Skip to content
Previous article
Now Reading:
9 out of 10 dogs and people suffer from this condition

9 out of 10 dogs and people suffer from this condition

Are you one of them? Is your dog?

Until recently, I didn't fully realize that our challenges, conflicts, and life troubles are often connected to trauma and our response to it.

The evolutionary purpose of our body’s response to trauma was to help protect us from danger. So we needed to remember that tigers are dangerous and that falling off a cliff would have fatal consequences.

But as time progressed and our lives changed, these neurobiological responses and pathways have not caught up with our rapidly changing lives, and we are in serious need of an adjustment. We are overdue for a shift that will make our lives and the lives of our canine friends much better.

If life were a highway, it would have three lanes

The centre lane would be just the right speed, everything is under control, and life is good. 

The left lane would be the fast lane; everything is scary, dangerous, and unpredictable. Life in the left lane feels unsafe, and unless drivers react quickly, they could get into an accident and die within a split second.

And then there is the right lane which is nice and slow, seemingly without any problems, but it is occupied mainly by large semi-trucks, the giants who can cause the most damage to your car if you get hit by them, or there is a pile-up. 

We all wish our lives were lived only in the centre lane, the lane of comfort, but that's not realistic. Unfortunately, when life becomes stressful and traumatic, some people's bodies react with a fight or flight response, which causes them to fly off the handle, lose their temper, experience road rage, or argue with those they care about.

Many people are unaware that such a reaction results from the fight or flight response bypassing the brain's frontal lobe, the rational part, and triggering the more primitive reptilian brain, which generates an impulsive reaction. This reaction is challenging and sometimes impossible to control.

Experts call this a state of hyper-arousal. It is the state responsible for reactions like slamming a door or saying and doing something regretful when you’re arguing with someone.

This response is also quite typical in dogs. The fight or flight response is the body's first line of defence when faced with danger.

Living in a state of hyper-arousal, “the fast lane,” is a stressful state of being, and eventually, the mind and body can no longer sustain it. 

This is when an individual can fall into a state of hypo-arousal, where depression, loneliness, addictions, and even suicidal tendencies can manifest. This is the equivalent of being in the slower right lane, full of semi-trucks.

In some cases, when the trauma has been particularly severe, a trauma victim can bypass the hyper-arousal state. The consequences of such trauma are potentially more dangerous because they can be hidden and go unnoticed for a long time.

A simple example of the hypo-arousal state is a beetle playing dead when there is nowhere to escape. I have observed this behaviour in geckos when I’ve tried to catch them. At first, they attempt to run away, but they stop and remain frozen once they realize there is no escape. 

A person in a state of hypo-arousal is often uninterested in being around others. In the case of dogs, they would be timid, hide, and show signs of fear.

They behave this way because they are under the spell of neuropathways created by trauma. 

Real-life examples

Instead of giving you some imaginary theoretical examples, I would like to share some real examples from my own life and Pax's life.

When I was 11 years old, I began riding horses, and one day my mother decided that she also wanted to learn how to ride. It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and we were in a big grassy field where the horse trainer was giving my mother her first lesson.

I am unsure whether the horse got spooked or just wanted to buck my mother off, but I can vividly recall seeing my mother fly up in the air and land on her back. She was lying there, not moving, and her blue-green eyes were wide open as if she were dead. 

I can't remember the ambulance or the doctors, but I remember walking home alone carrying my mom's clothes and her pink high-heeled shoes. I have no idea why the trainer sent me home alone; perhaps he was also in shock?

My mother had suffered a severe skull fracture and brain trauma, and it took three days for her to wake up from her coma. When she regained consciousness, she had symptoms of double vision, severe vertigo, and she needed to touch walls with her fingers to walk straight.

She went through severe trauma, and our whole family was also traumatized. 

I didn't understand that experiencing this trauma at a young age had created a neurological pathway in my brain that made me repeatedly upset. I only realised what was happening during a recent video call with my partner, who was lying on his back with his eyes open. I would always feel agitated when he did this, but I didn't really think about why. I now realise that it triggered the old trauma of witnessing my mother's injury and seeing her lying on her back with her eyes open, not moving.

