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Takeaways from the PTSD in Dogs Topic Chat (Dec. 14, 2023)

Resources prior to the chat were posted to the forum, (click here to review the thread).

  • Questions emerged surrounding how to differentiate PTSD from other related conditions, such as a panic disorder.

  • The group agreed that a role of labels may be better suitued to recruiting empathy, rather than altering the course of behavioral care.

  • The group shared their experiences with fearful dogs and the value of understanding the pathophysiology behind certain behaviors in legitimizing the experience, and facilitating compassion and empathy.

  • In sharing varying stories, the group stressed the importance of recognizing and honoring each dog's unique experience.

  • One of the resources, an excerpt from the Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, by Dr. Karen Overall (2013) described the difference between fear and anxiety as "True fear always involves avoidance, with an apparent intent to decrease the probability of social interaction. This is in contrast to anxiety, where avoidance is not the first choice. Dogs who are driven primarily by anxiety may put themselves into a social system, although it makes them uncomfortable and worried."

  • There was a great deal of discussion around the differentiation of fear and avoidance, a few shared perspectives were that"

    • Fear is more acute and intense, where anxiety is more chronic and persistent.

    • Fear may be a more rational and appropriate response to an intense experience, where as anxiety may be based more in inaccurate assessment, and false predictions.

  • Overall, the group concluded that there was no clear line, and much of the differentiation could be considered semantics, instead shifting toward considering the impact.

  • The group discussed how potential diagnoses could inform the actions we take. It was noted that these criteria were published approximately a decade ago, before we had well established tools to recruit an animal as a collaborator in the process.

  • The group emphasized how an approach rooted in empowering the animal to communicate and access what they felt they needed to cope, whether it be distance, control, environmental change, access to enrichment and other fulfillment, etc., could reduce the need for labels, instead acknowledging the fluidity, and context specific nature of these needs.

  • They mentioned a podcast they listened to featuring Kristina Spaulding and Irith Bloom, which emphasized the importance of trust and agency in stress management.

  • They brought up the concept of co-regulation among multiple living beings in a household, and the potential for anxiety to be mutually influential among them.

  • The role of somatic therapies in stress regulation was explored highlighing the video featuring Dr. Arielle Schwartz.

  • The group highlighted the importance of understanding and supporting individuals, regardless of their potential diagnosis, by involving them in the decision-making process. The related concepts of paternalization and benevolent coercion and trends in human mental healthcare were brought up. The group was encouraged to check out Gabrielle Johnson's Webinar They Myth of Non-Compliance"

  • They also discussed the concept of agency in animals, emphasizing the importance of helping dogs express their needs to self-regulate and expedite behavior change processes. A focus on recognizing and addressing current realities rather than imposing a perceived reality was also discussed.

  • It was added that many anxieties are tied to past traumas and cannot be fully understood through cognitive means alone.

  • The group highlighted the potential harm of CBT therapy, particularly for neurodivergent individuals, and emphasized the importance of understanading rather than correcting an individual's thoughts.

  • It was suggested considering thoughts as just one of many behaviors, not as the sole driver of actions. A core premise of radical behaviorism and relational frame theory.

  • The group explored the concept of using constructed context in dress rehearsals to create space for animals to explore their own beliefs and perhaps alter them internally, without humans having to isolate and identify those beliefs to act as successful faciliators.

  •  The concept of "free work" as a means to improve somatic resilience in dogs, emphasizing the importance of understanding and addressing trauma was also explored.

  • The group aims to explore further how the application of therapeutic frameworks, somatic resilience, and remote tapping could be integrated into our work with animals.




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