How Ancestral Trauma Might be Making Your Dog Nuts

It would be early in the morning when I’d discover her, dirty from her diarrhea. Jazz, my childhood dog, had eaten my pony’s manure, again. It made her sick every time. Of course it was my responsibility to clean it up.

Later that day she would run off into the woods, after a deer. We would spend hours searching for her, (worried that a hunter might shoot her in the meantime for disturbing the herd). Once we gave up, she’d wander home.

Ready to Give Up?

You get the picture. While we loved Jazz, she was a handful.

Maybe you have a pup with some difficult behaviors too?

Chasing cars, leash aggression, being territorial around food and toys, jumping up on people, running off, nipping, chasing your cat… and on, all of these traits can be super stressful.

You may have thought that this breed is just too much. You’ve tried obedience training and talked with your friends. Maybe your dog would have better luck with a new home through the local animal shelter?

But before you try finding another home for Fido the Terrible, consider some little known facts about inherited trauma. There might be something influencing your dog that is beyond their control.

The Mouse and the Cherry Blossoms

There’s a study I like to cite when explaining inherited trauma.*

(Unfortunately, they used animal testing on mice, which is a bummer. But I’m grateful for those little critters to help us understand just how much our ancestor’s lives influence our own.)

So, they gave the first generation of mice a little shock while the scent of cherry blossoms was released. They let this generation breed, and found that their children had a traumatic response to the scent of cherry blossoms even without electrocution.

They tested a couple generations of mice, and found that they all responded with fear reactions to the cherry blossom smell.

Only the first generation had actually felt the electric shock, but they passed on this fear on to their great-grandchildren! Whoa.

From Puppy Mills to Dog Fighting

There’s a good chance you don’t know the history of your dog’s great grandparents.

But, given how many people mistreat or just ignore animals, there’s a chance that your pup’s ancestors experienced neglect or worse somewhere along the way.

With rescues, there might be severe trauma that your dog or it’s parents experienced. Maybe an ancestor had to literally fight to survive, or had a caged life in a puppy mill with abusive socialization.

Or, if you have a purebred, imagine the pressure and judgement their ancestors faced to be the “perfect specimen.” Competitions create disappointment for everyone except the first place winner, and dogs feel their owner’s grief deeply.

So, pretty much any dog is likely to have some ancestral trauma – just like any human!

Does this mean these hounds are hopeless? To the contrary- I believe that dogs with challenging behaviors come into our lives for a reason!

If you can keep your heart open to your pup, then they can teach you a lot.

(And of course, all this can apply to any other animal- cats, horses, rats, snakes, etc. all come with their own ancestral stuff).

Healing The Genome

Thanks to some cutting-edge scientists, we now have further understanding of the field of behavioral epigenetics and inheritance.** There’s a lot to know about recent findings, but suffice it to say that genes can be rewired through our actions.***

It’s my belief that by recognizing and healing the original trauma in our own or our pet’s lineage, that our genetic material will repair itself, in real time.

I base this conclusion on my personal experience of Family Constellations, and how I’ve witnessed it help myself and other animals.

While it may take a while for science to catch up to understanding how this works, I’m confident that there are alternatives to helping your day-to-day life with your dog, right now.

This is the part where I give my shameless pitch, because I know there can be greater ease in your life with your dog, or any pet. If you want to explore healing through Family Constellations, get in touch with me. I’ve outlined what I offer here, in my services for Healing Animal Trauma.

I look forward to listening and getting at the root of the trauma for your pet, so that it can be fully resolved.

 

* See the original study in the journal Nature Neuroscience here, or the Washington Post article, “‘Study finds that fear can travel quickly through generations of mice DNA.”

** This article in Discover Magazine is an excellent overview, though I disagree with the concluding idea of trying to find epigenetic medications to do what I believe other healing modalities can accomplish.

*** Scientists have even found proof of inherited trauma in plants. See the book “What a Plant Knows” by Daniel Chamovitz, pages 127-131. 

Photo credit: Dawn Sarasin – My mom took this photo of Jazz and I at Walloon Lake, Michigan, where I grew up. Jazz was still a puppy then, with many difficult patterns we were trying to transform after her time at the animal shelter.

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