A more trivial but also uncomfortable trigger I have is about losing things.

When I was young, I used to misplace my keys, and my father thought it was very funny. He would often crack jokes when I could not find my keys or my wallet, and as time progressed, it became a family joke. 

My brother and sister would often chime in, and the more they laughed, the more upset I got about losing things.

I used to get very anxious when I couldn't find my keys, wallet, or phone, but now that I understand and have more awareness about the source of my peculiar reactions, I can take it lightly when I misplace things and even laugh instead of getting upset.

Dogs and Trauma

When it comes to trauma response, dogs are similar to people. Here is one example of how trauma can manifest in the lives of dogs. 

When we adopted Pax, he was a happy, self-assured puppy. He was loved and frequently cuddled by his "original mom," Nella, and always in the company of his siblings, mom, and uncle — whose name is also Pax. (We chose Pax's name before we knew.)

After we brought our puppy Pax home, things went quite smoothly. He was happy in his crate, which he spent time in even when it was open.

Puppy Pax in his crate


He was also fine when we started leaving him home alone for short periods, but things changed after one occasion when we were travelling and we went out to the theatre. We left Pax alone in the crate for a couple of hours at an AirBnB apartment we were staying in, and it did not go well for Pax.

When we got back, the soft shell crate had been all ripped up, and from that time, Pax didn't want to have anything to do with it. It took a year and a half to reset his experience of trauma and separation anxiety.

His fight or flight neuropathway was connected to being alone, and it took patience and understanding for him to feel comfortable enough to be left behind. 

Thoughts on dog aggression

One of the most significant problems in the canine world is dog anxiety and aggression. I have witnessed countless situations where dogs react while they are on a leash, but they are fine when they are off-leash.

In nature, dogs would be free to sniff each other and say a proper "Hello," but the current bylaws of leashing dogs most of the time have removed their ability to do what they would naturally do.

After spending more than three decades working with dogs, I am convinced that most dogs that act up while on leash would be completely fine if they simply dropped the leash and allowed their dogs to sniff and greet other dogs.

Instead, they are restricted, which causes them to act up and triggers a stress response in their guardians. I have seen many people yelling and screaming out of fear, which signals danger to their dogs, who react even more.  

Over time, the trauma loop becomes very ingrained and it’s hard to break this vicious circle that no one deserves to be blamed for. 

Unfortunately, this is how we are wired, but it doesn't mean that there is no solution.

We can now be more aware of our responses and fears; we can also allow safe socializing from an early age to prevent aggression and anxiety. 

This is the main reason why I am so vehemently opposed to keeping young puppies away from other dogs. So, if you would like to learn how to socialize your puppy from an early age safely, click here.

Breaking the spell of trauma 

Understanding how the brain responds to trauma allows us to bring awareness to the process. We can learn to catch ourselves before we move into the lanes of discomfort where we wind up getting upset or falling into feeling low.

I find it rather hard to write about trauma in 2022, as we all have been traumatized by the pandemic and now the terrible situation in Ukraine, but I believe this is also the right time to open this discussion.

Knowing how trauma works is essential, especially during these difficult times. While I tried to provide clear examples, some people go through much more severe and indescribable suffering, and we must be prepared to help.

The first step is to start with ourselves — to take notice of instances where we react and determine why because when we get better, we can help our dogs and others more effectively.

People often judge others for their behaviour because on the outside it appears illogical or even “crazy.” They are unaware that emotional reactions, outbursts, social withdrawal, and depression often originate in trauma.

Understanding the effects of trauma helps us learn to be kinder to ourselves, our dogs, and other people. It allows us to understand that reactions and emotions are often rooted in trauma and that they are not "our essence."

