When a soldier is under threat, he quickly learns there are only three options, fight, flight, or freeze. The process of making the decision and taking action happens in a nano second, but to the soldier time has slowed down in his head and it seems like hours. These are survival instincts and they keep us alive.
For the soldier that has served and is struggling with post traumatic stress, the nervous system is on alert 24/7. The slightest provocation sends him/her over the edge, red mist envelops, he/she are easily angered and quick to get irritated, making the transition into day to day living a constant battle.
Have you found yourself becoming angry over the simplest of things which wouldn’t normally bother you?
Desperate to get out of the house and take your daily exercise, or take a break from the those captive with you in lockdown, even though we know that we risk putting ourselves in danger and others each time we do?
The current situation for us is not in our learning history and as individuals we are all making adjustments and using our coping skills to get through as best we can. Some of us will be keeping busy, doing outstanding jobs, cooking, cleaning, others might be focusing on education and learning new skills, watching TV or reading or being creative. These are all ways of keeping the nervous system under control and form part of our coping mechanism.
Our dogs nervous system acts on exactly the same principle as ours, the need to stay safe and survive. Dogs that are nervous or anxious can go through life in that hyper vigilant state, just like the solder. They are quick to react and sometimes make poor choices and behave in ways that we think are inappropriate - they are using their coping skills, their survival instincts to either, fight the threat, run away from the danger, or in that moment they might even freeze first, before they make that nano second decision to act, or remain frozen to the spot in total fear. When the threat is over, dogs then reset their nervous system with a 'shake off' which is the same action as they would do if they have been swimming and were shaking off the excess water. They may do several shake offs before they are able to function normally again but the nervous system will still take time to calm and will remain on high alert for some considerable time depending on the threat level., in some cases upto 36 hours. Offering your dog access to foraging activities and other items of enrichment along with the opportunity to be quiet and relax will certainly help them at all times, but even more so if they have had cause to use their coping skills of fight, flight or freeze.
So, what do you do when the threat is over what do you do to reset/relax, calm the system down?
Our next blogs will be talking about the need and power of sleep, for us and our canine companions.
Avoidance for the veteran is all about the need to feel safe. It is normal for a soldier to shop late at night and only shop in a store he feels familiar with, one in which he knows the isles and where things are. He is avoiding crowds, to lessen the threat, to keep safe.
At the moment we are are probably using avoidance more than ever before and some are in total isolation in order to keep safe. Have you changed your shopping habits? Do you have a preferred place to shop, are you observing the various safety precautions stores have in place, are you compliant or do they annoy you? What makes you feel safe and how do you respond when you feel threatened? Are you recognising changes in your behaviour and responses?
Our dogs use avoidance a lot when they are placed in situations that make them fearful or uncomfortable, so once again, just like us. Avoidance is also part of the 'fight or flight' response, the survival instinct that responds to perceived danger or threat in order to keep us alive. Your dog should feel safe around you and in your home, so if they start to display avoidance tactics, like running away from you, or hiding from you, or they may become reluctant to engage with you in something they normally enjoy, these are some of the things to be mindful of and maybe take time out to consider.
How are you feeling?
If you are stressed you will release the hormone cortisol and your dog will smell this, individual dogs respond in different ways to this, depending on the circumstances.
Have you set your dog up to succeed?
Are you attempting a new task in a new environment, with distractions and increasing the difficulty level. Always teach new skills in safe, familiar surroundings and keep sessions short and fun.
Have you been overdoing the training or walking in the current circumstances?
Is you dog still adjusting to their new exercise regime, do they need some time out to chill with no pressures to be anything other than just a dog. Use the new skills you are learning, about providing enrichment and exploring opportunities in order to help them relax, reboot and recharge.
Have you given your dog downtime?
Remember your dog needs time to sleep and relax, they may not be used to having you around 24/7 and even if normally you are fortunate enough to spend a lot of time together, your whole routine will have changed at the moment and require adjustments from both of you.
Always look at the bigger picture and remember your dog would choose to live in harmony with you, so admonishing them for using avoidance will not help to build that bond of trust. Your dog will always have a reason for behaving the way they do, make your focus about working out what that reason is, rather than dwelling on the actual avoidance behaviour.
If you need help with this, please do not hesitate to contact us for support and advice. We are here to help you make a difference to the life you share with your four legged companion.
As a veteran struggling with mental health, self isolation can be self-imposed, as fear increases your world begins to shrink which makes it more difficult to push yourself to go out. You become overwhelmed in busy places, the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life is seen as threatening.
Due to current circumstances, how many of us are now scanning when we go out looking for someone coughing, getting too close, posing a threat to you ?
You know what the danger is and its one threat, one incident.
A soldier relives numerous incidents from numerous Op tours on a daily basis.
Self isolation for your dog will be difficult too; just like us they are individuals and they will respond in different ways to change in their normal routine, just like you are doing. They will pick up on your moods, which will fluctuate from day to day depending on how much news you watch or how much rest and sleep you have managed to get. They might not have the opportunity to get out and about to explore as they used to and when they do, they may well pick up on your anxious state of mind or hyper vigilance. These are just a few of the ways your dog may be affected as they react to situation and change much the same as we do.
Now is the perfect time to create a safe space to give your dog some exploring and enrichment activities, where they can forage, sniff, eat and enjoy just 'being a dog'. If you have been to one of our taster sessions you will know what this looks like, but for those that don't we will be posting some videos of items you can find in your home and garden and in the meantime why not watch this video link for some further explanation.
By focusing on finding the items, preparing the area, then taking time out to grab a brew and make a conscious effort to sit, watch and enjoy the moment with your dog, you will be supporting their mental well-being and enabling them to relax, reboot and recharge. You will both benefit from some down time and who knows you too may take a moment to unwind too.
What a strange world we are living in at the moment; lock down, self isolation, social distancing, being reminded to do simple tasks like wash our hands. Soldiers on operational tours are exposed to these conditions on a daily basis. Operation COVID-19 is alien for us and we are all taking time to adjust, not just us our dogs too.
We are sharing this graphic by way of offering a few top tips from people who have served in the military and others who have been in similar circumstances.
Over the coming weeks we will be exploring the implications of these changes in routine for our dogs too and how we can best offer them help and support during lock down, and sharing ways to start preparing for when we are able to return to the 'new normal' whatever that may look like for each of us. For the moment though, use the tips for yourself as a way to view your dog.
Accept your dog as an individual, even if sometimes they might not act the way you want them to.
Be willing to work within the confines of the current conditions and expect less from your canine friend.
Be present and think about them, make time to do something they enjoy each day, be imaginative and try something new.
Believe in them and their ability and be mindful that how you are behaving and feeling effects them at all times; even more so at the moment when feelings will fluctuate and other routines are different too.
Start your learning journey to make a difference for your four legged best friend.