Trauma manifesting later.
The usual age that we see dogs is typically between 1 and 3. This is the juicy time for issues and attitudes to flare up. This is often referred to as the “teenage years”, the time when the sweet and goofy puppy starts to push boundaries and test limits. It’s also the time we tend to see more serious issues arise. Of course there can be many factors that can cause behavioral changes in your dog, but one that doesn’t get discussed much is early trauma manifesting as behavior issues.
I’ve seen personally, and heard many times from clients, how many dogs that have experienced some kind of traumatic event early on can later have it manifest as problem behaviors. We see it most often with dogs that have been bullied, or attacked by other dogs at dog parks, doggy day care, or even on-leash when young, and then later, as the dog matures we can sometimes find dog aggression issues and/serious reactivity problems. (Of course this can also occur with an adult dog that has a traumatic event.)
What seems to happen is that a youngster experiences something intense, scary, painful etc, but as a youngster doesn’t typically manifest issues straight away. They tend to brew and stew, and wait for a more mature state of mind to develop, and then things start to change. We hear so many stories of dogs that we’re great dog park dogs, or great on-leash as pups and adolescents, but then as maturity begins we start to see behavior change. Usually it’s a slow transition. We see small little reactions that are different – dogs start to become less tolerant of other dogs, and they may start to get into scuffles, and eventually they might become truly dog aggressive.
I saw this with my own dog Oakley. When I first saw him he was 7 months old and sharing a kennel with an adult pittie. Every time someone would walk by the kennel the adult dog would attack Oakley. It was horrible to watch. After he was adopted we started going to the dog park. He loved it. Him and Junior would run and play and goof off. Everything was great until he turned about a year and half, and then, as I described above, he started to slip. Slowly becoming less tolerant and less tolerant, then more proactive, and eventually super dog aggressive. He went from being a no-worries dog park dog to a serious danger to other dogs. And I truly believe this was a manifestation of his early trauma in the kennel.
I’ve had that story confirmed many times from owners with their own dogs. It’s one of the reasons I tend to recommend my clients stay away from dog parks, day cares, and on-leash meetings. (Dog parks and doggy day care tend to be places where dodgy/bratty/bully behavior can occur, and on-leash meetings are famous for going south.) It’s not that our dogs are so sensitive and can’t handle some challenges or bumps in life, but when the right dog meets up with the right trauma – whether that be a one-time attack or a slow build of being bullied – you can have seriously unfortunate results.
So I share this with the hope that it will possibly clarify some possible reasons for behavioral changes some of you might have seen in your dogs as they’ve matured, and also to hopefully help some of you avoid having unwanted issues down the road.