It gives us hope for a better future.❤️

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

Most Popular

  • Flying with dogs
    In my article, I share the personal story of how I'm able to fly with my dog, Pax, thanks to overcoming challenges with sleepwalking and night terrors. This unique experience not only allowed me to travel with my service dog but also serves as a reminder that even difficult situations can have positive outcomes.
  • dog and pony
    Successful communication is essential for building healthier and more fulfilling relationships and happier lives. In this article, I'll share with you 8 communication hacks to help you avoid unnecessary drama, prioritize active listening and address conflicts effectively.
  • Dalmatian eating fruit
    Can dogs eat bananas, apples, strawberries and other fruit? What about grapes? Find out what fruits are safe, toxic, and healthy for dogs. Learn about the potential health benefits and risks of feeding fruit to your canine companion, and get tips on the ideal time to feed it.
  • Illustration of the anatomy of a heart
    As dog lovers, we all want our beloved pups to live long and healthy lives. Protecting your dog's heart from potential health issues is important, and in this blog Dr. Dobias shares some key points that you might not yet be aware of, read on to find out what you can do to keep your dog's heart safe. 

Dog Health

  • Husky lying on blanket with heart toy
    Dogs have our hearts and that is why we need to protect their heart. Dog’s as they age often face muscle problems and spinal misalignment and you might be surprised to know how that can hurt their heart. Learn how to protect your dog’s spine and by extension their heart.
  • The secret ingredient for a perfect No. 2
    Dogs and humans have evolved side-by-side but they are still quite different when it comes to their digestive tracts and dietary habits. We have studied their original environments such as the soils of the African savanna and consulted with top experts in the field of probiotics and microbiology to come up with a combination that reflects healthy bacterial flora of canines.
  • Man being pointed at
    Criticism can hurt a brand, but constructive feedback can help it grow. In this blog Dr. Dobias talks about the differences between these approaches, and how to handle the power of influence and opinion with care. 
  • Broccoli with vitamins and minerals
    Are you worried that your and your dog's diet is missing something? Maybe you're worried about toxin levels in food, the environment, or flea and tick products. Let's face it; we can't remove ourselves entirely from our toxin-filled world, but we can do things to reduce our exposure to harmful substances. 

Human health

  • Dr. Dobias with Pax
    How do you navigate the seas of life? How do you deal with disappointment? Whatever life throws at us, we can always rely on our dogs to bring joy into our days. In this blog I share my thoughts on the support our dogs provide during the difficult moments in life. 
  • Why 1 in 4 Americans suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
    Learn more about the alarming prevalence of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) affecting 1 in 4 Americans. Discover its main risk factors, diagnosis methods, and treatment options to better manage or prevent this silent yet severe condition. 
  • A new perspective on brain health, memory loss, Alzheimer's Disease, and dementia in people and dogs
    The Science of DHA and the Brain: Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily DHA, are the unsung heroes of brain health. They play crucial roles in brain physiology and biological activities, with exciting links between Omega-3 levels and cognitive function. Higher DHA levels have been shown to preserve the integrity of the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB), your brain's security system
  • Dr. Dobias and Pax
    It appears that most of the world is ready for change, but whenever I think about the solutions to any of the problems that plague our world, I can’t prevent myself from thinking that we humans are acting like little toddlers who have broken a toy and do not know how to fix it. Despite my generally optimistic attitude, I have had a hard time staying positive at times because I know how complex this all is. Read here for some tools that make me feel good about the world, which I would like to share with you.

News, stories and good life

  • Dr. Peter Dobias with his dog Pax on his lap
    Do you have trouble staying positive during difficult times? These days we are surrounded by a lot of negative messaging, and it's easy to let that get you down. Here are some of my tips for remaining positive, and don't forget to share your tips with me!
  • Man raising fist on a mountain
    Most of us have been exposed to panic-inducing information about the virus spread, however, I have noticed the general absence of one piece of information, how to make your immune system stronger and body more resilient. (It will definitely not happen by stockpiling toilet paper!) I have always loved immunology and the current situation has prompted me to put together two simple lists on how to increase your dog’s and your own immunity.
  • Man with dog wearing a collar
    Does your dog have ear problems, nasal or oral tumors, reverse sneezing or an  itchy head or hair loss on their head? Learn how you can address some of these problems and save thousands in vet care costs.
  • Terrier eating raw food
    Now there is no need to guess if there is something missing in your dogs diet.  The HairQ Test is a highly accurate test for mineral deficiencies, toxins and heavy metals in dogs to finely tune your dog’s diet and supplement schedule.

Cart

Close

Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping
Close