have been the source of fear in the past. It therefore makes sense that it may take longer to develop trust and bond with a new pet parent. Some rescue dogs won’t engage with other pets or might even become withdrawn or aggressive around other animals, as a way of expressing their own fear.
When it comes to developing trust, your dog will progress and likely regress at times. This may seem daunting, but be patient. Use mind, body and spirit strategies to help your dog learn to trust and bond with you. Safe introductions to other well-socialized animals can provide excellent role modelling and build a sense of safety, normalcy, curiosity and play in a way we cannot.
You will be your dog’s teacher, and she will in turn learn to show you the beauty of her soul and life’s purpose.
10. Rescue dogs are aggressive.
Aggression is a response to fear. Not all dogs are afraid, and not all those who are afraid respond with aggression. Instead, some will withdraw, hide or run away, “freeze” or stop eating, while others fidget by scratching, licking, pawing or vocalizing.
Four States of Fear in Dogs
There are four states of fear. Listen carefully to how your dog may be trying to tell you she is afraid:
- Fight – A dog may growl, pace, glare, show teeth, lunge, nip or bite.
- Flight – A dog will withdraw, run away, cower or hide.
- Freeze – A dog will “freeze” in position, often crouch low to the ground and walk very slowly as if traveling through mud.
- Fidget – A dog may become agitated and scratch, paw, lick, bark or cry.
We know that many rescue dogs have lived their lives in a state of fear. So it’s natural that they need help learning how to feel safe.
Dear pet parent, know that fear is a state of being that can be changed with time, trust, consistency and proper techniques. If you know that your dog has a history of aggression, consider working with a Canine Trauma Specialist or Reiki Master for Animals. Practitioners in the Trust Technique can also be very helpful in reducing an animal’s overthinking which can lead to fear-based responses like aggression.
Other ways to help fear-based aggression include:
- Hiring a trauma-informed Canine Behaviorist (that uses positive reinforcement only)
- Considering herbal supplements that help manage stress like chamomile, lavender, ashwagandha or these home made CBD dog cookies
Introduce your Dog to New Situations Safely: Let Others Know your Dog is Nervous
You want to involve your dog in your life by gradually and safely exposing her to new people and environments. However, because you might not always know what could trigger her into a state of fear, you must be able to control a situation. We do this by creating a safe environment and maintaining control.
Well-meaning people reaching out to your dog can trigger her into a state of fear or even aggression. Take precautions when around new people and situations with this special dog harness that alerts people that your dog is nervous (or ask before approaching). These harnesses are excellent ways to safely expose your dog to new situations and build her confidence. They tell others to approach carefully and only with permission, and hold the dog securely to optimize safety, should she react. Once your dog is well socialized and calm in new situations, simply replace the velcro patch with her name and phone number (or all sorts of other fun patches)!
We love this adjustable harness! It has reflective tape, fits snugly around the chest and avoids pressure on delicate throat and shoulder areas where collars or other harnesses can injure the thyroid gland or shoulder nerves.
Adopt Korean Rescue
Adopt Korean Rescue is a volunteer-based federally registered not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping homeless and unwanted dogs in South Korea find a new home in Canada. After living in dog meat farms or kill shelters, these beautiful fur souls luckily meet the volunteers at Adopt Korean Rescue, just before euthanasia.
There are puppies, adult dogs and a variety of breeds coming to Canada regularly, including the stunning Korean Jindo. As the volunteers say, “We exist to hold their paws and help them find a forever home in Canada full of joy and happiness.”
If you live in Canada and are thinking about adopting one of these lovely fur souls, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the available dogs on their website.
As one grateful pet parent said, “These dogs are not always perfect. Love, patience and perseverance goes a long way in life. Rescue dogs have a wonderful shot at life if we give them what they need instead of what we may want.”
Healing Fur Souls has had the pleasure of meeting several of these rescued dogs, volunteers and amazing pet parents. Follow one of our dogs, Hopi on his healing journey!
If your heart is open, consider applying to be a forever parent or a foster parent, flight volunteer, airport ambassador or donate to this amazing organization.
Our purpose at Healing Fur Souls is to support you in saving a life and making the world a better place for our dear animal friends.
Be kind to all living beings. Respect the earth we share.